UC Davis and Sacramento State researchers bring to light the historically rooted disparities in Sacramento neighborhoods and the impact of the initiative on African American communities
Although the Black Lives Matter movement has become more widespread in the past year, bringing pre-existing systemic racism and racial disparities into the spotlight, efforts toward equity for the African American community locally have been in progress since much earlier. One organization that has been actively addressing such disparities in Sacramento is the Black Child Legacy Campaign (BCLC). According to the organization’s website, the Steering Committee on Reduction of African American Child Deaths created the movement to address the disproportionate child mortality rate in African American children and to reduce it in Sacramento County.
Kindra Montgomery-Block, the associate director of community economic development at the Sierra Health Foundation and lead of the BCLC, explained that when developing the campaign it was important to think about ways to reclaim the narrative around Black children and their families and to speak life into the community.
“When you’re talking about morbidity, something that’s deep and hurtful in the community, it’s really important that you build positivity and life around it,” Montgomery-Block said. “And that is why we called it the Black Child Legacy Campaign, to really put that future life and affirming health and justice out there.”
Montgomery-Block expressed that the African American community has been suffering from health disparities that have been long-standing, but exacerbated by COVID-19. The campaign has striven to not only help the families suffering from the impacts of COVID-19, but also from the health justice and health equity issues they have continually faced.
Vajra Watson, a professor of educational leadership and racial justice in the College of Education at Sacramento State University, explained that as the Black Child Legacy Campaign began to build momentum, she and her colleagues were recruited by the Sierra Health Foundation to further study the impact of the campaign’s work and where there was room for improvement. The team recently published their two-year evaluation titled “Transformative Justice Community: A Countywide Evaluation of the Black Child Legacy Campaign” examining the implementation of five strategies used by the campaign to reduce Black child deaths.
In addition to examining the Black Child Legacy Campaign itself, the research team also investigated the history of the Sacramento neighborhoods with the highest reported African American child mortality rates. Lawrence “Torry” Winn, co-founder and co-director of the Transformative Justice in Education Center at UC Davis, explained that it is important to understand the history of how these issues came about and to see that racial inequities are a result of rooted racial policies and practices.
“Every city has a story that can be told through the lens of race and racism,” Watson said. “Even though Sacramento is incredibly diverse—it’s one of the most diverse cities in this country—diversity does not mean equity.”
The paper highlights how each of the neighborhoods were historically discriminatory towards African American people and did not receive adequate resources. Watson elaborated that these structural inequalities affecting people’s access to healthcare and other resources greatly influence a child’s ability to succeed in Sacramento.
Winn explained one example of this influence through sleep-related deaths in children; families who have no access to pre-child programs oftentimes do not have the knowledge to design their homes in a way that will protect their child while they are sleeping.
“It all comes to the knowledge, the resources [and] the education prior to having a child,” Winn said.
The paper reported that because of the strategies the BCLC had implemented, the rate of African American child and infant deaths in Sacramento in 2021 has been reduced by 25% and 23%, respectively, and the rate of disparity in infant sleep-related deaths has been reduced by more than 50%. Winn expressed that what stood out to him was the collaboration of entities, who had never worked together before, to improve the quality of lives in the city.
“To have the government entity, the county, the philanthropic communities, which is Sierra Health, and these nonprofits to work together with community leaders, […] to see how all these different entities came together is so unique to Sacramento which is a blueprint for other cities, how they can work together to improve the quality of life for some of the most marginalized communities,” Winn said
Montgomery-Block especially highlighted that at the core of the movement is the work of the African American community and the community partners. She emphasized that the BCLC is not only striving for preventing death in the present moment, but is also working toward sustaining a long-term public health goal to create life and bring justice to these communities. Winn added that it is important to invest in non-profit organizations and community leaders that have been seeking justice for years in order to sustain their work.
“The entire initiative, […] it’s really owned and has been built by the African American community and these seven neighborhoods and their leadership […] which led to its impact and success,” Montgomery-Block said.
Watson emphasized the importance for those working in the academic field to understand the history of their surroundings and be able to partner with the community to use research in service of social change. She encourages students to become more involved with community-based organizations to help support causes addressing these disparities.
“Sometimes our greatest power is in our presence,” Watson said. “Just showing up and saying, ‘I’m here to work. I’m here to learn. I’m here to help.’ Those bridges really can lead to deeper understanding in and with community.”
Winn also expressed that regardless of where someone is from or what their ethnicity is, the only way to effect change is to work together.
“I think everyone has a role to play,” Winn said. “I think it’s all about supporting local efforts and figuring out your knowledge, your expertise, your abilities and how you can be plugged in to be part of that change.”
Written by: Michelle Wong — firstname.lastname@example.org