The 2004 Urban League’s “State of Black America” report highlights the increasing and glaring disparities between the health of Black and white Americans. These health disparities continue to affect the economic and educational progress and success of our communities. In order to adequately address the health issues African-Americans face, we must begin to understand the environmental factors negatively impacting our health.
It’s time for our community to face the facts:
- 71 percent of African-Americans live in counties that violate federal air pollution standards, compared with 58 percent of the white population.
- 25 percent, or one in four, children in Harlem suffer from asthma. This is the highest rate of asthma ever documented in an American neighborhood.
- Asthma attacks send African-Americans to the emergency room at three times the rate of whites. The death rate from asthma for African-Americans is twice that of whites.
- 72 years is the life expectancy of African-Americans compared with 78 years for whites.
More than two million people of color in the New York area of African, Caribbean and Latino descent live in neighborhoods where there is an overrepresentation of facilities that produce air pollution. Our children and seniors already suffer unfairly from poor air quality because of the toxic by-products from waste treatment facilities, transfer stations, tractor trailers on our streets and fossil fuel burning electric plants in our neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the South Bronx are not far behind in the alarming rates of asthma among children in our country. The pollutants mentioned above show a direct link to increased health problems, especially for people with asthma, other respiratory illnesses and heart and lung disease.
We must educate ourselves and our communities regarding new and alternative energy sources. One such alternative is nuclear power. Recently, a group of concerned citizens and New York residents committed to improving the health of our community and keeping energy affordable launched the Campaign for Afford-able Energy, Environ-mental & Economic Justice. There are environmental organizations that believe we have a fundamental right to have input into environmental decisions that directly or indirectly impact our community. As the need for energy increases in the New York area and the asthma rates continue to rise, CAEEEJ is a vehicle to explore how those energy needs will be met without compromising the health of communities of color. Where health and environmental policies are concerned, there are many organizations like CAEEEJ that want direct input, participation and ongoing dialogue with representation from all communities potentially affected.
The New York Urban League strives for the institutionalization of practices and policies that reduce the disparate impact of environmental burdens on the health of New Yorkers. It has a special interest in African-Americans and other communities of color. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the organization hosted its annual MLK Symposium this year on Jan. 12 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (www.nypl.org/research/  sc/sc.html) in Harlem. This year’s focus was health. The symposium brought together health and environmental experts in the New York area, including Norris McDonald, of the African American Environmentalist Association, health advocates, politicians, civic leaders and the community to discuss health concerns, our environment and solutions. In order for us to live King’s dream, we must first be healthy.
For more than 85 years, the New York Urban League has addressed quality of life issues for African-Americans. Our environment and our health are central to improving the quality of life for communities of color in New York.
Jodi Brockington is director of corporate relations at the New York Urban League. She can be reached at 212-926-8000, Ext. 140, or by e-mail at jbrockin firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jodi Brockington