Archive | September, 2010
LAUNCHED: Equity Caucus at Transportation for America!

LAUNCHED: Equity Caucus at Transportation for America!

(Re-posted from

The Capitol Hill room was packed and the energy palpable at yesterday’s launch of the Equity Caucus at Transportation for America. Three members of Congress — Barbara Lee of California, Corrine Brown of Florida and keynote speaker Elijah Cummings of Maryland — joined a diverse crowd of advocates for equity from a variety of backgrounds and organizations to talk about transportation, a “21st Century civil rights issue,” as described by PolicyLink President Judith Bell. (PolicyLink serves as chair of the caucus)

The Equity Caucus was formed to stress transportation’s role as a crucial link to ensuring opportunity for all, and recognizing that the choices made in Washington about what to build and where have an enormous impact on people’s health, employment and quality of life.

Many of the more than 60 of the nation’s leading civil rights, community development, faith-based, labor and transportation organization that are part of the caucus were represented at last night’s event, from groups like SEIU, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

In his keynote address, Cummings praised the wide-ranging participants in the caucus.

“I’ve often said our diversity isn’t our problem, our diversity is our promise,” he said.

Cummings, who was introduced by two pastors from his Maryland district, singled out access to transportation as a crucial quality of life issue to his Baltimore constituents, and the difference between working and not working for many.

“A lot of people in my district — they could get a job, but they couldn’t get to the job,” Cummings said, adding that transportation is a vital link for all aspects of life. His constituents in Baltimore are “not necessarily trying to get to Disneyworld, they’re just trying to get to the local park.”

Gesturing to a childhood friend who was in the audience, Cummings noted that Baltimore’s bus system was crucial to his and his friend’s own success growing up by allowing them to access a better education, and the bus helped Cummings’ mother get to work and support her family as well. Getting transportation policy right is important, he said, even though most who benefit are people we will never meet.

Tom Woodruff, international executive vice president at SEIU and a leader in the Change to Win coalition, noted that “so many workers when they go to work rely on public transportation.” Woodruff also put equity in a startling context — the fact that United States is the richest nation in the world, but one-fifth of our residents are living in poverty. In addition to helping people get to their jobs, investments in transportation also have the potential to put tens of thousands to work at decent wages and good benefits.

Congresswoman Lee, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said she would push for a transportation bill that promotes livable communities and is a “pathway out of poverty” for millions of Americans,and Florida’s Brown noted flawed arguments that public transit should pay for itself when “no transportation anywhere in the world pays for itself,” including road and highway projects.

Join us to take a stand for transportation policies that advance economic and social equity in America. Sign the transportation equity pledge.

–By Sean Berry, T4America

Reflecting on Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Reflecting on Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity

A commentary on Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, by Joseph W. Thompson, MD, MPH,
Director, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity

As the nation continues to observe Childhood Obesity Awareness Month for the first time—reflecting the increased understanding of the epidemic’s impact—it is vital that we do more than just acknowledge the problem. We must work together to ensure that all children have the opportunity to grow up healthy. This means recognizing how our environments contribute to childhood obesity, and working to improve the quality of spaces where children live, learn, and play.

At its core, the childhood obesity epidemic has been caused by an imbalance in the amount of energy our children take in through food and drinks and the amount of energy they expend through normal growth, physical activity, and daily living. The cause of this imbalance is the unintended consequence of societal and environmental changes that have made it difficult and often impossible for families to make healthy choices. This is especially true for families living in low-income communities, African American and Latino neighborhoods, rural areas, and in the South where obesity rates are significantly higher. Almost 40 percent of Mexican American children and nearly 36 percent of African American children ages 6-19 are overweight or obese, compared with 29 percent of White children.

One of the biggest obstacles to fighting childhood obesity has been the view that weight is primarily a matter of personal responsibility. This omits the critical role environments have in affecting the choices we make. For our children, we have allowed their daily experience to occur in a setting that is hostile to their health and not supportive of a healthy lifestyle.

For families living in communities where the only nearby place to purchase food is a gas station or convenience store making healthy choices is difficult at best. Many neighborhoods also lack safe, well-maintained parks, playgrounds, and bike paths. Poorly-designed streets and sidewalks, or a lack of them, prevent children from safely walking or biking to school. School gyms where children might otherwise play are locked on weekends and during school vacations when community organizations could utilize them for neighborhood activities.

Schools themselves, have too often become environments that perpetuate the energy imbalance that causes obesity. They offer easy access to vending machines and other outlets that sell items high in calories and low in nutrition including sugar-sweetened beverages. And, amid budget cuts and focus on test results, many schools have reduced or eliminated physical education programs and reduced time for physical activity. Meanwhile, a growing body of research indicates physical activity boosts kids’ academic performance.

The result is that nearly one-third of children in America are overweight or obese. Children are developing “adult” diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and an array of other chronic conditions. We are all affected by this epidemic in one way or another, including reduced economic productivity and military readiness, and increased cost and utilization of an already overburdened health care system. We must all work together to solve the crisis.

It is encouraging to see communities, large and small, throughout the country take action to incorporate health in their strategic planning and to involve non-traditional partners in those efforts. These partnerships include parks and recreation offices and police to improve opportunities for safe places to play, merchants and local farmers to provide opportunities for families to purchase affordable nutritious foods, developers who incorporate sidewalks and complete streets in community design, educators who create healthy learning environments that teach children how to live healthy lives, and policymakers who recognize that health must be considered in every policy.

The most successful national policies will be informed by models that are already working on the ground in communities across America. These inspiring efforts are helping to build a national movement to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.

For example, Little Rock’s Forest Park Elementary School which, like many other schools across the nation, recognized the danger posed by rush hour traffic and kids being dropped off and picked up at school by car. Through a Safe Routes to School grant, they successfully established crosswalks, built sidewalks, and implemented traffic-slowing measures resulting in more families walking to and from school each day.

Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative is an innovative policy solution to the problem of inadequate food access. Begun in 2004, FFFI has led to the development of 68 supermarkets and fresh food outlets in underserved areas across Pennsylvania, and is now a successful model for communities looking to improve food access and generate jobs and economic development.

These are tough economic times many will say the country can’t afford to address the childhood obesity crisis. I say we cannot afford to wait. Heightened poverty is actually exacerbating the crisis of childhood obesity. It’s no coincidence that states with the highest childhood obesity rates also have some of the highest poverty rates and greatest needs.

We know childhood obesity can be reversed. The question is, can we work together to get it done?

Week 1: Are We Post Racial Yet?

Week 1: Are We Post Racial Yet?

Thank you for taking part in the Race and America’s Future Virtual Book Club. We hope this will be an open, honest, constructive conversation on the challenges and opportunities facing our changing nation.

The book club will be based around the structure of Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future, a new book I had the pleasure of writing with Stewart Kwoh and Manuel Pastor. We hope the book will serve as a foundation on which to build a meaningful conversation. (See the full six-week schedule here)

More than anything, though, we want this conversation to be about you — your ideas, your vision, your hope for the future. So, please, watch my short video and read the starter questions.

Then, take to the comments section below, TALK to each other, listen to each other’s stories, learn from each other’s experiences.

(Got questions about how this whole book club thing works? Click here. Weren’t able to get the book? Read an excerpt here)

Today’s starter questions:

Are we post-racial yet? Is “post-racial” even something America should strive for?

In the past year, has America gotten closer to the ideal of racial justice and full inclusion? Or have we slipped further away?

In your work and your day-to-day life, how do you talk about race and racial equity in ways that move both the conversation and policy forward? What are the main challenges you face in this arena?

Please be probing and honest. Enjoy yourself…and I hope we’ll see you back here next week.

–Angela Glover Blackwell

Founder and CEO, PolicyLink

A Pledge to White America?

A Pledge to White America?

The GOP yesterday unveiled its Pledge with America, a policy blueprint for its run to the midterm elections. A lot has been made about the policy content of 48-page document, but it’s worth noting the unspoken messages of the piece.

As a communications person at a nonprofit, I know every single photo in a document like this is labored over. You think about who it will represent, whether your intended audience will see itself in the photo, whether it supports your core messages.

A look at the Pledge shows exactly who the GOP is targeting — older white people.

Of the 45 photos showing people in the Pledge — representing more than 400 people — there are only two or three non-white faces. Here’s a perfect example:

But this one probably gets to the heart of the issue:

Buzz Building for Race & America’s Future Book Club

Buzz Building for Race & America’s Future Book Club

The buzz is building for the Race and America’s Future Virtual Book Club. We have been hearing from so many people eager to engage in a real (and long overdue) discussion on race in America.

Are you ready?

The book club starts a week from today (September 29) and continues every Wednesday through Election Day (Click here to find out how to participate). The featured topics each week will be:

Sept. 29: Are We Post-Racial Yet?
Oct. 6:
Color Lines: Growing and Accepting Diversity
Oct. 13:
Race and the Economy
Oct. 20:
Urgent Challenges: Immigration, Incarceration, and Climate Change
Oct. 27:
New Leadership for Now and 2050
Nov. 3: Equity is the Superior Growth Model

Built around the new book, Uncommon Common Ground by Stewart Kwoh, Manuel Pastor, and myself, we hope to spark a meaningful discussion on the role of race in America – and proven policies for addressing enduring inequities.

We want this to be a thoughtful, probing discussion where people talk TO each other, hear each other’s stories, and chart a real path to the future.

Join us today.

What do you want to talk about in the Book Club? Tell us in the Comments.

Promise Neighborhood Grantees Announced!

Promise Neighborhood Grantees Announced!

Just moments ago, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the winners of $10 million in Promise Neighborhoods federal planning grants for 2010. This is exciting news for all of us working to end the cycle of poverty in America!

Photo via Newberry Math and Science Academy

The grants will help 21 communities plan to build their own Promise Neighborhood – a pipeline of social, educational, and health supports that enable all children to learn, grow, and succeed from birth through college.

The grantees are:

For more than two years, PolicyLink has been working to help bring the Harlem Children’s Zone model to national scale. More than 330 communities from across America – urban, suburban, rural, tribal – applied for this first round of planning grants.

Though only a relatively small group of applicants have received federal funding, the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink will continue to help all neighborhoods that want to create a true community of opportunity of their own. (For more information about the Institute, click here)

While today is a day of joy and excitement for the grantees, we must remember that the future of the Promise Neighborhoods federal program remains in flux.

Tell Congress to fully fund President Obama’s $210 million request for Promise Neighborhoods.

The future of millions of children depends on it.

VIDEO: Fulfilling the DREAM

Great video from the US Dept of Education on the reality behind the DREAM Act. From the Dept of Ed’s announcement:

The five-minute piece profiles Samantha Hernandez, a sophomore at California State University Dominguez Hills, and shows the support she receives in pursuit of her academic and career goals. Samantha’s story is told in her own words, as well as those of her fellow students, faculty advisor, college president, and family members — all in Spanish. The camera follows Hernandez on campus and at home in South Central Los Angeles, where she lives with her mother and sisters.

Release of the video coincides with the signing this week by President Obama of a proclamation commemorating National Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) Week. The proclamation celebrates the unique accomplishments of HSIs and their contributions to the community. California State University Dominguez Hills is among the more than 200 HSIs serving more than one million Hispanic students across the nation.

President Obama has set a goal that by 2020, America will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. While today, approximately 40 percent of U.S. adults are college graduates, he has targeted 60 percent to give our nation the best educated and most competitive workforce. This goal includes graduates of both four-year colleges and two-year colleges.

The video is entitled, “La universidad: un sueño alcanzable,” (“College: An Attainable Dream”) and is closed-captioned in Spanish and in English. Watch it at

FAQs on the Race & America’s Future Book Club

The interest in the Race and America’s Future Virtual Book Club has been overwhelming. In the flood of responses, we’ve noticed a few recurring questions that we want to address.

(Got other questions? Leave them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer them)

How do I participate?

1. VISIT every Wednesday through Election Day.

2. WATCH the authors’ intro video and READ the starter questions below the video

3. ENGAGE with your fellow book club members in the comments

4. KEEP UP the conversation throughout the week

What time does it start?

There is no formal start time for the book club. Every Wednesday morning from Sept. 29 to Nov. 3, we will publish a new post by one of the authors of Uncommon Common Ground. The conversation on that week’s topic will start then…but it will continue throughout the week (and even beyond). One of the advantages of a “virtual book club” is that you can participate when it works best for you.

Do I need to register or pay?

No. The book club is free and requires no specific registration. However, to keep the conversation moving, we do ask that all members sign in using your real name. We have enabled it so you can sign in using your Facebook or Twitter accounts, or you can create a new account at Intense Debate, a great new commenting system that helps you track the conversation.

Do I need to buy the book?

No….but. We will be placing small excerpts from the book on the site to help those who are unable to buy the book. But reading the book will give you a much broader view of the issues and statistics at hand…plus, it’s a darn good read.

What kind of conversation will the book club be?

Open, honest, and forward-looking. The book, Uncommon Common Ground, is all of these…and we hope this conversation will be, too. We want to hear your ideas for how to improve our changing America — and we want you to engage other book club members’ ideas, as well.

Most important, this is YOUR conversation. The book club is a service to help foster a meaningful conversation on these issues. It’s up to you to guide it where you want.

Uncommon Common Ground Co-Authors

"Uncommon Common Ground" Co-Authors Manuel Pastor, Stewart Kwoh, and Angela Glover Blackwell

Who is Really “Hit Hardest” in this Recession?

Who is Really “Hit Hardest” in this Recession?

How upside down have our politics gotten? Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that those making more than $250,000 were “the people who were hit hardest by this recession.”

The absurdity of that claim was highlighted that same day when the US Census Bureau released its new poverty numbers. While the big number everyone’s talking about is that one in seven Americans is now below the poverty level, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Not by a long shot.

If you look deeper at the data, the story of who has actually been “hit hardest” is clear:

  • More than one in four black and Hispanic people are below the poverty line
  • Hispanics saw the biggest jump in poverty (2.1%)
  • Biggest drop in real income was among black people and non-citizens (4.4% and 4.5% drop, respectively)

You can see charts of this on the PolicyLink blog, EquityBlog.

But this is not about numbers. It’s about real people and real suffering.

The community-level consequences of this spike in poverty are stark and dire. Families are facing tight food budgets. Laid-off workers are losing their homes to foreclosure. Fragile community cohesion is fraying. And the vital infrastructure investments that were ignored during the Bush Administration remain bottled up in partisan politics – and millions of job-seekers suffer as a result.

We can see the pain and struggle in the faces of our neighbors, our family members, our children. But with white, college-educated people still facing non-crisis-level unemployment, it has been disturbingly easy for some politicians to ignore the deep and ongoing economic disaster in America.

If Sen. McConnell and his allies need more numbers to be convinced, how about these (click here for charts):

  • Since the recession began, the black unemployment rate has climbed 7.3 percentage points (9.0% in December 2007 to 16.3% today)
  • White unemployment has risen 4.5% and today sits below the pre-recession black unemployment rate (4.4% in December 2007 to 8.9% today)
  • Latino unemployment has nearly doubled during the recession (6.3% in December 2007 to 12.0% today)
  • While white and Latino unemployment has dropped or stabilized since May, black unemployment is actually on the rise (15.5% in May 2010 to 16.3% today)

What do we do about this? Thankfully, a clear path has already been blazed – if we can find the political will to simply walk down it.

The safety net investments made in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act are crucial. Unemployment benefits, temporary worker assistance, food stamps, and state aid all must be extended until this crisis is over.

But we must look beyond just our immediate crisis. We must make sure tomorrow’s workforce is on steady footing. First, Congress must pass President Obama’s $50 billion infrastructure proposal – a solid start to a decades-long solution. Also, Rep. George Miller’s Local Jobs for America Act would stimulate local businesses and immediately put nearly one million Americans back to work. Passing that bill should be a no-brainer.

Tomorrow’s workforce will also need more training than ever. This skills crisis means we may soon face a severe shortage of skilled workers to fill our new jobs building and maintaining infrastructure like electrical grips, transit systems, and bridges. Getting low-income black and Latino youth plugged into our community college system would go a long way to preparing for tomorrow. All our families need support to weather this recession.

The jobs crisis in America is deep – and it is deepest for those who were already in a hole to start with. This recession won’t end until Congress gets serious about who is really “hit hardest.”