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Racial equity: Mid-City CAN eNews

Building Healthy Communities: City Heights
April 2012
Racial equity is an evolution of the civil rights struggle
Anti-systemic racism was key in City Heights BHC rollout
Statewide efforts to address equity issues involve hearings, education
Second stage of BHC planning readies City Heights for action
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Racial equity is an evolution

of the civil rights struggle

Racing The Statehouse: Advancing Equitable Policies

Racial equity changes the framework of thinking about racism and racial barriers.

"Most people aren't racist, but they do have racial bias, and racial privilege," said Terry Keleher, Racial Justice Leadership Action Network program director, in a "Taking Real Steps Toward Racial Justice" webinar by the Applied Research Center.

This has led the racial equity movement to go beyond thinking about racist individuals and focus instead on institutions in society. These structures can be set up in ways that encourage certain racial groups to fail and thus reinforce stereotypes.

Despite the change in focus, racial equity is a continuation of the civil rights movement from the 1960s.

Although some people may think that many of these barriers are diminished, the struggles continue.

A few examples include African Americans and Latinos hit "first and worst by anything you want to pick: the subprime mortgage debacle or the unemployment figures," said Mary Lee, deputy director at PolicyLink.

Another example, "in California, stationary toxic and polluting sites are concentrated in areas where large swaths of poor people and communities of color live," wrote Tammy Johnson in "Racing the Statehouse: Advancing Equitable Policies."

To read the full report, click here.

Boys of color face barriers to education statewide. Statistically they are suspended and expelled at a much higher rate than their peers.

Disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system and penal system leads to a loss of employment opportunities and voting rights.

And all of these issues can add up to declining security for families of color. Children often live in urban areas without safe places to play and nearby sources of healthy food, leading to obesity.

Stanford's School of Medicine reported this month that region and race could have a huge impact on life expectancy.
To read the full report, click here.

"In fact, the researchers say that some of these living conditions even outweigh - gasp - the effect of cigarette smoking," Dr. Anthony Iton, senior vice president for Healthy Communities at The California Endowment, reported in KQED


Anti-systemic racism was key
City Heights BHC rollout

Jesse Mills Assistant Professor, Ethnic Studies
Jesse Mills, assistant professor of Ethnic Studies

When community members designed the way the Building Healthy Communities Initiative would work in City Heights, they wanted to make sure that racial equity would be part of the plan.

After all, many of the initiatives' goals seek to address the long-term underinvestment in poor communities of color.

Jesse Mills, an assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of San Diego and City Heights resident, was a key part of the effort to address lingering racial issues.

Mills did workshops with about 25 resident leaders, who in turn spread the word about the initiative and got feedback in small meeting groups in their houses in 2009.

The group was "thinking about who needs to be involved in the conversation of what to do about the Building Healthy Communities plan and what a healthy community looks like," he said. Also "how has race as a concept and a practice kept certain groups out and how can we change that for this 10-year initiative?"

The goal was to have people in a neighborhood take part in an informed conversation about race, he said.

Eventually, these house-meeting leaders had more than 100 gatherings to spread the word in 13 different languages to more than 1,500 City Heights residents. These house meetings led to the plan for implementation of Building Healthy Communities in City Heights.

"They decided they were going to have an anti-systemic racism component that they wanted right at the heart of work," he said.

Anti-systemic racism is a concept that attempts to move beyond individual attitudes, which may be tainted by racism, and looks at the way society works, which may reinforce barriers to and beliefs about racial groups, he said.

Mills describes these as "systemic processes, institutional processes, issues around government policies, around housing and other kinds of interlinked complex dynamics that led to forms of poverty and disempowerment."

In addition to training house-meeting leaders, new momentum teams were formed at the launch of the initiative with racial-equity principals in mind: Peace Promotion, Access to Health Care and School Attendance. Food Justice, an existing team, was adapted to the initiative's framework.

Mills, who has been working in City Heights since 2002, knew there would be challenges to such a large undertaking.

"City Heights has the uniqueness of being extraordinarily diverse in a kind of global sense," he said. "One of the major dynamics that comes up is that even people of color as representatives don't necessarily really deeply represent their communities."

He gives the example of the Somali community, which he works with, where racial identification can be secondary to tribe and clan lines.

And Mills knows anti-systemic racism training is never really done, despite a firm grounding at the launch of Building Healthy Communities in City Heights.

"It is just something that needs ongoing difficult work," he said."It's not an easy thing to do to keep this number of different communities in dialog with each other."


Statewide efforts to address equity issues involve hearings, education

Why Place and Race Matter School can be the make-or-break experience in a young person's life.

However, for boys and men of color, "the No. 1 referral to juvenile justice and probation [system] isn't from law enforcement, it is actually from education," said Robert Phillips, director of health programs at Sierra Health Foundation and a senior fellow at the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland.

That can make trusting teachers for advice and support a difficult proposition.

Phillips sees three major obstacles to racial equity: economic security and employment opportunities, educational issues and health access, he said.

One way that Phillips and others at the center are pushing for change is through supporting the state assembly's Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color in California.

For more information, click here.

Other backers of the committee include The Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California Berkeley Law School and PolicyLink.

"I think what they'll be able to do bring attention to some of the issues that actually would help us move forward around, not just structural race issues, but also kind of the basic policy gaps that we have and some of the way that we are actually approaching some of those issues," Phillips said.

PolicyLink has been doing place-based work in communities that struggle with racial equity issues for more than a decade.

Many City Heights residents might recognize this description by Mary Lee, deputy director at PolicyLink.

"It is really not an accident that the same community that is next to the freeway overpass, and is therefore dealing with a lot of toxic air-quality issues, is a neighborhood that has failing schools, and where there aren't living wage jobs and where the housing is dilapidated," she said. "The transit doesn't provide ways to get to the jobs and schools and physical activities.

"There aren't parks in these neighborhoods. There aren't grocery stores, and there are too many fast-food outlets and too many liquor stores."

To read the full report she co-authored "Why Place and Race Matter," click here.

PolicyLink says statewide and nationwide struggles to deal with changing demographics complicate the picture. In California and across the South and West, older decision-makers tend to be white, but the vast majority of youth are not.

To read "California's Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model," click here.

Lee sees a pattern of these older white decision makers not funding opportunities.

"You invest in prisons and criminal justice, and you don't invest in schools and jobs," she said. "How do the [youth] meet the needs of another millennium?"

It is a self-destructive cycle, she said.

"How do the elderly whites fare when there is nobody to pay taxes?" she asked. "Nobody to buy the houses they want to sell when they retire, nobody to be caregivers, nobody to run anything."


Second stage of BHC planning

readies City Heights for action

School Attendance Momentum Team voting
Members of the School Attendance Momentum Team vote on the most serious issues for students April 10 at Crawford Educational Complex. Red is three points; yellow is two; green is one.

Mid-City CAN momentum teams are
beginning to refine their Building Healthy Community Initiative action plans. But the process is nothing like the launch of the initiative in City Heights.

That process led to a road map for the initiative's next 10 years. Now, momentum teams are planning their routes on that map.

This process is also limited to City Heights residents. For more details, click here.

For Saleban Ahmed, a 17-year-old junior who started at Crawford Educational Complex in April, being part of the planning team for the School Attendance team is all about giving back.

"I want to help out the community, show awareness," he said.

He was part of a group of mostly high-school age City Heights residents who took part in a Tuesday night planning session earlier this month.

"I have lived my whole life in City Heights," Saleban said. "If bad things happen in the community, then of course I want to help."

One exercise involved members voting on the most serious problems that kept students from attending school. The participants placed pink, yellow and green sticky notes next to issues like suspension and racial stereotypes

This was the early part of a process that began this month for the School Attendance Momentum Team and the Access to Health Care team. Both teams of about two dozen highly engaged residents will meet up to 12 times to go through exercises designed to ramp up their advocacy skills and lay the groundwork for the teams' future focus.

Any way you look at it, participants, who meet twice a week, have to make sacrifices.

"It is a big commitment, but it's worth it," Saleban said

For one mother of a student at Crawford, Rhoda Abdi, her son is the reason she participates.

"My son going to Crawford inspires me because of what he sees," Abdi said. "My son believes that Crawford is better than many schools, but it doesn't get a fair share of funding."

Abdi wants nothing less than a better, healthier community for her 16-year-old son and others like him in City Heights, she said.

"There is cycle of problems, and, for people to get out of it, they need to take it seriously," Abdi said.

Abdi and the other residents in the planning process have shown that they do.

The California Endowment

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