Taking a “place and race” approach to advancing community health in south Seattle & south King County

As King County’s population and housing costs have risen steeply, many people of color and lower income families in King County have migrated to south Seattle and south King County, with the most vulnerable populations at risk of being priced out of the county all together. This displacement can have negative health impacts: it disrupts long established communities, it separates people from services, and it segregates people of color and lower-income people to areas with fewer resources and more health risk factors.

To help mitigate these effects, Public Health – Seattle & King County is taking a “place and race” approach. This work will be directed by the King County Racial Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (KC REACH) initiative, led by Public Health – Seattle & King County, Healthy King County Coalition, and Seattle Children’s and funded via a five-year REACH grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“Data show us that historical and systemic barriers affect the health and life span of people of color and people who live in low-income communities. This REACH grant is important because it allows us to take a place and race approach by leading with a lens of racial equity in key geographic areas,” explains Public Health’s Dr. Nadine Chan.

The KC REACH team’s work will target the African-American, African-born, and Asian-American populations, the largest racial/ethnic groups living in south Seattle, SeaTac and Tukwila. This contiguous area, comprised of primarily minority-majority neighborhoods, has a long history of welcoming immigrants and, while rich in culture, suffers from the highest chronic disease rates in the county. Building on decade-long collaborations, KC REACH has partnered with community organizations and coalitions that have significant experience working in these communities, including Global to Local/Food Innovation Network, Northwest Harvest, Transportation Choices Coalition, International Community Health Services, and the Somali Health Board and other community health boards, to guide the work.

Community partners gathered on March 5 to kick-off the new KC REACH grant.

The KC REACH goals are to increase access to healthy foods, to engage residents in planning processes to create active living environments, and to establish effective community-clinical linkages within the priority area. Building on existing community strengths, some of the planned activities include:

  • Creating group purchasing agreements among small grocers, farm stands, and emergency food providers such as food banks to bring healthier foods to communities at a lower cost
  • Helping emergency food providers such as food banks offer healthy and culturally appropriate foods
  • Providing breastfeeding education and support groups to new African American mothers sensitive to the historical and current systemic and cultural barriers they face
  • Engaging community members to advance more active transportation options, such as walking and better access to public transportation
  • Strengthening the referral system to make it easier to access culturally appropriate preventive care
One of the planned activities of the KC REACH grant is to provide culturally relevant breastfeeding education and supports to new African-American mothers, sensitive to the historical and current systemic and cultural barriers they face.

Leveraging existing community assets and networks by partnering with community leaders is key to the success of the place and race approach, as Dr. Ben Yisrael, Healthy King County Coalition Coordinator, explains: “We’re excited about working with Public Health-Seattle & King County, Seattle Children’s and our implementing partners to advance health in African-born, African-American, and Asian-American communities. We’re confident that working with partners whose knowledge and experience is rooted in the communities of South Seattle, SeaTac and Tukwila is the best way to achieve the change and progress that will lead to health equity.”

Dr. Brian Saelens echoes this enthusiasm on the part of Seattle Children’s: “Consistent with our recent strategic plan that calls out our commitment to community health, Seattle Children’s is excited to work with our long-time Healthy King County Coalition and Public Health colleagues to partner with our communities in adding to their strengths.”

The KC REACH leads and other implementing partners gathered on March 5th to commemorate the 20th anniversary of REACH nationally, to honor the decade of collaboration among the lead partners in King County, and kick off this new grant. 

For more information, contact Jan Capps, REACH Program Manager at jan.capps@kingcounty.gov or 206-263-8615.

One thought on “Taking a “place and race” approach to advancing community health in south Seattle & south King County

  1. I am ecstatic to learn that more culturally and geographically appropriate interventions are being implemented in these communities. I believe there is great value in involving primary stakeholders and community members to guide the work. Building more upon the existing community strengths, I am wondering how educational changes in the local school district might also direct community members toward overall social, physical, and mental well-being. Communities with a higher prevalence of low-income families often have less resources in their schools to be able to cultivate creative young minds that grow into bold and educated adults that can work against historical and systematic barriers. An example would be to incorporate more leaders of color into history lessons, or invite current professional leaders of color, to speak into the lives of the young people of color in South King County that they themselves can facilitate sustainable change for the future generations in their communities – deconstructing the stereotype that significant people in the professional world are typically white men. This initiative, partnered with King County’s “Place and Race” approach, would advance the current community’s health and work to dis-empower the structural barriers that continue to hold health inequities in place.

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