Let’s Help Children of Color Breathe Easier

By Janette Robinson Flint, executive director of Black Women for Wellness
Cross-posted in LA Sentinel, November 20, 2015

When breathing is easy, we can think, create, and live fuller lives. But for many communities in Los Angeles, breathing is easier said than done. There are days where I look out the window, and can’t see the mountains that surround Los Angeles. On those days, I unconsciously avoid looking at the air we are breathing, yet I know that the smog will be heavier in the lungs of children in my community who have asthma.

South Los Angeles and Crenshaw and Inglewood have poor air quality, and we’re exposed to toxins at parks, in schools, in our homes and at work. One consequence of this pollution is staggeringly disproportionate health outcomes – a 2013 report by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health shows that 30% of African American children in the county have special health care needs. That’s a full 10% higher than any other ethnicity in the county. That same report shows that 24% of African American children in Los Angeles County have asthma – that’s three times the asthma rate for any other ethnicity. The health of our children is directly tied to the environment they’re growing up in.

But there’s good news too. Over the last two decades the efforts to improve air quality and reduce smog in Los Angeles have had a profound effect. A recent study by USC shows that lung growth has improved by 10% for children in Los Angeles in the last 10 years. That’s because we have cleaner air. We need to continue to keep moving in this direction. It’s also time to see our efforts to create a healthier environment as intricately linked to our children’s health status.

As we work to create economic opportunity in our communities, let’s not create a divide where there is none. We do not have to make a choice between jobs and healthy air quality in our region. Pro Tem Kevin De Leon’s SB350 will create clean energy jobs and make strides for a healthier environment. While we are delighted Governor Brown has signed it into law, there is much work ahead due to oil companies stopping the strongest provision of the bill to clean up our air from moving forward.

At Black Women for Wellness, we encourage our local legislators and leaders to look at issues of environmental health as they relate to public health for the families, seniors, and children living in adversely affected neighborhoods in our community.

Assemblymember Autumn Burke is working on important issues for our community – indeed she is the co-author of AB 775, a safety measure ensuring that women are able to make choices about their reproductive health free from coercion and shame. She is invested with many issues impacting the lives of Black women & girls, from affordable housing to health care to green technology. She understands the kind of environmental and public health struggles we’re facing and the challenges our families in South Los Angeles are dealing with. She’s been a leader for us already, and we know she will fight for our community on these issues, too.

That’s why I urge her and other legislators to continue to champion environmental justice in our community – for clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment for our children to grow up in. It’s time for us to fight the environmental issues that disproportionately affect the health and vitality of communities of color. Black children in Los Angeles should grow up breathing clean air freely, not missing school days and future opportunities because they’re home with asthma. Let’s envision a future with cleaner air for children suffering disproportionately from environmental hazards – and then let’s make it happen.

Janette Robinson Flint
Executive Director, Black Women for Wellness

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