February 13, 2018 Djuan Coleon

The Beloved Community: Building Sustainable Ecosystems in the Black Community.

We cannot talk about rebuilding failed black communities unless we understand we’re not talking about dealing with dilapidated housing, environmental pollution and the absence of fresh food and grocery stores. We must understand we’re dealing with a failed ecosystem in the community. There is a symbiotic relationship between failing schools, depressed housing values, high crime, people living at or below the poverty line, energy poverty and chronic health issues. Everything is interconnected and impacts the ecosystem in the community.

Ecosystem a system, or a group of interconnected elements, formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment and also with their non-living environments. The non-living environments include weather, earth sun, soil, climate and atmosphere.

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FOOD ACCESS

In the previous blog “The Death of the Black Community: No Grocery Stores” we highlighted how retail stores like Publix avoid communities designated as Food Deserts. When communities don’t have retail grocery stores this also can mean you will not have the other businesses and stores that attach themselves to a anchor grocery store in a shopping center plaza. These shopping centers attached to grocery stores can mean hundreds of jobs and can lead to further development in the community. The question then is why don’t black communities just open their own grocery stores and have their own businesses in the shopping plaza. In Atlanta there is a thriving Asian community where they are opening their 4th H-Mart store. These stores not only provide fresh food and vegetables but also sell products from asian companies thus creating sustainability for the community. When grocery stores like Kroger are embedded into the ecosystem of a community they help build an acnhor for other businesses to come into the area.

“Businesses can thrive when they locate next to a Kroger-bannered store, and Kroger Real Estate owns many of the shopping centers located adjacent to its stores.  If you’re looking to lease retail space, consider locating your business next to us. Kroger Real Estate can pair you with a great location next to a neighbor that’s one of the best names in business.” (Kroger.com)

 How can you build a good ecosystem in struggling black communities when retain chains are closing stores in underperforming markets and communities and cutting back on expansion? Stores are trying to be more productive.

“You will see, like [CEO] Frank Blake did with Home Depot, fewer stores, higher volume and more productivity, and more profitability per store,” he said. (Supermarket News)

As we come upon the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s  the Poor People’s Campaign in Memphis, Tennessee. The SCLC is pleading with Kroger to keep it’s stores open in struggling black communities.

“We’re asking Kroger corporate and officials to look at another avenue,” an Southern Christian Leadership Conference Memphis Branch President Rev. Walter Womack.

He and other members of the SCLC pleaded to Kroger, where many live in poverty and don’t have transportation.

“It also creates hardship on the citizens in surrounding areas, especially our elderly,” he said. (WREG Memphis)

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS 

Another major component of the ecosystem in the black community is the quality of the environment. Unfortunately the report “Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty,” which found that more than half of all people in the United States who live within 3.0 kilometers (1.86 miles) of a hazardous waste facility are people of color.  “Racial discrimination in zoning and the housing market, along with siting decisions based on following the path of least resistance, may best explain present-day inequities “( Jim Erickson).  Improving fresh food access in the black community without addressing systemic issues with toxic and hazardous waste does not improve the ecosystem.  In Atlanta, GA Green Law has done research illustrating how toxic and hazardous waste pollution is disproportionate in black communities in the city.  “blocks with a minority population 50 percent or higher have more than double the number of pollution points than blocks where minorities make up less than 10 percent of the population” (Green Law)

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When you have toxic and hazardous waste facilities in the community ecosystem it not only impacts the health and well being of the residents but lowers housing values.

HEATLH IMPACTS

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Not far from the birthplace of Mrs. Coretta Scott King (wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) in Lowndes County Alabama we have an unprecedented hookwork epidemic. “Children playing feet away from open pools of raw sewage; drinking water pumped beside cracked pipes of untreated waste; human faeces flushed back into kitchen sinks and bathtubs whenever the rains come; people testing positive for hookworm, an intestinal parasite that thrives on extreme poverty.” (the Guardian)

My wife is from rural Alabama not too far from here and inadequate waste disposal infrastructure is a prevalent issue.  These same areas also have low access to fresh food and produce, combined with toxic and hazardous waste that all impact health and life expectancy. A third of the population live below the poverty line in Lowndes County. This is also where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Marched from Selma to Montgomery and every year people make a symbolic pilgrimage to Edmond Pettus Bridge but we still have Third World conditions in this area while people are celebrating and pontificating about days long past.

We cannot talk about building resilient communities especially in the black community unless we deal with the ecosystems of these communities.

TRANSPORTATION ACCESS

“Many low-income people in urban and suburban areas struggle to find reliable transportation. The result is missed appointments and poor illness management, even when care is readily available.” (Imran Cronk The Atlantic)

The lack of reliable public transportation infrastructure is prevalent in the black community. Either not having access to a vehicle or public transportation limits residents from being able to make doctors appointments and get basic treatment. In countries like Singapore which now ranked number 4 in the world in life expectancy the government put an emphasis in putting in infrastructure to insure the health and well being of its citizens.

“In the early years of Singapore’s independence, health issues mainly pertained to poor nutrition and hygiene factors. Health education focused on teaching a largely uneducated population to practice preventive measures like hand-washing and boiling drinking water. As Singapore developed, the government started putting in place accessible and affordable quality health services. The investment in the health system was complemented by further government investments in an effective public health system such as the provision of clean drinking water and good sanitation, the enforcement of food safety standards and pollution control. Singapore also set up an entire government agency, the Health Promotion Board (HPB), which is dedicated to promoting healthy diets, exercise, health education and regular screenings among Singaporeans.” (Healthy Partners.net)

In order for communities to become sustainable and resilient the local, state and federal governments in partnership with public private partnerships must build the ecosystems of the communities starting with the marginalized.

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“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the fires of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until they who live on the outskirts of Hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heap of history and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home. Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be
transformed into the bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

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