When I was a little girl, I would spend a week or so each summer with my grandparents who lived just outside the small town of Three Rivers, Texas (about 90 miles south of San Antonio). They lived on a farm where they raised both cattle and crops, and those hot summer days were spent swimming, riding horses, and helping my grandfather, Papa Jack, fix fences and herd cattle from one pasture to another while he tapped out the cadence of the Texas A&M University fight song on the horn of his small pickup truck.
Each morning, Papa Jack would raise the American flag on the 20-foot-tall flagpole he’d erected, and at sundown, all the kids would join him in a flag-lowering ceremony, complete with military-style flag-folding. This simple, patriotic act was extremely significant to my grandfather who immigrated to the United States from Russia as a young boy in 1910. Papa Jack sincerely believed America was a land of freedom and equality–and until he died at the age of 100, he remained humbled by and grateful for the opportunities he’d been given throughout his life as a naturalized American citizen.
Papa Jack also believed that with his American citizenship came responsibilities–responsibilities he did not take lightly. To that end, he virtually personified the notion of “paying it forward” by serving as a champion for the rights of the less fortunate, the under-served, and those to whom others paid little, if any, attention. He knew what it felt like to be discriminated against and worked tirelessly to ensure that everyone he encountered was treated fairly, regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, the language they spoke, their gender, or how much money they made. And sometimes, that meant standing up for what he believed in–all alone. Today–and every day–I honor his memory and his patriotism by flying my own American flag from my front porch.
This week, our nation celebrates two momentous occasions: Independence Day and the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin and changed the course of history for millions and millions of Americans FOREVER.
Or so we thought.
Turns out that today, 50 years later, millions of Americans–people of color, women, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender individuals, and immigrants and refugees–STILL suffer from significant disparities and inequities when it comes to their health. Some of these disparities and inequities can be attributed to a lack of access to appropriate healthcare resources, including differences in the way they are treated based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality. Surprisingly however, many of these disparities and inequities are due not so much to WHO they are, but to WHERE they live.
In a piece she wrote for the January 30, 2014 issue of the Health Affairs Grant Watch Blog, Anne Warhover, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation, stated, “One-fifth of all Americans live in environments that compromise their health–where there are no sidewalks or trails for people to walk and bike; where there are no playgrounds or parks for children to play; where crime and violence discourage not only outdoor activity, but also social interaction; and where communities lack affordable access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Just imagine: safe neighborhoods with sidewalks, playgrounds, and well-stocked grocery stores nearby could be the remedy for the health inequities so many people struggle with today. Of course, access to affordable health coverage, high quality medical and dental care, and other resources to help people take better care of themselves and their loved ones are important, too. But the idea that your zip code matters more to your health than your DNA does is striking.
Two-hundred thirty-eight years ago this Friday, our nation’s forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence which made the following bold statement:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
To me, it is impossible for one to enjoy Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness in the absence of good health. Moreover, if a significant portion of our population still suffers from health inequities–regardless of the reason–then, I believe, we have not yet fulfilled the promise of the Declaration of Independence or the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated, “This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us to go to work in our communities and our States, in our homes and in our hearts, to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country.” So as our nation marks these two momentous anniversaries this week, we at Boomers Leading Change in Health will continue enthusiastically pursuing our mission to improve the health and increase access to healthcare for under-served individuals and families across Metro Denver–not just to fulfill the promise of legislation long since passed, but to better enable everyone across our community to fulfill their own promise as individuals and as citizens of our great state and our beloved country.
Here’s to ensuring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ALL–no matter who they are or where they live,