More Than 50 Years Later, What Will Transformative Change Require?
By Kathy Higgins, Chief Executive Officer, Alliance for a Healthier Generation
As one of the most prolific leaders in our nation’s history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has shaped the way many of us view social justice and service to community. Each year, on the third Monday of January, we pour out of our residences, schools, and jobs to participate in service opportunities that honor the spirit of Dr. King and seek to make a difference in the places that we call home. On January 21, many of us at Healthier Generation will join people across the nation in a day of volunteerism and community building close to home. Nonetheless, we also know that on January 22, we will continue to wrestle with the ways health inequity permeates through the fabric of American life – challenging the health of youth today and tomorrow.
“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of [economic] injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Healthier Generation plays a critical role in creating hubs of social change in partnership with community organizations across the country. Through the evolution of our work, we champion healthy practices and policies with a lens on equity, and ultimately social justice. To date, of the 45,000 schools we support, over 70 percent are Title I schools serving students from underserved communities. Though there is plenty of work to do, we believe that three facets of our work enable us to operate in a way that promotes equitable child health outcomes.
1. We believe that the voices of leaders in the communities we serve matter.
Change agents exist in every community and are from all facets of life – from neighbor to neighbor, schools to businesses and nonprofits to government agencies. Community leaders know the opportunities and challenges of their neighborhoods best. We feel strongly about ensuring that our programs prioritize community needs first – allowing us to support community-led transformation that brings all of our collaborative strengths to the table.
2. Equitable transformation must include systems-level change.
In cooperation with corporations, industry associations and national governing organizations, we leverage our expertise in cross-sector collaborations to drive bold change against entrenched barriers to public health, such as availability, accessibility, and affordability of healthier options. With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we have sought to meet the community where they are and create wraparound change in the marketplace – whether we’re working to transform the landscape of corner stores across the country or helping to reduce the number of beverage calories consumed nationally and at the local level.
3. We must be present in communities of greatest need.
Center to our theory of change is our engagement of communities in greatest need of support. With a national lens and local ties, we have the unique opportunity to be a consistent presence in a number of neighborhoods hungry for more health-promoting environments where children live, learn and play. We want to be an active partner that works in unison with underserved communities, developing meaningful relationships that tackle real challenges facing children – from poor nutrition to toxic stress. We all have a role to play when it comes to social change and by being engaged with high need communities, we can truly support making a sustainable difference.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not only showed us the value of community but the strength and resilience of communities seeking change. At Healthier Generation, we know that change requires acts that are innovative, courageous and justice-seeking. As the newly-appointed CEO, I am excited for the work to come and know that we – alongside our many community, philanthropic and business sector colleagues – won’t rest until the barriers to positive health outcomes are removed.
To join us on our journey of transformative change, visit www.healthiergeneration.org.