GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With authorities working to encourage as many Americans as possible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a deep-rooted concern over medicine has compelled medical workers to try and quell a long-standing fear in the Black community.

“African Americans definitely have reasons to be skeptical.” Vanessa Greene, CEO of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, said.

The trauma is often associated with the Tuskegee Experiment that began in 1932. It was the start of a 40-year period during which doctors used Black men as lab rats to study the effects of untreated syphilis. The men didn’t know this because doctors lied to them, saying they were being treated for bad blood.

“That’s still concerning to African Americans,” Greene said.

The Grand Rapids African American Health Institute is hoping to help change the narrative with The Color of COVID, a virtual discussion about the coronavirus’s disproportionate impact on minorities and how a vaccine could change that. The panelists and the moderator are intentionally all men and women of color.

“I would seriously want the African American community to consider what this means and also that we don’t miss out on the treatment and cure that we need,” Greene said.

Dairus Mitchell isn’t sold just yet.

“It’s been issues, race issues, over history, and one of those ways that played out is in medical malpractice against African Americans,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said his mistrust in health care is also connected to a lack of representation of Black men and women in white coats. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports about 5% of practicing physicians in the country are Black. National data also shows Black mothers are three times more likely to die during or after childbirth than white mothers.

A 2016 study also notes medical students and residents who believe a myth that Black people tolerate pain more than white people were less likely to treat Black people’s pain appropriately.

“You can see why a lot of them are reluctant to or just saying, like myself, we’re not taking the vaccination,” Mitchell said.

Moving forward, experts said they don’t want that dark past to dim the light of a bright future for Black Americans. That’s why they’re imploring them to join their conversation.

“This can be a lifesaving opportunity for the community,” Greene said.

The Color of COVID forum was held 6:30 p.m. Thursday evening.