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Unwellness By Design

I hope you enjoyed your Valentine's Day. I want to speak to you from my heart to yours ❤️

Another week of Black History Month, and another week of learning and exploring how much our health and wellness has been shaped by our history’s racism. We must also look at how these obstacles are still in place.

The stats overwhelm me.

Poor American neighborhoods have fewer trees.

Poor American neighborhoods have fewer parks.

Poor American neighborhoods have fewer grocery stores and more fast food restaurants.

Poor American neighborhoods are less walkable.

Poor American neighborhoods have poorer air quality.

Poor American neighborhoods have less access to health care.

And poor American neighborhoods are disproportionately Black. Intentionally disproportionately Black.

Our world is built to keep Black people less healthy and less comfortable through all stages of life.

The root causes of health disparities are systemic. You can’t separate health from social determinants of health - economic opportunity, safe neighborhoods, good schools, access to food: these are all complex and interrelated issues.

There is an identifiable great divide in access to healthy fresh food when comparing the average white community to the average community of color, an inequality that is a major contributor to the disproportionately high rates of diet-related disease found in minority populations. Not to mention, poor diets are proven to impede learning, paths to empowerment, and financial success.

The number of trees affects the temperature of the surrounding area, making spending more time outside during warmer months more unpleasant, and even more deadly. The state of sidewalks and infrastructure adds to the complexity of choosing to walk somewhere over taking public transportation - an often overcrowded option that these days may cost you your livelihood or even your life if you catch Covid. There is no such thing as social distancing here.

These day-to-day choices have a compounding effect on the health of our children. So many of the neighborhoods can be identified where people have been pushed to the margins of society by cycles of generational poverty. These are places where our children don’t grow up thinking of outside as a safe and fun place to spend time and play.

When I lived near Baltimore, it was not uncommon to hear about a child being hospitalized for injuries, too often resulting in death, from being struck by a stray bullet. In these socioeconomically deprived areas, even the air that is meant to be life sustaining creates or exacerbates asthma, allergies, and other breathing problems.

From childhood, Black Americans are intentionally subjugated to living less healthy lives as choices to live otherwise are not accessible. A system-forced over-dependence on processed fast foods with the lack of markets for fresh fruits and vegetables, unsafe drinking water, and little if any access to quality healthcare, on top of so many - too many - other factors, all leads to the development of health issues.

There are endless options for further reading, and the New York Times put together a striking overview of the impact of something as seemingly frivolous as how many trees are in a neighborhood. Something that goes right along with the name that has been given to neighborhoods where the economically disadvantaged reside - food deserts.

And though rebuilding the bridges that our differences broke will always be where my heart lives most days, ending racial disparities in America goes far beyond simply being nice to each other.

The overwhelming depth of these issues that are visible and tangible must first be believed and accepted, then they must be consciously and intentionally addressed.

While compassion may be the first step, it can’t stop there.

Our lives depend on it.

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