In February, 1999 my first grandson was born in Berkeley. He arrived early and underweight, and came home from the hospital 6 weeks after birth. That same year, coincidently, the City of Berkeley issued a Health Status Report, which included the fact that my grandson had a 40% less chance of living to the age 40 than children his age born to households in the hills above the flatlands where we lived.
I was shocked, afraid, devastated, motivated, and galvanized to action! I had to act, do something to reverse this prediction. My grandson deserved as great a chance to a long, healthy life as any other child in Berkeley. I wanted to let people know this was happening. I wanted to get people mobilized and doing something about it. I wanted to save my grandson and others like him from the largely preventable diseases that were shortening so many lives, like heart disease and diabetes.
I quit my administrative job at the Berkeley Community Fund and became the Healthy Start Grant Coordinator at Malcolm X Elementary, where I hoped my grandson would one day attend. There I met and worked with many wonderful people who understood the urgency to reverse these health trends. They helped me to learn the many causes of the obvious health disparities in Berkeley, among them lack of resources and access to health care, living in toxic environments, a dearth of full-service markets with fresh food, and an abundance of liquor stores.
Many, many people and organizations worked together to stem the tide of an impending health crisis. We were inspired and motivated to seek solutions and create strategies that could affect positive change. I became a member of the BUSD Child Nutrition Advisory Committee and later, the Berkeley Food Policy Council.
We developed food policies for our schools and the city, eliminated soda vending machines, improved our school meals programs, installed salad bars in our school cafeterias, and provided garden and cooking classes in our schools. We created produce stands near subsidized childcare facilities and trained youth from low-income neighborhoods to run them, sharing healthy recipes and nutrition information with the community.
Our city came together, rolled up sleeves and got to work. The City health department strategized and created new and expanded heath services with an emphasis on early prevention, such as cooking and nutrition classes, prenatal services and education, and opportunities for physical activity.
My concern for my family sparked my determined activism. It has led me to be involved in many local movements to create a healthier environment for our kids. And it has led me to be a wholehearted, dedicated proponent of Measure D!
I am still alarmed at the dire statistics and predictions of diabetes and obesity rates in this country. So is the public health community. Eventually, everyone will come to acknowledge the damage that excess sugar – especially liquid sugar – is doing to our health and our children’s health. How many people have to suffer? How high do the diabetes statistics have to go before we act? How many have to die before we all see the light? Let’s not wait!
Berkeley has a long, serious history of being in the forefront of progressive social change. Many of our citizens think and act as if this city’s government really is of, by, and for the people! This is why I am confident that when Measure D passes, the money will be spent as intended: to inform and educate people, and to support the reduction of sugary beverage consumption in our city, for our kids.
We must, we will pass this measure now! Vote YES on Measure D!
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