Asthma and the African-American Community

Authors: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO

Originally posted on Huffington Post

Last year, Lara and Kenneth Lane's son Ja-Mickeal died of an asthma attack in his sleep. He was just five years old. His asthma was severe. The attack was sudden. And, the outcome devastated his family and community.

Ja-Mickeal's death was not an isolated case. In recent years, hundreds of children have died from asthma. Millions of others have been through the terrifying experience of a crippling attack -- the contracting lungs, the blocked airwaves, the gasping for breath.

While asthma impacts people young and old, from all races and backgrounds, the hard truth is that it's hitting the African-American community the hardest.

One in six black children currently suffer from asthma, the highest of any ethnic group, according to a recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. As the NAACP recently reported, 8 million people live within three miles of coal-powered plants; their average per capita income is roughly $19,000. And a disproportionate percentage of this population is comprised of people of color.

In other words, our community is more likely to be exposed to triggers. We are more likely to live in polluted communities. Our housing is more likely to have mold. We are exposed to pests at greater rates. Yet, despite all these conditions, when you ask some about the environmental crisis, it doesn't always resonate like the economic crisis. That's because for struggling Americans, the future is a luxury.

Why worry about the climate next decade when you don't know if you can feed your family next week? Why seek out healthy food when you only have time for fast food? Why care about solar panels on roofs if you have to work three jobs just to keep a roof over your head?

These views are valid. But, we should never lose sight of the link between poverty and pollution. And, in the bigger picture, we must always recognize that the green movement is an integral part of the larger fight for fairness. Every child should have the right to go to school without being subjected to toxic air. All communities should have access to quality housing that doesn't harm their health. People should be able to find quality jobs that don't pollute their community at the same time.

This is a personal issue for me. I grew up in a small town in the Bay Area, ringed with oil refineries and other heavy industry. Many kids in the neighborhood had asthma, including me. Yet, none of our parents could move us to a healthier environment for one reason -- they couldn't afford to. Decades later, in the midst of this deep recession, many more parents face the same dilemma, especially in the black community where the unemployment rate is nearly twice the national average. But, it doesn't have to be this way.

Right now, lots of work needs to be done to make our nation a healthier, cleaner and greener place to live. At the same time, Americans need jobs. At Green For All, we put two and two together, match the opportunity with the demand, and help to develop a green economy that provides opportunities for the most vulnerable communities.

The possibilities are incredible. For instance, in March, the Environmental Protection Agency, for the first time, proposed standards to reduce the mercury and air toxics coming from coal-fired power plants. Ceres -- a national coalition of investors and public interest groups -- reported that this work would help create nearly 1.5 million jobs over the next five years, including plumbers, electricians, engineers and laborers. This work will also generate $200 billion in capital improvements.

And, that's just one initiative. Think of all the work that needs to be done in other areas, from repairing water infrastructure, to building fuel-efficient cars, to increasing food security. Think of all the potential in green industries, which, according to Forbes, dominate the fastest-hiring sectors. Think about all those on the unemployment lines who we can put back on the manufacturing lines. Think about the economic and environmental impact we can have on our communities.

I think about these things every day; they're why I support the development of a green economy. I just want to give people an opportunity to live free of pollution and poverty. I urge you to join this green movement.

No child should die from preventable asthma. No parent should have to make a choice between their job and their kids' health. Our economic and environmental struggles are linked. Let's overcome them together.

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