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  • Christian Shaughnessy

People of color and the poor deserve green spaces in Riverside County

Empirical data informs us that youth of color have poorer mental health outcomes than their white counterparts. This is tragically true of Black youth especially. Most major brain development is finished by the age of 25, although further changes to the brain can continue to occur after that age. When mental health is such an important piece of a developing person’s life, we are compelled by morality to foster it. Riverside County in particular has posted a resolution stating racism is a public health crisis which testified to this need.

This duty is hampered by the chronically underfunded services available to Black and other YOC. Despite all the labor that our Black brothers and sisters have contributed to the economy of the United States, Black youth are denied the same benefits that accrue to white youth. This has led to a situation of hideously high suicide among thus demographic. This causes a harmful ripple effect on the mental health of many others, including but not limited to family members and friends. When a community keeps losing their sons and daughters to despair it demoralizes us all.

Poor mental health in general can also give birth to other mental disorders. One such problem can be substance use disorders. Substance use is itself a strong contributor to negative life outcomes, which plagues our communities. We then face a strong sense of urgency in addressing this issue. How can we help overcome this?

One such series of tools available to us are green spaces. These include parks, forests, urban gardens, or even tracts of wilderness left alone by encroaching development. Research indicates that exposure to areas like this in childhood have immense mental health and behavioral benefits for growing minds.

The same phenomenon occurs with introduction of community and recreation centers. These centers promote physical activity and community solidarity. They give children a chance to play, adults a chance to relax, and elders a place to go for a walk. Mental health and physical health outcomes for the entire community are also improved by the introduction of these centers, leading to a force multiplier of benefits. Our YOC and Black youth in particular stand to gain a great deal.

Yet this is not an entirely new idea. Similar frameworks have already taken place in locales as diverse as Grand Rapids, Michigan all the way to Atlanta, Georgia. By working together with cities, school districts have used their own funds in partnership to maximize green space and their usage. This can create a more pleasant and interesting school environment for students and their staff, in addition to the community members who would benefit as well.

Thus, further funding from municipalities and school districts are required to accomplish this. School districts from Riverside County in particular can invest heavily in after school programs at school locations, many of which already have playgrounds and green spaces in them. Yet at present, Riverside County schools focus much of this potential funding on school police. This comes at the expense of the large benefits that green spaces will bring. We believe this to be an inefficient use of funds, especially for a community that values the mental health of our young people and their family members. If we wish to truly live up to our best ideals, let us value those methods that have been proven to improve mental health instead of those that worsen it.

Let’s do it!

Christian Shaughnessy

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