Poor black women don’t care about improving their health, in the view of one foundation grant reviewer.
The reviewer wrote the following about a proposal submitted to the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, for a physical nutrition and wellness program for women and girls in the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods:
“The focus on Obesity of African Americans [in these neighborhoods] would be a major challenge because most of them believe they look good regardless. Social figures with similar weight in the entertainment industry support that belief. Most of them are on state assistance and supermarkets offer sales on sugar food and drinks that they buy in bulk. Though some have made changes with their health, the rest of them are not interested in changing their lifestyle where their health is concerned.”
Mubarakah Ibrahim, who runs fitness programs for women in New Haven, had submitted that proposal. She read that response from the reviewer over the air Wednesday on her weekly WNHH radio program, “Mornings with Mubarakah.” The episode focused on the “Fat Trap: Environment, Access and Opportunity” and was the first in a four-part monthly series.
LUCY GELLMAN PHOTO
“You’re casting aside a third of our population” with assessments like the above, remarked Khadija Gurnah (pictured), a health care consultant and program manager for Affordable Care Act outreach and enrollment effort. “Are we going to decide that one third of our population is not worth assisting?”
Christina Ciociola, the foundation’s vice-president for grantmaking and strategy, was also in the studio for the program. She noted that the foundation has enlisted over 100 outside reviewers to weigh in on over 1,000 grant applications.
“This is the first time we had a reviewer” demonstrate those racial biases,” Ciociola said. “We acknowledge we missed [this one] the first time. We have [since] disregarded that score sheet and disregarded those comments.”
Ciociola (pictured) said the incident has “shed a light on and reminded us all [that] these stereotypes do exist in the community.”
“I worry about how these stereotypes influence children in the home,” she added.
It wasn’t the first time Ibrahim had come up against a sentiment like this. In a recent article on the same subject, she wrote: “Often people believe poor people are overweight because they choose to be … However, obesity itself multilayered combination of several things that cause, effect, and interconnect factors that lead to obesity:
“• Genetics – a contributing factor, not destiny.
“• Food choices – quantity, quality, and access to healthy food options.
“• Environmental factors – high rates of crime and lack of access to decent recreational options.
“• Social influences – recognizing that health and wellness are in part shaped by immediate environmental factors.
“While many of these barriers also exist for other income groups, they often exist to a greater degree in low-income communities. Being poor adds several levels to the complexity in health and weight.”
Ibrahim cited research by Yale’s Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) showing that people in New Haven’s poorer neighborhoods, where obesity rates are higher, often feel unsafe taking walks or otherwise exercising outdoors. They also have fewer nearby choices to purchase healthful food. Their neighborhoods have fewer greenspaces, and those that exist are often trashed, in disrepair or gated.
“Gates, even unlocked, create a mental barrier for residents of perceived unauthorized access to an essential component to the community and a healthy lifestyle,” Ibrahim wrote.
On the radio program, she, Ciociola and Gurnah spoke at length about the root of the problem and how to address it.
Click on the sound file at the top of this story to listen to the program, or find it on iTunes or any podcast app under “WNHH Community Radio.”