Thursday, April 9, 2009

The environment and health in communities of color

So much of this stuff ties together... good health, universal health care, the environment, justice issues, etc., etc....

My family and childhood were fairly stable, and yet my siblings and I, and several of my cousins, spent much of our childhoods without our fathers. Not because they abandoned us or ended up in prison--but because they died. Like many African-American families, my family suffered and continues to suffer greatly from such things as diabetes, strokes, heart disease and cancer.

The same is true of my husband's family, and he himself has diabetes and had open heart surgery five years ago. Back in Massachusetts (which now has a state-wide system of universal health care), he was monitored monthly. Here in Washington state, we pay higher health care premiums, higher co-pays and for the first time ever, have had to pay deductibles. All while earning less than we did in Massachusetts and paying more for virtually everything (except auto insurance).

As a result, my husband isn't getting the level or quality of care he got back in Massachusetts. He had a stress test today, and it was worrisome to his doctor. We don't yet know what it means, but it scares me. I think of my daughter, possibly becoming yet another child in my family to not grow up with her father--again, not because of abandonment or imprisonment, but because of health issues.

My organization and several local churches are working with Amy B and the health department on a new initiative to try to reduce the shockingly high infant mortality rates here in Tacoma, especially among communities of color. We met today and Amy B showed us a segment of a documentary called, "Unnatural Causes." This segment was about infant and maternal health in the African-American community, and how low-birth weight and infant mortality are more than twice as high among blacks than whites, at all socioeconomic levels. One major cause: stress. The film points out that a lifetime of cumulative stress for a mother can affect her babies in utero, already putting the children at risk. Like almost everyone Amy B has shown this film to, those of us in the room were stunned and almost in tears by the end of it.

It's because of things like this that I've become so invested in environmental issues. I nursed my daughter for a long time (longer than I wanted to, LOL!), because I wanted to help her have the best start in life I could, given that she already had strikes against her in her family background. It's why I want to provide her and other children from communities of color with access to healthier, affordable foods. It's why I want to prevent their exposure to toxins.

I'm taking steps to start the Hilltop Farms, identifying partners and looking for funding, but it's going to be a lot of work. And the group that Amy B is trying to pull together is trying to create a web of support for low-income pregnant women and new mothers. The link between the two is that we want to provide women in the group with coupons to shop at the Hilltop Farms farmer's market, as well as recipes and meal ideas. WIC provides $10 worth of farmer's market coupons to recipients for the entire season (June-October). That, of course, doesn't go far at all (and yet, I still saw a long line of women lined up for WIC coupons at the Tacoma Farmer's Market last summer, so there IS a demand). Our plan would be to provide a $10 coupon every time a woman attends a workshop, or something like that.

When we met this morning, we talked about how easy it is to get overwhelmed by all the issues. For me, they're personal as well as professional. Trying not to--since now I know more about how damaging stress is...

And please let Obama be able to put in place some form of universal health care! The lack of it is literally killing our country.

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