Building Healthy Communities to Change the Odds

Beating the odds. It's one of Hollywood's favorite storylines. We all love it when the underdog gets the scholarship, lands the job, and makes it out of the 'hood. It's the struggle and the glory that defines the human condition and capture our imaginations. And this hope of overcoming the past for a better future has carried millions to the City of Dreams for over a hundred years. From aspirations of being the next big star to hopes of finally escaping gripping poverty, or worse, deadly violence, Los Angeles is and has been a north star for travelers on the road to a better life.

But the reality of beating the odds is a lot less glamorous. It is getting up before dawn to get to a poverty-wage job, praying that your child makes it to school safely, only to return from a second job after they've gone to bed. It is taking bus after bus just to find fresh food, struggling to put food on the table that feeds the body and nourishes the soul. It is holding on to your housing, staying in the neighborhood of your youth, even as global markets conspire to push you out.

For many, there is no happy ending. There is just the daily toil of struggling to survive. We need a new storyline. We need to move beyond cheering for the few who beat the odds and instead change the odds so that everyone can rise to their full potential.

That is exactly what we are doing by investing in our Building Healthy Communities initiative. Launched in 2010, Building Healthy Communities is a 10-year, $1billion in 14 of California's poorest communities and in statewide policy change. Two of those places are here - South LA and Boyle Heights - with additional support going into efforts that span the City to create opportunities for Boys and Men of Color. The strategy is simple: build power in place among adult and youth residents to advocate for the local issues that affect them the most.

With our statewide Building Healthy Communities 5-year celebration coming up this weekend, the Endowment has been taking stock of what's been accomplished, and the return on the $40 million plus investment in people, power, and place is inspiring. In both South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, our community partners are committed to ensuring that all residents have health insurance and access to preventative health care. Their advocacy helped lead the Health for All Kids Act by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. An estimated 170,000 undocumented kids will now be eligible for health care coverage under Medi-Cal, beginning in May.

The South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights sites are also advocating for vibrant neighborhoods that promote health, wellness and safety for residents. Key successes includes securing more than $30 million for affordable housing and local hiring requirements as part of University of Southern California's community benefit agreement, demanding that LAUSD adopt equitable budgeting policies, and ensuring that public safety money is reinvested in the community-based services that will make our neighborhoods safer.

The California Endowment is working together with the private sector, government, and community to bring more private and public investment into the places and people who have too long been left behind by systems that simply just don't work. We need more local leaders to join us and people across California to join the movement to demand reinvestment of public resources in low-income people and communities. To help grow this movement, The Endowment is releasing a new video animation, "A Tale of Two Zip Codes," narrated by George Takei, a leading figure in creating more inclusive communities for all people. This provocative video hopes to start spread the truth about zip codes and the role that place plays in stacking the odds against low income communities and spark action.

Join us in the fight to change the odds! Because every neighborhood should be a healthy neighborhood.