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A Stronger Future for Young Men of Color

Jun 4, 2014, 11:12 AM, Posted by Maisha Simmons

New Orleans - Forward Promise - Tyrone Turner - 04/2013

 “All hands on deck” is the best way to describe the last three months. Over the last 90 days, many of my colleagues and I have had endless conversations with the 11 foundations working in parallel to the White House’s launch of My Brother’s Keeper. These conversations have enabled us to develop a comprehensive strategy to catalyze broader investments to improve opportunities and outcomes for boys and young men of color. Now, RWJF and our partners are excited to release the executive summary of our new report, A Time for Action: Mobilizing Philanthropic Support for Boys and Young Men of Color.

Read the news release

Together we’ve looked at some of the most promising models for unlocking opportunity for young men despite the multitude of challenges they face. We’ve asked ourselves, “What strategies will move the needle farthest? How can we move beyond adopting programs to fundamentally changing those systems that help shape the experiences and trajectory of our young men?” We’ve shared our foundations’ unique approaches to the work and long-term goals. I’ve been most struck by the underlying passion that each of our foundations has for this work. While we each take a different approach in the grants we make and priorities we’re advancing, at root there is a true and touching shared commitment to improving the lives of our country’s young men of color.

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Making a Collective Impact in the Lives of Young Men of Color

Apr 2, 2014, 9:15 AM, Posted by Maisha Simmons

Hispanic, Iraqi and African American male students

On a bone-chilling cold day in Chicago last fall, I went on a site visit for a pending grantee. The grantee's office was warm and cozy, tucked away in a neighborhood with a bustling corridor of small businesses that sold a variety of ethnic foods and baked goods. The office walls told the stories of the neighborhood through brightly colored murals depicting loving families and happy children, on a backdrop of a beautiful Chicago landscape.

During this site visit I met a young man named Jose who captivated the room with his story. Jose loved art, even though his school had no art program. Art was the one way that he could express his love, fear, joy and pain. The art poured out of him—on his notebooks and books, and eventually on the walls and fences of his community. Luckily, a relative recognized Jose’s talent and found a community art program where he could learn his craft and express himself on canvases and murals instead of on buildings and public property.

A few months later, Jose was called into his principal’s office and threatened with suspension. Teachers and staff suspected that Jose was to blame for recent vandalism on school property. Shocked and nervous, Jose tried to explain that his art program had given him an outlet and that he no longer drew on desks or walls. But he had no proof and was suspended.

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After Trayvon, 10 Reasons for Hope

Jul 17, 2013, 2:52 PM, Posted by Maisha Simmons

New Orleans - Forward Promise - Tyrone Turner - 04/2013

This past Sunday afternoon—the day after the Zimmerman verdict was announced—I stood in a crowd of people from all ethnicities and nationalities, babies and old folk, with people who looked like their address could be Park Avenue or a park bench. We all converged on Union Square in New York City in 100-degree heat to demonstrate our unity, chanting “Justice for Trayvon!”

In the midst of this peaceful protest, I could not stop thinking about a different event about to take place this week here at the Foundation and around the nation.

On Wednesday, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced that it will invest approximately $5 million to support 10 initiatives around the country to improve the health of young men of color and improve their chances for success. The grants are part of RWJF’s $9.5 million Forward Promise initiative, started in 2011, and my colleagues and I have been preparing for this moment for months and months. It is one of the most exciting times in my career.

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Ending a Childhood Disease

Jun 10, 2013, 10:48 AM, Posted by Anna Heling, Kristin Schubert

Poverty Epidemic Blog Graphic

We rarely think of poverty as a disease. It doesn’t trace back to a microbe, it doesn’t transmit through coughs or sneezes. But for children, the effects of poverty can have lifelong implications as devastating as many diseases.

As author Perri Klass, MD, noted recently in The New York Times, the stress and limitations that often accompany childhood poverty can influence children’s life trajectories, change their dispositions, blunt their brain development, and even alter their genes.

Today we’re in the midst of a poverty epidemic not seen since the Depression. We have more kids living in poverty now than we have had for generations. That’s scary, especially now that we know what poverty does to you neurologically, biologically, and socially. A child’s early development has huge implications on health for when that child is 20 years old, or even 30, 40, or 50 years old.

So what can we do about it? To start, we need to look holistically at who is around to support a child. Who is giving care to make sure a child can, as Klass puts it, “grow toward the light”? As a society, we need to ask how we can make sure families have the supports they need to give the best care to their child, even as they face the trials of poverty.

Support for lifting children and families out of poverty often gets wrapped up in asking who’s accountable for the situation, or the politics around a handout versus picking yourself up from your bootstraps. The conversation—and action—could get further if we set aside these polarizations and approached the problem, instead, as an early childhood disease. There’s a huge need for that conversation to happen. We all have a stake in this. It’s costly to pay for poor health outcomes that we know stem from trauma and adversity early in life. Whether you care from an economic perspective or you care from a moral one, recognizing poverty as a childhood disease is imperative to the future wellbeing and productivity of our society.

Early childhood is a primary focus of the 2013 Commission to Build a Healthier America, which meets June 19 in Washington, D.C. 

Learn more and register for the public meeting 

Avoid SNAP Judgments

May 22, 2013, 11:41 AM, Posted by Culture of Health Blog Team

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Almost 48 million Americans receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—SNAP, for short. This federal entitlement program helps low-income Americans purchase food for their families, and it encourages healthy eating habits.

Writing in the Huffington Post, RWJF Senior Vice President James S. Marks, MD, MPH, says SNAP's benefits to society are clear, in spite of arguments to the contrary. For every dollar spent on federal food aid, he says, benefits generate $1.72 in economic activity. Of course, SNAP principally helps families alleviate hunger, reap critical nutritional benefits, and combat the nationwide obesity epidemic.

Unfortunately, federal lawmakers are considering ways to take a bite out of SNAP. Two million people would lose food assistance, and more than 200,000 children would stop receiving free school meals under a version of the Farm Bill recently passed by the House Agriculture Committee, Marks asserts. A Senate bill would cut less, he adds, but the reduction in benefits and more stringent eligibility requirements would still be substantial, and damaging to the public's health.

"Fortunately, there is still an opportunity for Congress to chart a different course," Marks suggests. "As we strive for a full economic recovery and a healthier nation, supporting SNAP is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do."

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