Over the past six years, California has provided moral and intellectual leadership for some of our nation’s most pressing social and economic policy issues. Perhaps, even more importantly, it has provided concrete examples of how to move beyond rhetoric and build a more just society by turning ideas into practice. From passing legislation for farm workers to be paid fairly for overtime, increasing minimum wage to support working families, expanding healthcare for all children regardless of legal status and reforming juvenile justice, to making it the state policy that all residents have access to safe and clean water. We, as Californians, have a lot to be proud of.
It’s now time that our Golden State take the next big step and commit to a more equitable and just society that plays out evenly across its diverse landscape. To do so, state leaders need to focus more attention on inland regions like the San Joaquin Valley which is home to significant percentages of the state’s farm workers, low-wage workers, children exposed to pesticides at schools, Southeast Asian refugees living in dilapidated housing, and African-American and Latino children whose academic performance suggests they are more likely to be on a path to prison than college.
But the Valley is not all about challenging circumstances. Nonprofit and community leaders are increasing their capacity to work together to ensure a better future for their communities, children, youth and families. The unfolding story is more about the promise of a California dream fulfilled than about the challenges the region has to overcome. The region’s leaders understand this reality, a healthy and prosperous California requires a healthier and more prosperous Valley, and are organizing themselves to more effectively ensure the dream of an inclusive and equitable California. With support from forward-thinking elected officials, business leaders, philanthropy and the faith community momentum to achieve this goal is building.
One way these leaders are being supported is through the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund (SJVHF), a partnership of 58 nonprofit organizations and nine state and national foundations. The SJVHF’s mission is to promote social and economic health and racial equity, achieved by addressing the systemic causes of communities’ poor health, through a collective action strategy where those who live in the Valley lead the transformation of their communities. The SJVHF is dedicated to supporting community residents’ efforts to amplify and better organize their voices to achieve policy changes they believe are essential to the health and well-being of their communities.
To advance this work, the SJVHF will host Equity on the Mall on February 9 at the State Capitol. This convening will bring together more than 1,000 community leaders and residents and at least 100 statewide partners who are working to improve the health of children and families in the Valley. Leaders will partake in educational legislative visits and briefings, and present a policy platform that reflects an all-in for equity stance on some of the most pressing issues, including immigration, education, health for all, environmental justice, equitable land use planning, community safety and sustainable agriculture.
During the briefing, we will release a report, California’s San Joaquin Valley: A Region and its Children Under Stress, commissioned by the SJVHF, with funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and Sierra Health Foundation, and prepared by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. This powerful report documents disparities and the effects they have on the lives and life chances of families raising children in the region.
Together, we will continue to sow seeds so that transformative change takes place in the Valley.
To partner or learn more, visit www.shfcenter.org/sjvhealthfund.
Chet P. Hewitt is the President and CEO with Sierra Health Foundation.