The weather didn’t stop thousands of Valley residents - from Bakersfield to Stockton – from traveling to Sacramento on March 6 to raise their voices at the State Capitol demanding change for a healthier San Joaquin Valley and all its residents.
Approximately 2,000 Valley residents, advocates, and local elected leaders gathered at the Capitol Mall for this year’s ‘Equity on the Mall’ to rally for a ‘Golden State for All.’
The annual event is conducted 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.
Residents represented nine counties in the San Joaquin Valley with the commun goal to bring much-needed attention to the health inequities faced by children and families living in the region.
“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,” said Chet P. Hewitt, President and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation and The Center. “By harnessing the people power of the Valley, we are changing the very conditions that have hindered progress for the Valley in the past.”
Assemblymembers Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, and Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, along with Hewitt and 200 hundred community members kicked off Equity on the Mall last week by engaging in discussion, “Advancing Health and Racial Equities in the San Joaquin Valley.”
Equity on the Mall participants joined forces to demand state leaders prioritize resources and create greater opportunities to advance change for the Valley.
“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,” said Hewitt.
The event also included the launch of the Senate Select Committee on the Social Determinants of Children’s Well-Being led by Senator Holly J. Mitchell and Valley leaders Senator Melissa Hurtado and Anna Caballero, who bring new perspectives to the critical and urgent issues impacting Valley children.
The Committee’s first hearing focused on the in-depth barriers and impacts for children with no or inadequate housing.
“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 homeless has on children’s developing brain, “ Mitchell said.
“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, Housing Policy Advocate with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
Valley residents want 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.
According to Equity on the Mall organizers, the Valley is ground zero for some of the state’s worst outcomes:
§ 1 in 3 families with children under 18 have incomes well below the Federal Poverty Line.
§ An agriculturally-rich region, 1 in 4 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, over 67% lack proficiency in English Language Arts by 3rdgrade.
§ 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.
“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 towards one vision and one agenda – a healthy, vibrant San Joaquin Valley that rises above its challenges. When the Valley rises, California rises,” said Hewitt.