Prayer changed everything for John and Tamara Nathan.
When the married couple struggled to get pregnant, they turned to their congregation at Triedstone Missionary Baptist Church on the Near East Side.
“They prayed, and that’s when Olivia came along,” said John, 76, who lives with his wife on the West Side.
In Tamara’s eyes, her daughter was “meant to be here.”
Everyday Heroes: Olivia Nathan helps break down barriers to COVID vaccine
The Columbus Dispatch
“She is God’s gift to us,” said Tamara, 67. “And we’re making sure that she is giving back to God everything that he’s given her, and she has not disappointed. Her passion for others is phenomenal.”
Now a 34-year-old pharmacist, Olivia Nathan has lived a life dedicated to community service, from learning sign language to interpret for deaf communities to volunteering with programs supporting girls and teens.
Pop-up COVID vaccine clinics in underserved communities
Most recently, Nathan went above and beyond her job during the coronavirus pandemic. She has hosted multiple pop-up clinics to vaccinate people in communities of color, who are dying of COVID at higher rates and facing myriad barriers to treatment.
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“There was this glaring disparity,” said Nathan, who lives Downtown and works for Equitas Health in King-Lincoln Bronzeville. “A lot of Black folks work jobs that don't allow them to take off during the day to come for an appointment. By having a weekend clinic, they had better access.”
Nathan set up clinics in or near King-Lincoln Bronzeville outside apartment complexes, in the parking lot of the Columbus Urban League, and at churches like Trinity Baptist and St. Paul AME.
Nathan also was combating distrust within the Black community, due to a history of systemic racism in health care, including unethical medical experiments.
But Nathan was able to put people at ease.
“Those pop-up clinics were game-changers, because people were more relaxed,” said Nathan, who also vaccinated Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin at Equitas. “They had a Black pharmacist who they trusted, and for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) individuals, that's super important. People have cried and have been really grateful just because someone took the time to see them and hear them. At Equitas, we say everybody's health-worthy. And this was a part of that process for me.”
One woman Nathan convinced was Alethea Gaddis, 65, of the Northeast Side.
“I'm already a skeptic,” said Gaddis, a friend of the Nathan family. “I already have a distrust in our political structure. I remember the Tuskegee experiment. That's the first thing that came to mind when there was this big thrust to encourage African Americans to become vaccinated.”
Neither Gaddis’ primary care physician — a white man — nor her pastor could sell her on the vaccine. But hearing a factual explanation of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness from a Black woman she knew and trusted is what sealed the deal.
“I took my sister with me and we posted it on Facebook,” Gaddis said. “And because we posted it, some of our cousins said, ‘Wow, if you all went, then I'm going.’”
Community service part of Olivia Nathan's family legacy
Gaddis said she is impressed by the Nathan family’s legacy of serving.
“The passion that (Olivia Nathan) has for serving people and the educational pursuit of a pharmaceutical degree is in her DNA,” she said.
Nathan followed in the footsteps her father, who began his career decades ago as one of few Black pharmacists in Columbus. He worked for the SupeRx/Revco/CVS chain, as well as West Side Pharmacy.
He started bringing his daughter to the pharmacy at a young age, and she later worked beside him as a tech.
“She would try to tell me how to do things — in a nice way — but I would have to remind her sometimes I was the one that had the license,” he said, laughing.
Nathan said she admired her father’s role in the community.
“He was the person that everybody comes to because pharmacies are super accessible,” she said. “You don't have to make an appointment to see your local pharmacist. So, I saw the impact that my dad had, and I just wanted to be just like him.”
Influenced by her mother’s commitment to giving back, Nathan went on to win the Jefferson Award, which honors community service, as well as the President's Volunteer Service Award from then-President George W. Bush.
She studied biology at Spelman College in Atlanta and went to pharmacy school at the University of California, San Francisco. Working on the West Coast, she developed a passion for HIV/AIDS prevention —especially making sure Black women have access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to prevent HIV infection.
“The perceived risk for Black women is low,” Nathan said. “Gay males get most of the media push when it comes to PrEP. And so Black women don't think it's for them. All of my new diagnoses, for the most part, are Black people. We talk about ending the HIV epidemic. Well, that can't happen if we don't include Black women at the table.”
Because of its commitment to HIV care, Nathan chose to work at Equitas Health, which also serves the LGBTQ community.
Equitas Director of Community Relations José Rodríguez has witnessed Nathan’s passion for HIV and COVID-19 prevention firsthand.
“I think she was the right messenger at the right place with the right tool to help save lives,” Rodriguez said of her vaccination efforts. “Anything that impacts a specific community disproportionately, you can count that Olivia will be there to serve those communities. She was a hero before there was COVID.”
But Nathan said the past year inspired her to go back to school — she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health at Ohio State University.
She especially is interested in addressing social determinants of health, like housing and food insecurity, for people of color.
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“This whole pandemic just showed me so many disparities and inequities in our health care system,” she said. “I saw the community band together in ways that I never had before. But as we are taking the masks off and we're getting vaccinated, I just feel like we're going back to business as normal. I think we lost our momentum. So, that's why I'm getting a master's in public health to try to keep the momentum up, because it's important.”
Getting to know Olivia Nathan: Four questions
What neighborhood or town do you live in? Downtown
What inspires you? "My patients inspire me. My patients are like my family. I will go above and beyond for them. I'm super proud of them. They inspire me to be better. I think I come from a privileged background, and they help me check my privilege. And that's inspiring to me."
What keeps you engaged? "I'm a person of faith. I have a huge prayer life, and I think that that keeps me plugged in. God inspires me and he also keeps me engaged in the work that I do, because I see the fruit of what happens when you help people."
What is a challenge you have overcome? "One example that comes to mind is overcoming fear and insecurities. Life is full of many challenges, often occurring without warning. Experiencing ups and downs is part of the world we live in, but too often we let these challenges take over and tear us down to the point of no return. Often this leads to fear, and we choose to run away instead of facing them head on. I overcome fear by knowing circumstances and challenges do not have to define my life, nor do they define who you are as a person. I overcome fear by changing my mindset and self-sabotaging behaviors. No matter the challenge, I remember that 'joy comes in the morning.'"