Profiles Toward Progress

    • May 31, 2011

Leading local advocacy organizations are working in 22 communities of color across the country to change the public policies and neighborhood conditions that will help families to lead healthier lives.

The groups are the collective force of Communities Creating Healthy Environments (CCHE), a $15 million program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that is central to the goal of reversing childhood obesity.

“These groups provide a panoramic, multicultural view of how inequalities in access to healthy foods and safe places to play affect communities, and they offer local, on-the-ground solutions,” noted Dwayne C. Proctor, director of the Foundation’s childhood obesity team. “We all can learn from what they accomplish.”

The organizations and the locations where they are involved include:

Alternatives for Community and Environment, Boston

With its history in environmental justice, the organization is leveraging a membership base of nearly 1,000 residents to target comprehensive economic development, land-use policies and food affordability for Boston’s Roxbury area. It aims to increase residents’ buying power and access to “green jobs” while improving the community’s green space, walkability and healthy food outlets.

Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland, Calif.

As one of the country’s leading environmental justice networks, the organization is engaging, recruiting and training members of local Asian American communities—particularly lower-income immigrants and refugee families—to improve the food and recreational environment throughout the East Bay area.

CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, New York City

The organization, which typically focuses on gentrification, worker exploitation, immigrant deportation and related issues, is working to increase public recreation space for Chinatown residents along Manhattan’s Lower East Side waterfront and to secure a new recreation facility and healthy food alternatives for the Southeast Asian community in a quadrant of the Bronx.

Chinese Progressive Association, San Francisco

The organization, which has long demanded better living and working conditions for immigrant Chinese and other groups, is involving the local health department, multiracial organizations and faith communities to craft a master health plan. The goal is a community-based process that integrates land use, tax policy, transit and more into enforceable policy.

Community Coalition, Los Angeles

Founded in response to the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic, the organization is developing a model healthy school policy at a local high school. It’s also working with city planners and neighborhood planning commissions to accelerate park improvements, expand recreation and encourage healthy food outlets over the clustering of such businesses as liquor stores and day motels.

Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, Fort Yukon, Alaska

Comprised of 10 indigenous nations and dedicated to empowering and building the capacity of their tribal governments, the organization is strengthening community mobilization, advocacy and funding to address food and recreational issues affecting the region. A model project will focus on increased citizen participation in managing natural resources to protect traditional foods.

Freedom Inc., Madison, Wis.

With a diverse membership well beyond the Hmong women who comprised its original core, the organization is engaging Asian American youths and their families in the Madison area. It recently helped to spur a public housing agreement for land set-asides for urban gardens. It is developing a community education curriculum and policy advocacy on recreation access and funding.

Indigenous Environmental Network, Bemidji, Minn.

Fueled by its track record of policy change on environmental and social justice issues, the network is intent on increasing access to healthy, locally grown and wild foods for Native Americans in Northern Minnesota. This work toward “food sovereignty” will include a food council that will bridge gaps in the local food system.

Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Chicago

Formed by Muslim students, community residents and leaders as a response to inner-city poverty, the organization is helping local businesses address issues like limited availability of healthy foods and the disproportionate amount of shelf space allotted for unhealthy items. It is conducting surveys, market research and merchant trainings, and mobilizing public support to increase healthy food outlets.

Inner City Struggle, Los Angeles

These zones will effectively limit the availability of unhealthy food products. With roots in the Chicano activism of the 1960s, the organization is targeting school policies so students have safe places to play and better access to healthy food during the day. It already has helped establish “health empowerment zones” in several schools, which will provide added recreation options after school.

La Unión del Pueblo Entero, San Juan, Texas

Founded by labor rights activist César Chávez, the organization is working to eliminate inequities in recreation funding and access in Hidalgo County—with one goal being street lighting that would immediately allow greater physical activity within the colonias. Activities will include an extensive scan of public and private recreation resourcing, expanded Spanish-language advocacy materials and trainings.

Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Jackson, Miss.

The organization, a multi-city network of racial justice and human rights activists, is partnering with the American Civil Liberties Union to increase food and recreation access in Jackson. Its work will cover model tax and financing incentives to facilitate the expansion of healthy food outlets, collaboration with farmers and advocacy for more public funding of recreation and green space.

Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative, Okmulgee, Okla.

The initiative, which is focused on sustainable agriculture and economic development, is collecting and compiling local data as part of a campaign for food and fitness advocacy and policy development. It will craft a model policy allowing tribal food services to purchase locally produced food.

Padres Unidos, Denver

The intergenerational organization, which was formed more than 20 years ago to take on school funding disparities, actively mobilizes students of all ages. Its efforts include forging alliances with food worker unions, farmers and others to encourage the public school system to increase access to healthy foods. Among the solutions: A “scratch cooking” pilot program, which uses fresh and locally sourced ingredients.

People Organized to Win Employment Rights, San Francisco

With its record of grassroots advocacy among homeowners and public housing residents in the Bayview Hunters Point section of San Francisco, the organization is working to increase the community’s oversight of redevelopment activities. It’s also pressing for better environmental health citywide through greater public access to green spaces and locally grown produce.

Power U Center for Social Change, Miami

The organization, which works with lower-income residents, women and youth, is focusing on the historic Overtown community and how to leverage Sustainable Community Benefits Agreements to expand access to food and recreation. It also will aim for policy change to increase institutional support for breastfeeding and, within the public schools, limit student detention in lieu of recreation alternatives.

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, Detroit

Building on its mission to improve restaurant workers’ conditions and advancement, the organization is moving toward a regional collaboration with residents, policymakers, health advocates, urban farmers and business owners. It will establish a workers leadership council, advance advocacy and offer model policies to better regulate the prepared food environment.

Rocky Boy Health Board, Box Elder, Mont.

The board, which has administered youth health initiatives within the Rocky Boy Nation, is partnering with the Tribal Business Committee to develop programming to build youth advocacy on childhood obesity prevention and changes in school food and recreation policies. It recently helped to achieve land set-asides for local food production and in-store nutrition labeling for grocery shoppers.

Safe Streets/Strong Communities, New Orleans

The organization, created after Hurricane Katrina, is using its membership, contacts and experience to provide resident trainings, workshops and public forums about recreation and food issues. Its base of mostly lower-income African-American women is working with other residents, civic leaders and policymakers to maintain city resources for park and recreation programs.

SouthWest Organizing Project, Albuquerque, N.M.

The organization, which has long focused on reconnecting communities to their land, is promoting local food production on formerly empty and littered lots. It already has turned a property half the size of a soccer field into an urban garden and negotiated water access through city officials—another key issue it will address through policy to help maintain water as a public good.

Southwest Youth Collaborative, Chicago

The organization, which advocates for youth from diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds, is seeking changes in food service contracts in juvenile detention centers to eliminate junk food marketing and increase healthy options. It will offer model policies for healthy food and recreation access, conduct organizer trainings and establish a Youth Accountability Council.

WE ACT for Environmental Justice, New York City

Dedicated to building community power to fight for environmental justice, the organization is working in Northern Manhattan to change school food and beverage options and increase students’ access to healthy, locally grown food. One of its strategies is engaging and training youth organizers to develop and implement a policy platform to reform overall food standards in schools.