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The recognition that societal ills are concentrated in particular places has been a part of my life from a very early age. Growing up in the Lower Passaic River watershed, vacant lots, abandoned properties and contaminated sites were and remain abundant. These locally unwanted land uses, many of which are classified as brownfields, are a part of the history of my neighborhoods. At the heart of our communities runs the Passaic River, a historic and mighty river which was at the center of New Jersey’s industrial revolution. Decades of improper waste disposal and manufacturing left the 17-mile tidal stretch of the river contaminated with layers of dioxin, PCBs, mercury and other toxic pollutants — the pollution is so serious that the lowest 8 -mile stretch was federally designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
We all need a health-promoting environment. Without it, a number of social and economic problems can arise for individuals and communities at large. But not everyone has access to a healthy environment as evidenced by where pollution-producing facilities are located. While some may argue that these facilities need to be located somewhere, it is the likelihood of their siting in Black, Latino and working class and low-income communities that calls into question the fairness of these decision making procedures. How can we espouse a culture of democracy and equality when immutable characteristics like race, ethnicity and class determine your health outcomes through aspects of your community’s built and natural environment? When addressing disparities in environmental quality, it is important to understand what factors contribute to this kind of inequity and how these problems manifest themselves geographically. To advance an intersectional agenda of racial and economic justice, identifying the cause, consequences and implications of all types of inequity is necessary and foundational.
Two weeks ago, President Donald J. Trump declared the current opioid crisis a public health emergency, a move to address this transmuted crisis that was highly anticipated by drug policy scholars. Although there are numerous problems associated with this statement, particularly how this directive does not free up any additional funds to deal with the crisis, what is lost in this conversation is how the narrative on drug use has suddenly become more compassionate and humane — now that its victims are, in large part, white.
In a report marked for official use only recently obtained by Foreign Policy, the FBI assessed that “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement,” classifying those espousing this ideology as “black identity extremists," or BIEs. This document, dated Aug. 3, was internally released less than two months after the President Donald J. Trump's administration “refocused” the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) countering violent extremism (CVE) programs on Middle Eastern extremist groups and away from far-right, white supremacist organizations. Before the FBI report was leaked, the phrase had never been used, but now it is being applied to activists based on them being black, rather than on an overarching ideological connection. What makes the Trump administration’s fixation on categorizing black activists as BIEs all the more outrageous is that in a joint intelligence bulletin released this past spring, officials highlighted the serious threat posed by white supremacist groups which have carried out “more attacks than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years and were likely to carry out more attacks over the next year.”
On Oct. 1, at least 58 people were killed and over 500 were injured in a mass shooting committed by Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old white man, at a concert in Las Vegas. Since news of the mass shooting spread, the dominant conversation in mainstream and social media outlets has been the one that follows almost every mass shooting in the past two decades: gun control. There are numerous issues stemming from the gun control conversation, including but not limited to how Paddock was not immediately labeled a terrorist, the conflation of mental illness and proclivity of violent behavior and crime and the erasure of other violent events in U.S. history more deadly than the Las Vegas shooting when inaccurately labelling it the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history.”
Doctors are seen as trustworthy individuals who dedicate their careers to their communities and larger public service, yet, for marginalized people, especially black Americans, the medical community elicits fear and mistrust due to a record of discriminatory practices in diagnosis and treatment. While awareness of the ways in which doctors discriminate against patients of color is growing, the most infamous case of medical racism, the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, remains largely unknown by the populace. It is crucial that we recognize ways and instances in which “trusted” public institutions actively engage in racism so that we can build institutions that truly serve us all. Our public health system and scientific institutions are not exceptions to participating in institutional and systemic racism, and the Tuskegee Study is a testament to this legacy.
Many students enter trade schools, colleges and universities with the primary goal of obtaining meaningful employment after graduation. There is a lot that goes into preparing for the transition into gainful employment, but professional standards of dress and conduct are among the most challenging to navigate. We are told that to be competitive, we need to “look and act professionally” at job fairs, networking events, interviews and practically anywhere you could run into a prospective employer. There are more than a few people who believe professionalism is the “key to success,” ensuring that the field is level for all job-seekers and employees. However, we often do not take the time to acknowledge how these unspoken rules stifle individuality and creativity and ultimately reinforce social hierarchies that center the white, male, cisgender, heterosexual and upper-class aesthetic. To those who do not fit this mold, existing in a professional space can be tiring or even traumatic.
In conversations about how to address societal illnesses, we largely gloss over the nuances and complexities of the situation. Many times, issues like poverty, hunger, homelessness and violence are often discussed in silos, influencing the ways in which we tackle them. However, if we are to solve these social problems and promote economic growth, it is essential to get to the root of the issue as early as possible. That is why a child-centered approach to community and economic development can give neighborhoods, states and nations an opportunity to mitigate and prevent devastating dilemmas while supporting community health and economic prosperity.
Researchers, activists and practitioners in environmental justice (EJ) have conducted work supporting the conclusion that poor communities of color are more likely to be plagued by environmental health hazards and pollution. Much of the research and media coverage has focused on the human and public health consequences of poor air and water quality, unsafe housing and a lack of active and public mass transportation services. However, there are also serious long-term implications to the educational outcomes of the people most affected by environmental burdens, primarily poor children of color.
White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney recently defended proposed budget cuts to prominent anti-hunger programs, including the popular Meals on Wheels America and school meal programs, stating that the administration will not spend money “on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises …” He went on to claim that there is “no demonstrable evidence” that school meals help kids perform better academically. In the age of “alternative facts,” it comes as no surprise that an official from President Donald J. Trump's administration is making unfounded assertions about programs that help the poor. It is crucial that members of this democratic republic stay vigilant and review the evidence when such statements are made.
Earlier this week, Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, announced plans to donate $1 million to Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The announcement follows Chance’s meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Ill.) ( last Friday which left him feeling unsatisfied over the governor’s “vague” answers). A native of Chicago’s West Chatham neighborhood, Chance met with Rauner to discuss the dire situation Chicago’s public schools are in: Despite CPS facing a budget shortfall of approximately $500 million in the past fiscal year, Rauner vetoed a measure to provide the district with state aid.
Children are the very foundation of our communities and society. Our families welcome children every year — we nurture, care for, teach and love them with the hope that they will develop into happy, healthy and well-informed members of the world. Despite the unfortunate reality that many children do not have this supportive foundation, our communities should be able to step up to ensure that all children can thrive and meaningfully contribute to society as a whole. But in far too many states, including New Jersey, the cost of raising a child tells a concerning story of income and wealth inequality, segregation, personal financial hardship and economic stagnation.
Time and time again, elected officials and the media decry “failing urban schools” and the handicap they give poor children, particularly black and Hispanic children, entering adulthood. This rhetoric was pervasive during President Donald J. Trump’s campaign, especially when he concluded the final 2016 presidential debate by saying, “Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education. They have no jobs.” Trump’s vision of the “inner city” is at least “30 years past its prime,” and it undermines efforts to ameliorate the challenges people in urban centers are actually facing such as gentrification, segregation, the escalating cost of housing, environmental and public health, policing, safe and accessible transportation and more.
Having children and supporting families is central to human life and the propagation of mankind. Yet, those who choose to have children are met with an increasingly uncertain future when planning their families. An especially pressing question on the mind of parents is who will take care of their child when they return to work?
What do you do about underperforming or poorly managed public school districts? How do you ensure the educational and developmental needs of children are being met? In an attempt to hold school districts accountable for fiscal problems, the 1987 N.J. state takeover law was enacted, granting the state government power to authorize partial or full intervention of local public school districts in distressed situations. N.J.'s state takeover law was the first of its kind — 28 states have followed suit with similar bills.
The 1896 Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson found Louisiana's “separate but equal” law of authorized segregation constitutional, building on white supremacy and the flawed notion of black inferiority. Nearly 60 years of Jim Crow laws along with deliberate pushback and positive gains made by people of color in the South culminated in the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, which overturned Plessy stating separate schools are “inherently unequal.” After ordering the lower federal courts to require desegregation efforts to be carried out swiftly, school districts began to integrate black students into predominantly white schools through school busing. However, an enormous amount of white flight into the suburbs (and out of urban communities) beginning in the late 1960s made it difficult to sustain busing programs, particularly after the 1974 case of Milliken v. Bradley which ruled that suburban students (i.e. white students) could not be used to desegregate inner city schools. White flight went on, leaving the poor and working-class as the remaining tax base ultimately leading to poorer cities and extremely underfunded schools. Additionally, the busing programs that continued placed a tremendous burden on students of color — in many instances, students traveled more than one hour, sometimes to contentious neighborhoods.
In December, 2015, Michigan Radio reported that the water at a Flint resident's home returned a lead content of 104 parts per billion (ppb) — almost eight times higher than the action level of 15 ppb set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Flint Water Crisis has been well-covered by the national media but even with the resignation of numerous Michigan officials and a federal class-action lawsuit currently underway, many Americans are only beginning to realize how pervasive our country's lead problem is. Despite federal regulatory decisions that addressed lead in paint, soil, air and water, the current reality tells a story of a nationwide problem that was never fully solved.
Most large universities are highly accessible spaces for alternative modes of transportation and Rutgers University is no exception. For too many of us, traveling between campuses is the first opportunity in our lives to walk or bike to school, and doing it safely is challenging in parts of New Brunswick.
In New Jersey, early fall is a time of great bounty with more than 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables in season, ripe for the picking (and eating). This colorful harvest is happening across the country and is celebrated every October as National Farm to School Month, designated by Congress in 2010. For many adults who were out of secondary school before the most recent child nutrition program changes, school lunch carries mixed feelings. Stories of cardboard pizza and “mystery meat” are pervasive in my mid-millenial group of friends. However, families, school districts, municipalities and counties alike are working together to ensure students have access to the nutritious foods they need while also supporting the local and regional food economies.
Almost six years ago, the 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) enacted substantial changes to the federal Child Nutrition Programs the bill authorizes, including the beloved National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Among several noteworthy provisions, CNR 2010 set strengthened science-based nutritional standards for school meals, expanded school breakfast and summer food service programs, and laid the foundation for a healthier future for all children through the Farm to School Program, school garden grants program and nutrition education requirement.