Archive | April, 2012

PolicyLink CEO: “Improving healthy food access critical to curbing obesity”

Much attention has been given to this week’s New York Times article, “Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity,” which reviewed two new studies that did not find a relationship between the food outlets in neighborhoods and obesity rates among youth.  Yet over the past 20 years — with more than 130 studies under their belt — most researchers have found that people who live in neighborhoods with better access to healthy food also have better nutrition and better health.

In 21st century America, more than 23 million people lack adequate access to fresh, healthy food choices according to the US Department of Agriculture. Finding healthy food can mean multiple bus rides carting groceries and children. The same communities without supermarkets and grocery stores often have blocks and blocks of fast food, liquor, and convenience stores selling unhealthy, high-fat, high-sugar foods. The lack of healthy food retailers is a double whammy for poor neighborhoods since these neighborhoods also miss out on the jobs and economic activity that grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and produce stands can bring.

The majority of research shows a clear relationship between healthy food access, diet, and obesity. Another new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that was not cited in the New York Times article, finds that neighborhood access to healthy food and safe places for physical activity does matter for children’s weight. The study finds that children living in neighborhoods with healthy food and safe play spaces are 56%  less likely to be obese than children in neighborhoods without these features . Other reputable studies have found that African Americans are more likely to meet dietary guidelines for fruits and vegetables when they live in a census tract with a supermarket; and for every additional supermarket in a tract, produce consumption increases 32 percent. In addition, a 2008 California study found obesity rates are 20 percent higher in low-income areas with high densities of fast-food and convenience stores compared to low-income areas with lower densities of outlets selling primarily unhealthy foods.

The two studies highlighted have limitations — as acknowledged by the study authors. Dr. Lee’s research, for example, is based on a very small, non-geographically representative sample that cannot explain the disproportionate obesity rates for “at-risk” children.  We simply can’t draw conclusions about what strategies will work to reduce obesity rates for the many low-income children living without access to healthy food based on this one study. Providing access to healthy food does more than enrich diet and health.  Grocery stores revitalize distressed neighborhoods by creating jobs and bringing in more tax revenues. A Pennsylvania program developed in 2004, and continuing today, has developed or retained 88 grocery stores of other food markets and created more than 5,000 jobs — while improving access to healthy food for over 400,000 residents.

Every community, regardless of income, race, and geography should have ready access to high-quality, healthy food, and be able to benefit from the economic opportunities spurred by new food retail.  Improving the availability of healthy food in underserved areas must be a core component of any comprehensive strategy aimed at combating America’s obesity crisis. Only then can we effectively strengthen the health of our communities, children, and families now and for generations to come.

We encourage you to join us in the comments section below to keep the conversation going and share your own stories about accessing healthy food in your community. Also, see noted researcher Mari Gallagher’s thoughtful response to Times article here.

Reflections: Hoodies, Flash Mobs, and the Future of California’s Boys and Men of Color

Reflections: Hoodies, Flash Mobs, and the Future of California’s Boys and Men of Color

On Friday, April 13, I attended the third California State Assembly Hearing on the Status of Boys and Men of Color (BMoC)—this one in Fresno—and as always it felt great to be a part of work that so directly relates to my experience and that will also affect the future of my nephew. The hearing in Fresno was part of a series of local hearings, Oakland (January 20), Los Angeles (March 2), and Coachella Valley that have been convened to discuss challenges facing men and boys of color and highlight promising programs and practices that are working to overcome those challenges. As usual there was a positive vibe, impassioned testimony, and wonderful examples of people who are doing inspiring work on behalf of boys and men of color.  I worked the registration table for most of the event so I had a chance to see and interact with a lot of the people who came to be a part of the hearing.  Many of the folks in the room were there not as presenters but because they care about the futures of their sons, brothers, and fathers.

I will always remember the Fresno hearing for two things: hoodies and a flash mob.  It sounds a little silly at first but in different ways they both symbolized the core reason for this work and the balancing act that boys and men of color deal with everyday.  The flash mob was about life and a bright future with endless possibilities.  The music, movement, and even the clothing that the youth wore represented the infinite aspirations that can only be achieved through equity for those most affected by racism and class inequalities. On the other hand, the hoodies represented the very real dangers that many boys and men of color face every day. They represented the legacy of centuries of racial and economic oppression that have succeeded in devaluing the lives of young men and boys of color and, in the eyes of many, making them the focus of fear.  I really appreciated how the planning committee in Fresno placed both of these symbols front and center at the hearing because it illustrated clearly why this work is of the highest importance.  This is life and death.

I was proud to be a part of an event that was unafraid of ruffling feathers and bucking protocol for the sake of serving and engaging our youth in a real and authentic way, dealing with difficult and controversial issues directly and without apologies.  So often, in formal events like a hearing, we get locked into the strict rules and procedures and lose some of the real human emotion.  It was great to see both the joy and hope of the youth we are working with, as well as the raw emotion and outrage that comes with a case like Trayvon Martin’s.  In order for this all to work we need the engagement of youth and we also need to be agile enough to respond to the events that are happening to them on a daily basis.  Bravo to Fresno for being brave enough to wear hoodies for Trayvon, and dance for a brighter future for boys and men of color.

Also, I encourage everyone to check out this blog post from Harvesting Health on the Fresno hearing, including great video of the flash mob!

The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color Bulletin: CA State Policy Updates

State Policy Updates

As a service to practitioners, advocates and system partners, we will periodically share information about proposed legislation with relevance to the health and success of boys and men of color.  The summaries below are of  bills addressing  the priorities of the California State assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color: education, employment and wealth, health, safety and juvenile justice, and youth development.  In addition to the name of the legislator that is championing the legislation, each of summaries provides details of the purpose of the bill and the sponsoring organization.  For more information, or if you would like to provide support, please contact the sponsor directly.

School Push Out Issues

This legislative session, a number of community advocates and civil rights organizations are moving a package of bills that would reverse the alarming rate of school push out among boys and young men of color.

  • SB 1235 (Steinberg) — Strengthens existing law to require, rather than encourage, schools to take steps to address high rates of suspension. Requires schools with high rates of suspension to implement evidence-based, school-wide behavioral strategies aimed at reducing behaviors that lead to suspension. Applies initially to schools that suspend 25 percent or more of their total students or of any numerically significant racial or ethnic subgroup, and eventually to schools that suspend 15 percent or more of students. Requires the State Superintendent, using data already collected by the state, to publish an annual list of schools with high suspension rates.
  • AB 1729 (Ammiano) — Strengthens existing law that requires that suspensions may be imposed only after “other means of correction” have failed to bring about proper conduct. Expands the list of examples of other means of correction and requires documentation othat other means  have been pursued before a student may be suspended for discretionary offenses.
  • AB 1909 (Ammiano) — Requires school districts to provide notification to a county child welfare designee and the court-appointed attorneys for the foster youth when a foster youth is pending expulsion or subject to a manifestation determination Individualized Education Program.
  • AB 2242 (Dickinson) — Amends current law to provide that the act of disruption of school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of supervisors, teachers, administrators, school officials may subject a student to an in-school suspension in a supervised suspension classroom, but not to an off-campus suspension, extended suspension, or expulsion.
  • AB 2145 (Alejo & Dickinson) — Requires that expulsion and suspension data already collected by the state be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, special education status, English learner status, socioeconomic status, and gender and cross-tabulated by gender and race.
  • AB 2300 (Swanson) — Prohibits school districts from disclosing to a post-secondary educational institution discipline data for minor offenses when a student has completed community service hours.
  • AB 2537 (M. Perez) — Authorizes, rather than mandates, a principal or superintendent to immediately suspend and make a recommendation for expulsion for certain acts where federal law does not mandate expulsion. Authorizes, rather than mandates, a principal to notify the appropriate law enforcement agencies of certain offenses.
  • AB 2616 (Carter) — Truancy—removes the schools requirement from labeling a student as truant for specified reasons, and ensures that a district notifies parents if the schools choses to label a student a truant.
  • SB 1088 (Price) —The bill clarifies existing law by prohibiting a school from denying enrollment or readmissions to a student on the basis that the youth has had contact with the juvenile justice system and ensures that expelled students are given more than one opportunity to demonstrate that they have completed their rehabilitation plans, so that they can be readmitted to a regular school.  Passed out of the Senate Education Committee on March 28 with an 8-0 vote.

All of these bills, except for AB 2537 and AB 2616 which will be heard on April 18th, have passed their first policy committee and are headed to appropriations committee in the house of origin.  Organizations are encouraged to continue tracking and consider supporting those bills that would further your organizational goals.

The partnership that is leading this effort draws on the legal expertise of Public Counsel, the ACLU, CRLA Inc. and coalitions that work throughout California, including PICO, the Youth Justice Coalition, Californians for Justice, Fight Crime Invest in Kids, and others.  For more information about this package of school push out bills please contact Laura Faer, Education Rights Director for Public Counsel at:

In recognition of the urgency to reverse a trend that would negatively impact our communities and the state’s future economic competitiveness, we have chosen to put a special emphasis on these proposals to fix school discipline policies. In forthcoming update we will feature a broader range of bills.

Meanwhile, you will find summaries of handful of bills Alliance partners are moving that would also serve to improve educational, health, and economic outcomes.

  • AB 1072 (Fuentes)–Establishes the California Promise Neighborhood Initiative—in the Office of Economic Development. It requires the office to establish 40 promise neighborhoods throughout the state to maximize collective efforts within a community to improve the health, safety, education and economic development of each neighborhood. The bill also gives cities, counties, schools, and school districts located in a promise neighborhood priority in consideration for certain programs, grants, and funding.

For more information on AB 1072 please contact Jose Atilio Hernandez at on behalf of Youth Policy Institute and PolicyLink.

  • AB 1831 (Dickson and Swanson)—Hiring Practices—would expand California’s “ban the box” policy for state public employees to city and county workers across the state. The bill delays a criminal background check requirement in the hiring process, which would reduce unnecessary barriers to employment for the one in four adult Californians who have an arrest or conviction record.  Cities and counties—Alameda County, Oakland, San Francisco City and County, and Richmond—have passed resolutions in favor of AB 1831. About 80 groups have submitted letters of support so far including labor, interfaith, reentry, and civil rights groups. Chief of Police Davis (East Palo Alto), Chief of Police Magnus (Richmond), and Chief of Probation Still (San Francisco), understanding that stable employment reduces recidivism, have also provided their support.

AB 1831 will be heard in Assembly Local Government Committee as early as May 2nd.  For more information on please contact Maurice Emsellem at and

The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color Bulletin: New Research and Featured Events


UCLA Report Says Out-of-School Suspensions Reveal ‘Hidden Crisis’ in California

Researchers at UCLA released a report showing 400,000 California students were suspended from school in 2009 — enough to fill all the professional baseball and football stadiums in the state.

The new study from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA also found  that many California school districts suspend large percentages of students. The first-of-its-kind analysis shows that 10 districts suspended 25 percent of their students in the 2009-2010 school year. The report, Suspended Education in California’s Public Schools, shows large disparities amongst students of color and students with disabilities, but it also finds suspensions are high regardless of a student’s race.

“Most suspensions are for minor or vague infractions, such as disrespect, defiance and dress code violations, and this is clearly an unsound educational policy,” says coauthor Daniel Losen. “The numbers in our report indicate an absolute crisis in many California districts since suspending students out of school – with no guarantee of adult supervision – greatly increases the risk for dropping out and involvement in the juvenile justice system.”

The California Department of Education reported over 750,000 total suspensions for the same year, meaning many students were suspended multiple times.

To read the report, click here. 


On Friday April 13, 2012, the Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys of Men Color, held another successful, local hearing in Fresno, California. The Committee, which is chaired by Assembly Member Sandré Swanson, heard the testimony of a diverse cadre of youth, community, and leaders in front of an audience of  over 300 people.  Planning and outreach for the hearing was led by leaders of a local partnership to improve the health, educational, and economic outcomes among boys and men of color in Fresno and the broader San Joaquin Valley.  The partners, who are focusing their attention on the Fresno BHC site and other vulnerable neighborhoods, presented the Committee with data on the status of boys and men of color in their communities and comprehensive recommendations for state action that is needed to strengthen and expand community and system efforts that are in progress in Fresno. For more information on the hearing, see the materials below:

The Boys and Men Of Color Summit: 7 Generations of Health, Healing and Hope

Where: Raymond Great Hall, University of the Pacific 3601 Pacific Avenue, Stockton, California

When: April 20 – 21, 2012

This Summit, hosted by Fathers and Families of the San Joaquin, seeks to build a youth movement in the Central Valley to link marginalized and disenfranchised youth to the political process. The Summit will teach youth how to engage and organize around community issues, promote higher education and career planning, and create a stage for youth to share narratives about community struggles and organizing efforts.

Fighting School Push-Out: School Discipline Policy at the State Level

When: April 18, 2012 from 2 – 3:30PM Pacific

This webinar will focus on how individuals and organizations can learn from and join a growing network that is working to eliminate harmful local discipline practices, and build understanding and capacity for the implementation of better approaches to promoting safe, just, and fair schools across California.

Register for this webinar here

Act today to save Sustainable Communities!

Sustainable Communities needs your help!

This Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development will vote on funding for the Sustainable Communities Initiative in the FY 2013 budget. Through this program, investments in affordable housing and good jobs near transit are being planned in 142 cities and regions across the country—with equity advocates planning for their communities’ futures. Maybe you live in one of these places.

However, Congress isn’t so sure that these investments are necessary. Last year, they voted to zero out funding for the Sustainable Communities program in the FY 2012 budget. This year, we have to make sure Congress knows how important these investments are to increasing access to opportunity for communities that have been left behind.

Call, tweet, and write on your Senators’ wall and tell them that every community should be a Sustainable Community.

Tell your Senators to support Sustainable Communities by:

• Fully funding the Sustainable Communities program at $100 million for the FY 2013 budget
• Building healthy communities and strong regions with good jobs, housing, and transportation
• Bringing private, public, and nonprofit sectors together to rebuild our economies

Please call key Senators (in this order) before the looming vote as soon as Tuesday and tell them to fully fund the Sustainable Communities program.

If your own Senator is on this list, call her or him first.
• Call the Chair, Senator Murray
• Call the Ranking member, Senator Collins
• Post this call to action to Facebook and Twitter so as many constituents as possible are calling their Senators
• Call as many other Senators on the list as possible
• Watch the hearing here, and keep the conversation going online!

Please let us know who you called and how they responded by e-mailing us here!

WATCH: Angela Blackwell on PBS’ Moyers & Company

Set your DVR’s!

Last night PolicyLink Founder and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell appeared as a guest on Bill Moyers PBS series, Moyers & Company. Angela sat down for more than an hour talking with Bill about the issues she has spent most of her adult life advocating – practical ways to fulfill America’s promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all. Now, with our middle class struggling, poverty rising, and inequality growing, Angela shares her reasons for hope in the face of these hard realities. Here’s a quick preview:

You can watch the entire episode here on Bill And please continue the discussion with us below in the comments section.