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NEWARK — In a shot at increasing awareness of the vaccine's safety and to encourage city residents, Essex County held an event Tuesday night at the local county college, with Queen Latifah accepting a dose of the Moderna vaccine in her hometown.

Hip-hop's first lady, as Latifah is sometimes known, returned to her birthplace of Newark to receive her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Essex County College after a day on set of the CBS television drama, "The Equalizer." 

"Every time I go to work, I feel like I’m responsible for hundreds of peoples’ lives," Latifah, who was born Dana Owens and grew up nearby in East Orange, said of why she was getting vaccinated.

She said that she worries, working on large productions, what she may bring back to her family after a day's work. "That’s why I’m here, and maybe something people out there are thinking about," she said.

"We hear a lot of things in the media," Latifah said. "they’re frightening but to see someone in a hospital on a ventilator is much more frightening than what’s going to happen getting a shot in the arm that’s here to help our bodies fight this thing."

For Newark officials, such as Mayor Ras Baraka, the hope was that a homegrown star could inspire more residents to register for their doses, as the coronavirus continues to ravage the state's largest city, which has lost almost 900 residents to the pandemic, Baraka said.

The city has remained a hot spot for a county already at the seat of the pandemic's flames. As of Tuesday, Newark's 31,665 cumulative cases represents 45% of Essex County's 69,639 cases overall, according to county data.

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Newark has tallied 7,997 total doses administered, third most in Essex County. But those numbers are merely a fraction of Newark's U.S. Census estimated population of 282,011.

Baraka said there are several impediments to the vaccine rollout in Newark, where a population of Black and Latino residents are hardest hit by the virus, and the city's underprivileged lack amenities for easy access.

Latifah donned a peacoat seemingly tailor-made for the event. As she turned to enter the vaccination tent in the school's gymnasium, she revealed a patchwork of lettering on the coat's back reading: "It seemed to be the end until the next beginning."

However, the MC of 1989's "All Hail the Queen," said the coat was nothing but a happy sartorial accident, laughing when she realized what it said, given the occasion.

"I’ve had this jacket for quite a while, but how fitting," she said, tickled by the serendipity. "This jacket just makes me happy and when I wear it, people seem to enjoy what it says. But I honestly forgot."

She hoped the vaccination effort could be a new beginning.

"We’ve heard about other generations that have gone through things like this and now we’re actually living through this ourselves," said Latifah, who once rapped on her seminal anthem, "The Evil That Men Do":

"Stop putting your conscience on cease and bring about some type of peace. Not only in your heart, but also in your mind. It will benefit all mankind."

Nicholas Katzban is a breaking news reporter for To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.


Twitter: @nicholaskatzban 

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