By The Center at the Sierra Health Foundation
Recently, in his State of the State address, Governor Gavin Newsom recognized that “the [San Joaquin] Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there is another story ready to be told. A story of a region hungry for investment, a workforce eager for more training and good jobs, Californians who deserve a fair share of our state’s prosperity.”
Governor Newsom’s statement resonated with nearly 2,000 Valley residents, advocates and local elected leaders as they united on the Capitol Mall on March 6 to rally for a Golden State for All at this year’s Equity on the Mall. The annual event was convened by the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, a funding collaborative of 18 funders and 90 community organizations established by The Center at Sierra Health Foundation.
Building on the momentum of last year’s rally, Equity on the Mall participants traveled from as far as Bakersfield to Sacramento to bring much-needed attention to the health inequities faced by children and families living in the region.
Long neglected and removed from opportunities that make California golden for other regions, participants from the nine counties in the San Joaquin Valley joined forces to demand state leaders prioritize resources and create greater opportunities to advance change for the Valley.
“At the forefront of Equity on the Mall are the growing voices and influences of the people of the Valley. Since its inception four years ago, Equity on the Mall has grown from 70 participants to 2,000 Californians actively engaged in advocacy and policy change. By harnessing the people power of the Valley, we are changing the very conditions that have hindered progress for the Valley in the past,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation and The Center.
“With new energy and focus from Governor Gavin Newsom to newly elected local, regional and statewide leaders, we see unprecedented potential for positive changes for Valley children and their families.”
Assembly Members Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D–Fresno) and Susan Eggman (D–Stockton), along with Hewitt and 200 community members kicked off Equity on the Mall by engaging in discussion on the topic of “Advancing Health and Racial Equities in the San Joaquin Valley.”
The day concluded inside the Capitol building with the launch of the Senate Select Committee on the Social Determinants of Children’s Well-Being led by State Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D–Los Angeles) and Valley leaders State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D–Sanger) and State Senator Anna Caballero (D–Salinas), who brought new perspectives to the critical and urgent issues affecting Valley children.
Recognizing that young children are the most vulnerable members of a community and the source of its greatest potential, the Committee’s first hearing that afternoon was attended by many children and families, many of whom were non-English speakers and were actively participating through simultaneous interpretation. The hearing focused on the in-depth barriers and impacts for children with no or inadequate housing. The second hearing will be held in the summer of 2019 in Fresno.
“The time is now to think more broadly about the health and well-being of California’s children by focusing on social determinants like housing and homelessness given the negative impact homelessness has on children’s developing brain,” Mitchell said. “Through the Select Committee and events like Equity in the Mall, we can learn about what might be done and when we know better, we do better.”
“A child can’t put their childhood on hold until an affordable housing unit is built or the market adjusts, and solutions that allow low‐income families to access existing housing are a critical component of ensuring children succeed,” said Alexander Harnden, a housing policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
The event culminated on the Capitol’s West Steps, where Valley residents and more than a dozen local and state leaders committed to work in collaboration to find solutions that protect immigrants and keep families together, close the education gap for children of color, reduce poverty and increase access to healthy and nutritious foods for children, affordable housing for low-income families and investments that strengthen neighborhoods and build vibrant communities.
The shared priorities and commitments addressed during Equity on the Mall were outlined in the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund’s 2019 community-led policy platform tackling health and racial inequities in the San Joaquin Valley.
The policy platform tackles negative consequences of damaging policies and practices: communities overburdened by poor air quality, unsafe drinking water, failing schools, substandard housing and environmental injustices. The San Joaquin Valley is a region of great promise, but it currently experiences some of the state’s worst health outcomes:
- One in three families with children under 18 have incomes well below the federal poverty line.
- An agriculturally rich region, one in four children in the Valley still do not have access to healthy foods.
- Early education remains out of reach for children of color, and of the 800,000 students in the Valley more than 67% lack proficiency in English language arts by third grade.
- The Valley exhibits an average rate of expulsion of 2.25 per every 1,000 students, double the statewide average of one per every 1,000 students.
The policy platform released at Equity on the Mall provides guidance to leaders and advocates committed to addressing key issues of immigration, health, housing, education, environment and land-use planning to improve the health outcomes of Valley residents.
“As California’s future depends on the Valley, Equity on the Mall continues to lift up the collective action of community members and local leaders working toward one vision and one agenda—a healthy, vibrant San Joaquin Valley that rises above its challenges. When the Valley rises, California rises,” said Hewitt.
The San Joaquin Valley Health Fund (SJVHF), a cohort of 18 state and national foundations and its 90 community-based partner organizations, have invested well above $10 million to tackle critical issues that Valley communities face and bring about needed change.
To learn more about the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund 2019 Policy Platform, visit www.shfcenter.org/sjvhealthfund.
The San Joaquin Valley Health Fund is a partnership of more than 90 nonprofit organizations, along with 18 state and national foundations, that are jointly working to build a greater level of health and racial equity in this important part of our state. The Fund is managed by The Center at the Sierra Health Foundation www.shfcenter.org/sjvhealthfund .