The Health and Life Outcomes of De Facto Segregation

A photo of the Baltimore National Aquarium tak...

A photo of the Baltimore National Aquarium taken July 3, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My maternal family’s roots have been planted in Baltimore for many generations.  I grew up believing that Baltimore is at the center of the universe and my love for this city reflects my reverence for my hometown’s unique attributes.

Despite the crack epidemic hitting the city pretty hard, making drug pushers and addicts a mainstay of my commute to school, the abandoned row houses leaving a blight on the landscape, and gentrification which led to the demolition of public housing units, I still love Baltimore.  So, why don’t you live here one may wonder.

The short answer:  My daughter.  I moved to a county that is home to one of the best public school systems in this nation.  I wanted to give her opportunities that I didn’t have – diverse experiences, abundant resources, and nonexistent barriers to learning.

The elementary, middle, and high schools that I attended in Baltimore were predominantly Black and poor.  My parents did not have a say in the schools I attended due to all students being required to attend schools within specific district zones.  To me, it felt like reverse bussing, in the sense that we weren’t being sent to schools to integrate them, but rather were being forced to attend racially homogeneous schools that were overcrowded and underfunded.  When I look back and reflect on what I know now, I realize that de facto segregation in schools was occurring in my community – and plenty of others – in the 1990s.

I suppose that’s why I busted my butt in school.  Besides being a perfectionist when it came to my academics, I also aced my way through school, in hopes that my 4.0 GPA would gain me access to the college of my choice – away from my beloved Baltimore.

The neighborhood of my youth also lacked in diversity. I was surrounded by walking statistics, consisting of high school dropouts, teenage parents, and struggling families.  I guess we overcompensated for what we lacked with our overindulgence in dreams and overambitious plans for something better, someplace different.

We did not have access to gardens with fresh fruits and vegetables.  If you were brave enough to trek the drug needle riddled path and made it to the one grocery store in the neighborhood, you’d find that there was a meager selection of healthy food options.  Yet, there were plenty of fast food chains that made it easy for kids to scrape together change to pay for a meal saturated in fat and oil.  We had access to an abundance of liquor stores but not one recreational center.

I did not know then what I know now – that where I lived affected my educational and life opportunities, and had a tremendous impact on my health and well-being.  In other words, housing-related racial and educational inequalities are social determinants of health.   And there’s a map for that.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is using a new interactive data map of race, class, and opportunity that it hopes will help integrate housing nationwide.  Read this article to learn more about ‘opportunity metrics.’

How did where you grew up affect your education, life, and health?  Please comment below.

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Adiyah Ali

I have over 10 years of experience in grassroots and community organizing, facilitation and training, communications and outreach, issue advocacy and policy development, and have a proven track record in advancing social and economic justice campaigns in support of marginalized and disadvantaged populations.As a Project Specialist with Campaign Consultation, Inc. I provide communications and content development support for national service clients such as the Social Innovation Fund and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. Read more.