For most of my life, I have lived in a predominantly African American neighborhood here in Washington, D.C., and have often wondered why chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes were so prevalent in my community. Our neighborhood was swamped with fast-food restaurants and convenience stores but had no healthy food options. When I moved to a more affluent D.C. suburb for a few years, I noticed the difference in the choices available to me — better grocery stores, juice and smoothie bars, and healthy restaurants.
As I headed back to my old neighborhood to visit my family, I noticed four fast-food restaurants within the span of two blocks. I realized that the high rates of chronic diseases in the neighborhood were the result, at least in part, of the environment and not hereditary. How can people access quality food when their neighborhood lacks grocery stores? Or maybe the nearest grocery store is often far away, accessible only by car, with no public transportation. Many people cannot live a healthy life because their circumstances reflect a lack of investment in their communities.
The AAMC Center for Health Justice recognizes that changing these circumstances goes beyond medical care alone. All sectors of a community are intertwined and must work together to create change. That’s why the center has convened a Multisector Partner Group. Its 10 diverse members represent disciplines such as healthy food and clean water access, the arts, community and social affairs, disability justice, transportation, affordable housing, public health, health care, education, and environmental justice.
At the group’s first meeting on April 11, the members used their expertise and leadership to develop a charter that outlines how they envision the future state of health equity and how the center will implement their ideas. The members are passionate about getting to the root causes of injustice.
Members shared similar experiences to mine. “Growing up near a housing project, I heard fellow students mention they were not allowed to go over to my neighborhood,” said food justice leader Susan Toppings. “This made an impression on me throughout my life. Not all neighborhoods are like this, this is injustice.”
Over the coming months, the Multisector Partner Group will develop the All in for Health Equity initiative, a key focus area for the Center for Health Justice. The center will also continue to focus on its goals of addressing health inequities for birthing people; building the evidence base for health equity; and helping organizations to become trustworthy partners to their communities. When we approach systemic inequities by working together, we can improve the health of all.