For its annual Martin Luther King Day event, the NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard welcomed as keynote speaker a Philadelphia pediatrician whose Covid-19 crusade to test, vaccinate and treat people in the city’s poorest neighborhoods led to her appointment as a federal health official last year.

Frustrated by the lack of government support for Covid care, Dr. Ala Stanford called out the leadership on Instagram with photos showing hundreds of people lined up at her church-based clinic in North Philadelphia on a rainy Jan. 16 in 2022.

“I [posted], ‘White House, where are you? This is happening again, we don’t have the support...’ and that is literally how I got this role,” Dr. Stanford told attendees at the Zoom event Monday, which doubled as the Vineyard NAACP chapter’s annual membership drive.

NAACP of Martha's Vineyard president Toni Kauffman.

In April, Dr. Stanford was appointed by President Joe Biden as the director of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the region based in Philadelphia that also includes Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

“I got a call and an email from the White House saying, ‘What do you need, Dr. Stanford? What are we missing?’” she recalled.

“I explained a lot of things to them, and then I was tapped and appointed.”

A North Philly native herself, Dr. Stanford and her family — husband Byron and their sons Ellison, Robeson and Langston — vacation on the Vineyard, where they can be spotted in Philadelphia Eagles fan gear, she said.

Dr. Stanford became a Covid activist almost as soon as the virus arrived in March 2020, when she began getting calls for help from people who had been turned away from emergency rooms when they needed testing and treatment.

“Many were my age or they were younger,” said Dr. Stanford, who received her medical degree from Penn State in 1997.

“They didn’t have co-morbid [other medical] conditions, and they had health insurance,” she continued. “The only thing they had in common is that they were Black.”

Dr. Stanford responded by ordering test kits — initially at $50 apiece, billed to her pediatric practice — and using her own office medical supplies to test neighborhood residents.

“I had masks. I had gowns. I had gloves,” she said.

With the help of local pastors — “I’m a very faith-driven person,” Dr. Stanford said — she set up parking lot test sites at churches and rented a van to go door to door offering home testing.

Rallying fellow physicians, Dr. Stanford founded the Black Doctors Covid Consortium (BDCC), with the goal of improving Covid outcomes in the ZIP codes — including North Philadelphia — with the highest infection rates.

But when vaccines became available in 2021, the city funneled its Covid funding to a group of college students with no medical training whose convention-center clinic attracted few Philadelphians of any color, becoming a national example of failed Covid policy and municipal waste.

“The Washington Post and [other media] were making the comparison: You have this doctor who’s been leading this charge since day one, but yet you chose to give it to non-medical, just literally college kids that had an idea,” Dr. Stanford said.

“And they failed. And not only that, they left a lot of people without [vaccinations], and then we started to get overwhelmed.”

The BDCC’s own clinics included one epic “vaxathon” that administered more than 4,000 shots in 24 hours, sparking more national coverage.

“We outpaced the city of Philadelphia,” Dr. Stanford said, citing data that indicates the 24-hour clinic vaccinated more than 60 per cent of the Philadelphia’s black residents, compared to 30 per cent vaccinated by city health services.

Also in 2021, with assistance from the federal CARES Act, Dr. Stanford opened the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity in a former pre-school attached to a North Philadelphia church. Along with Covid testing and vaccines, the center provides both adult and pediatric care, health screenings and other basic medical services to local residents, she said.

“We’re across the street from a high school... and we sit nestled between public housing, and we’re along the bus route, so people can get expert care in their neighborhood,” said Dr. Stanford, who took her Zoom audience on a virtual tour of the clinic with technical assistance from her 12-year old son Langston.

As a regional director for Health and Human Services, Dr. Stanford told the Vineyard audience she has the ear of HHS secretary Xavier Becerra and continues to advocate against health care disparities.

“I think what we learned from Covid is the resources need to be available to the most vulnerable... first,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean that you withhold them from others,” Dr. Stanford continued. “It just means that you get a handle on those who will have catastrophic outcomes if you don’t get to them first, because they don’t have the resources and access that others do.”

She is particularly committed to children of color, Dr. Stanford told the Zoom audience during a question and answer period.

“There’s so many challenges that they’re faced with right now, and I just want to do what I can so they have a chance to live out whatever they might conceive or dream,” she said. “Whatever job allows that to happen is where I want to be.”

Monday’s annual meeting also introduced the new president of the NAACP of Martha's Vineyard, Toni Kauffman, who was sworn in earlier this month following Arthur Hardy-Doubleday’s two-year term. Ms. Kauffman urged both new and longtime NAACP members to take an active role in the group’s Island activities.

“There is much work to do on the Vineyard and the laborers are few,” Ms. Kauffman said, citing food and housing insecurity.

She ended her remarks with the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

Concluding the meeting, singer Alison Frazier-Hayden and guitarist Paryss Hayden performed the James Weldon Johnson anthem Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing.

The NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard meets monthly on the third Saturday and can be reached through secretary Alex Palmer at