Harlem’s Black Public Media Funds Projects Combating Vaccine Hesitancy

July 13, 2023

Harlem‘s Black Public Media (BPM) has selected three projects for a total of more than $160,000 in funding for vaccine equity works targeting vaccine hesitancy in Michigan and North Carolina.

The projects are scheduled for completion this fall in time for expected spikes in COVID and flu cases.

Michigan-based filmmakers Eden Sadolboro and Toni Cunningham, of Reel Clever Films LLC, were awarded $60,000, for WELL, a short film and community engagement campaign that depicts the story of one Black American family across 50 years as they fight to stay healthy amidst three different crises: the Tuskegee experiment, the Flint water crisis and now COVID-19; Los Angeles-based filmmaker William D. Caballero, who was raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was awarded $60,000 for A Little off the Top: Vaxxed Up!, an animated digital short that combines elements of narrative and documentary to tell the story of a group of Black and Latino barbers who offer words of encouragement to two vaccine-skeptical teenage customers; The film is the second webisode in a series, which is also funded by Black Public Media. Antonio Alanis, a Mexican-American artist from Durham, North Carolina, was awarded $40,880 for Me vacuno porque… (I got vaccinated because…), a podcast series for vaccine equity in North Carolina’s Spanish-speaking Latinx community.

The winners were among the creatives who submitted proposals after attending BPM’s March 2023 Black Media Story Summit – in Michigan and North Carolina. BPM’s story summits bring together creatives, film, and television industry executives, thought leaders, community stakeholders, and others to explore innovative approaches to media story development on critical issues facing Black people across the U.S. Past summits have covered such issues as mass incarceration, environmental justice, health and immigration.


BPM embarked on a three-year partnership with the National Network to Innovate for COVID-19 and Adult Vaccine Equity (NNICE) in the fall of 2021 to facilitate the creation of media stories that help boost vaccination rates within Black communities. The NNICE is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the National Partnering for Vaccine Equity Initiative. BPM was engaged through NNICE’s grantee, Michigan State University, to host virtual Black Media Story Summits on the topic of vaccine equity and award production grants to media makers who submit the most compelling production proposals. The Black Media Story Summit – Michigan and North Carolina was the second vaccine equity summit hosted by BPM. The first one in Baltimore led to BPM awarding grants to two filmmaking teams for their short-form content, Covid Conversations and Baltimore Speaks.

“What began as an effort to combat hesitancy against the COVID-19 vaccine has helped us realize that more education about vaccination against the flu and other illnesses is needed as well,” said Qiona Woffard, special programs manager of Black Public Media. “We are thrilled to continue our partnership with NNICE as we work to amplify the voices of local artists who are working to bring positive change and awareness of the importance of vaccinations of all types to our communities.”

Black Public Media is a Harlem national media arts nonprofit dedicated to creating and producing media content about the Black experience.


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“We are looking forward to seeing the projects that are being developed through Black Public Media’s Black Media Story Summits come to fruition so that we can continue to reach diverse populations with accurate information on vaccination and create healthier communities,” said Heatherlun Uphold, assistant professor, C.S. Mott Department of Public Health, Michigan State University.

For more information on Black Public Media, visit blackpublicmedia.org, and follow the organization on social media at @blackpublicmedia on Instagram and Facebook and @BLKPublicMedia on Twitter.

The Artists

Antonio Alanís is a Mexican-American artist raised in Durham, North Carolina. His nonprofit management and teaching background interest enable him to use the visual arts to build bridges between diverse cultures. He uses his Mexican-American background, education formation, and passion for the visual arts to create cultural awareness about Latin American people in the South. The intersection between Latin-American art and activism motivates him to use the arts as a conduit to strengthen his Hispanic/Latinx community in North Carolina. He seeks to strengthen the connection between people of all backgrounds. Antonio uses the visual arts to explore themes such as belonging, growing up Latino, home and identity in a multicultural South. His acrylic and oil paintings portray uplifting Latinx characters that celebrate the cultural richness, beauty, and humanity of Latinx people. A visual storyteller, he enjoys using the arts to springboard conversations centered around cultural similarities rather than differences.

William D. Caballero

William D. Caballero is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, writer, 2018 Guggenheim Fellow, and 2021 Creative Capital Awardee. His directorial work has premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and the Museum of Modern Art. Born in Coney Island, New York, and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Caballero obtained the Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship in 2001 and returned to New York City where he graduated from Pratt Institute (BFA digital art, 2006, minor in art history) and New York University (M.A. the arts and humanities in education, 2008), graduating Magna Cum Laude and Cum Laude, respectively. Caballero’s directorial debut came in the form of a feature-length autobiographical documentary, American Dreams Deferred, which focused on the diverse health, financial, and social difficulties facing his Puerto Rican-American family. The film premiered nationally on PBS in December 2012.

Caballero’s next accomplishment was Gran’pa Knows Best, a web series featuring 3D-printed miniatures of his Puerto Rican grandfather. The series was later licensed by HBO for two seasons, and culminated in a short film entitled Victor and Isolina, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. In November 2017, Caballero was chosen as one of 10 filmmakers for the Sundance New Voices Lab, held in Los Angeles, California. From 2020-2021, he received funding from Latino Public Broadcasting to create Chilly and Milly, an animated short film about his Puerto Rican parents, that premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and won the Best Documentary Short award at the 2022 Atlanta Film Festival, thereby qualifying it for an Academy Award. The film also won a Grand Jury Award at the 2022 PBS Short Film Festival. For more information, visit https://www.wilcab.com.

Toni Cunningham

Toni Cunningham is an independent filmmaker and former Kresge Arts in Detroit fellow. She holds an M.A. from Wayne State University in media arts and studies, where she currently teaches media writing and storytelling, and screenwriting.

She previously worked as a script analyst for high-profile screenwriting competitions and production companies including The Writers Lab, BlueCat Screenplay Competition, and Goldcrest Films Production Company.

Cunningham works in experimental, documentary and narrative film. She is currently a Redford Center Environmental Impact Grantee for producing the feature documentary Sacrifice Zones: The 48217. She is also producer of the narrative film T-Minus, which had its world premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

Her scripts have earned her a Top 10 finalist placement in The John Singleton EmbRace LA Screenwriting Competition, semi-final placements with PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, and quarter-final placements at Austin Film Festival and Atlanta Film Festival. She is also a member of the #StartsWith8Hollywood mentorship program where she is working with industry mentors on polishing and shopping her pilot and two features.

Eden Sabolboro 

Eden Sabolboro is an Emmy®-Award winning Filipino-American producer, director and video journalist based in Detroit. In 2015, she co-founded Reel Clever Films LLC, a video and film production company specializing in nonfiction storytelling and branded content. Eden has produced and directed an immersive body of short-form documentaries, creative films, and commercial campaigns, and received a Regional Emmy® for her producing and directing work on the Kresge Arts in Detroit film series, which includes 10 mini-documentaries highlighting the work and artistic practices of celebrated artists across Metro Detroit.

Sabolboro is a graduate of the New York Foundation for the Arts’ Immigrant Artist Program, and was selected for Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Lab and Firelight Media’s Groundwork Lab in Detroit. She served as supervising producer for Shifting Urban Narratives, a multimedia fellowship for young people in Detroit to tell their stories about change, resilience, joy, and community development. In 2022, she worked with women-led production house MAJORITY to co-direct Year One of the Biden-Harris Administration for the Biden-Harris Inaugural Committee.

She recently co-directed and produced the short documentary Senghor Reid: Make Way for Tomorrow for the second season of PBS American Masters’ and Firelight Media’s In The Making series, which premiered at the Academy-qualifying Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and is currently streaming on the American Masters streaming platform. 

Black Public Media (BPM)

Black Public Media (BPM) supports the development of visionary content creators and distributes stories about the global Black experience to inspire a more equitable and inclusive future. For more information, visit blackpublicmedia.org.

The National Network to Innovate for COVID-19 and Adult Vaccine Equity (NNICE)

The National Network to Innovate for COVID-19 and Adult Vaccine Equity (NNICE) utilizes a unique model of community engagement to advance equitable approaches to adult immunizations, and to build the evidence base of interventions for adult vaccine uptake among racial and ethnic groups experiencing disparities.​ Specifically, the NNICE brings together researchers, content experts, and community partners to develop and implement promising practices that create vaccine-confident individuals in our communities of focus throughout Maryland, Michigan, and North Carolina.

Photo credit: 1) Toni Cunningham. 2) Eden Sadolboro. 3) Antonio Alanis.

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