Earlier this month in New Mexico, organizers from across the country met to share strategies and successes in their work to create healthy and thriving communities in areas suffering under a sagging economy and institutional neglect. From the Bayview in San Francisco to Native American communities in Northern Minnesota, the story was the same: people are struggling for access to healthy food, clean water, and air that is cancer-free. While so much of our nation’s public health discourse is focused on the “choices” of the individual, those gathered in New Mexico know the real story.
When it comes to healthy food and safe, green places to play, many families have very little options. There are thousands of neighborhoods across this country without any parks or public green spaces and too many communities with parks that are not adequately resourced. Thanks to years of budget cuts and public neglect, unsafe playground equipment is often surrounded by abandoned debris and broken glass. Organized recreational programs are too few and for teenagers, virtually nonexistent. Where’s the “choice” in that? While some communities enjoy a plethora of grocery stores, powerful local zoning boards that regulate industrial polluters, and strong monitoring of green space, we all know that low-income communities and communities of color do not enjoy these same basic rights.
Communities Creating Healthy Environments (CCHE) is a national initiative to invest in local communities hardest hit by these issues. Through funding, technical assistance and other forms of support, CCHE grantees engage in local policy advocacy, community organizing and other strategies to address the issues head on. The Center for Media Justice continues to play a critical role in this work by providing clear counsel to grantees on strategic communications issues and participating in the deployment of a robust national communications strategy to get coverage for these often neglected issues. We are off to a strong start as the first cohort of grantees selected last fall are among the most dynamic, cutting edge, organizing groups in the country. And, we’re getting ready to bring on another set of groups to expand the work.
At CCHE, we’re working hard to expand the boxes of health, obesity, and justice. Armed with a sector-wide strategy and working with a broad set of communities across the country, we can turn the tide when it comes to the potential for all our neighborhoods to thrive.