The Importance of Healthy Communities for Boys of Color

by July 23, 2010

(NNPA) – A new report was released in June that sheds a sobering light on how many Black and Latino boys grow up in communities that are, in a number of ways, dangerous to their health. Called “Healthy Communities Matter: The Importance of Place to the Health of Boys of Color,” the report contained contributions from scholars and researchers at the RAND Corporation, PolicyLink, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, and the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice and the Department of Emergency Medicine at Drexel University. It was funded by the California Endowment. Some of its data and best practices focus on California but the lessons learned apply to communities across the country.

The researchers found that boys and young men overall experience worse health outcomes than girls, that these health disparities are even more profound for Black and Latino boys, and that many of these disparities can be connected to community patterns. As they explain: “Negative health outcomes for African-American and Latino boys and young men are a result of growing up in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage, places that are more likely to put boys and young men directly in harm’s way and reinforce harmful behavior.  If you are African American or Latino, you are likely to face not just one of these challenges, but many or all of them.”

They found disparities in a number of areas, including infant mortality, childhood asthma hospitalizations, childhood obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder, rates of HIV and AIDS, and lack of health insurance and access to health care. They also found safety disparities, including higher rates of exposure violence, child abuse and neglect, and homicide death rates. ” They note that these schools’ and neighborhoods’ common characteristics, including concentrated poverty,  high rates of incarceration, overexposure to unhealthy foods, and lack of recreation often work together to lead to disruptive behavior and psychological conditions for boys and young men of color.  As these researchers say, “To recalibrate the life trajectory of African-American and Latino boys and young men, policymakers, community activists and government officials must view the health of a community not in individual parts, but as an unbroken whole,” The report profiles several California organizations and public/private partnerships that are doing just that and achieving results including the California Endowment’s Healthy Returns Initiative, which is designed to address the growing number of youths with untreated health and mental health needs in the state’s juvenile justice system; Youth UpRising, a successful Oakland youth organization and community center that includes health and mental health care, a healthy cafe, and job training among its offerings; and Safe Community Partnership, which is using a public health approach to help stop gun violence.

The researchers summarize their findings this way: “If we have a clearer understanding of [the problems facing Black and Latino boys and young men], then we are all more obligated to do something about it. And once we know that the trauma these children experience is a product of many different factors in their homes, schools and neighborhoods, then it becomes incumbent on health, education, criminal justice and civic leaders to all work together to improve conditions. As a society, we place great emphasis on the personal responsibility of the individual, and our families and institutions should do everything they can to instill in all of our boys and young men a strong sense of self-worth, hope and accountability. But if we expect our children to climb over poverty’s great barriers without help from the rest of us, then we are the ones who are being irresponsible…Improving the places where our boys and young men of color live, learn, work and play is no easy undertaking.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind(R) mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Print Friendly, PDF & Email