National African American & Latino Frats , Sororities And Service Organizations Mark...

National African American & Latino Frats , Sororities And Service Organizations Mark Thanksgiving With Historic Meeting With Nation’s Grantmakers In Atlanta

Historic, invitation-only conference gathered African American and Latino organizations for the first time with philanthropies to focus on developing collaborative action plans to improve health & wellness of children


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Atlanta, GA–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–November 18, 2005–For African American and Latino families, Thanksgiving – like most holidays – is a celebration where food is at the center of our traditions.

Sadly though, food as the centerpiece of African American and Latino holiday traditions – along with a lack of exercise, poor nutrition habits and other factors – are contributing to obesity rates in communities of color that are of epidemic proportions.

African American and Latino fraternities and sororities along with service organizations and philanthropic foundations are taking the issue of obesity head on.

Recently, and for the first time ever, more than 20 national representatives from African American fraternities, sororities and civic/social organizations representing Latino and African American communities from around the country gathered for an invitation-only day-and-a-half conference specifically to share ideas for collaboration that would help reduce the incidence of obesity among our nation’s children of color.

Sponsored by the Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families (GCYF) and made possible by support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the day-and-a-half meeting represented the first time this many African American and Latino fraternity, sorority and service organizations gathered with some of the private foundations – despite sharing the same historic missions for improving the health and quality of life of America’s communities.

According to Dr. Stephanie McGencey, Executive Director of GCYF, the meeting provided the leadership of national African-American and Latino organizations the opportunity to share their lessons and experiences in volunteerism, advocacy, and their communications networks with the senior leadership of private philanthropic foundations. “It is a new opportunity to establish partnerships that will use the best thinking from both grantor and grantee to address the needs of children, especially for low-income African-American and Latino communities,” Dr. McGencey said.

Information presented at the conference points to the severity of the problem and the numbers are staggering:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Minority women lead the risk groups: 77 percent of Black females and 72 percent of Mexican females. The overweight group includes those in the worst shape; 49 percent of black women and 38 percent of Mexican women are obese.

The impact on children is severe. These women are the major nurturers and role models when it comes to food preparation, shopping and food consumption. Statistics indicate that 16 percent of all American children and teens are overweight, but minority children—six and above—show rates of overweight ranging from 17 to 26 percent. Approximately one in every four African American girls and one in every four Mexican American boys are too heavy to be healthy. The increased weight has fueled diseases rarely seen in children: heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Obese children have shorter life spans. “We are in danger of raising the first generation of American children who will live sicker and die sooner than the generation before them,” according to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President Risa Lavizzo Mourey.

But the fraternities, sororities and social service organizations that attended the historic grantmakers gathering with the private foundations are not taking these statistics sitting down.

For example, the African-American Greek-letter organizations, with 2.1 million members, are already committed to the actions that have made them a cornerstone of progress and community empowerment in the African American population:

— Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., has a strong health and wellness initiative focusing on diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Eric Snow, Kappa’s National Executive Director is taking the information from the conference back to members of his Health and Social Action committee to examine current projects that might be eligible for obesity funds.

— Zeta Phi Beta Sorority has 800 sites across the country where they are promoting their Z-HOPE (Helping Other People Excel) program. Dr. Constance Hendricks, a nurse researcher who is National Director of Youth Programs for her sorority, describes the Zeta agenda that focuses on ten health indicators including obesity and physical activity with the intention of developing culturally relevant ways to reach multiple generations in a family—from infants to grandparents. Zeta also participates in the Ten Thousand Steps A Day program to make people more active during the course of their daily routines. Z-HOPE has served more than 18,000 people.

Yvonne Yancey, Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs for the Kaiser Permanente Foundation in Georgia, is enthusiastic about the potential of bringing the considerable energies and creativity of Black Greek Letter organizations into the fight against obesity. In addition to being powerful voices for policy advocacy and community based prevention programs, she supports “out of the box thinking” to reach neighborhood kids. Yancey encourages sorors and fraternity brothers to require “pledge lines to take on a youth group near their university” or even captivate young people through some of the more entertaining aspects of fraternity life that the Greeks have made famous like Step Shows as a “powerful form of aerobic exercise that could segue into opportunities to teach kids about healthy lifestyles.”

The presence of Latino organizations with those focused on the African American community made the gathering with the private foundations truly historic. The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) — the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the United States, made health one of its five top priorities and ASPIRA — the national education and leadership development organization for Latino youth — sent representatives to the Atlanta meeting.

As an example, NCLR recently received a grant from the California Endowment to help community based organizations become better change agents. They hope to create a network of advocates that will organize youth to do community “environmental scans”, looking at the kinds of food selections available in school cafeterias and local stores. NCLR has success promoting healthy living with “promotores de salud” (health promoters) who are natural community leaders, already trusted and recognized by their neighbors as the people to ask for advice and guidance. This grassroots leadership is armed with solid health information and referral resources, bringing help to the smallest grassroots organizing units: the block, the home, the front stoop, the porch, the barbershop, the Laundromat The ingredients for a profitable philanthropic partnership around the obesity crisis in minority kids are obvious. Both foundations and community based organizations left the Atlanta Childhood Obesity conference with high hopes for a meaningful relationship. Funders realize the value of a well-established civic infrastructure in minority communities working on obesity related projects. Civic and fraternal organizations are now better informed about a wider range of resources for their youth and health programs, that have heretofore operated largely on the sheer commitment and concern of their volunteers. Like any good relationship, the hard work is ahead. But in a partnership where the players care this much, the children will be the ones who will ultimately win while becoming healthier in the process.

National African American & Latino Frats , Sororities And Service Organizations Mark Thanksgiving With Historic Meeting With Nation’s Grantmakers In Atlanta