Migration stories

While Communities Count presents a lot of data about disparities, we often miss opportunities to look at the historical and cultural underpinnings of those disparities. Fortunately, exhibitions at three Seattle museums create artistic contexts within which we can explore – without charts and numbers – how we got to where we are. Understanding our history may help us make informed decisions about the future.

What is it like to leave home, family, friends – everything you’ve ever known – and start over in a new place? And what if the people in that new place don’t really welcome you? These questions come to mind as people around the globe are searching for places to start over – places where they will feel safe and secure, and perhaps build a better future for themselves and their children. The questions also resonate with the history of our country. Through April 23rd, a Seattle Art Museum (SAM) exhibit, Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, offers an opportunity for us to learn about that history by chronicling, through pictures and words, the 20th century relocation of millions of African Americans from the American South to industrial cities in the North.

The Migration Series, Panel 18: The migration gained in momentum., 1940–41, Jacob Lawrence, American, 1917–2000, casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12 in., Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy, The Museum of Modern Art, © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, © 2016 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Lawrence told his story in 60 bold images – painted on hardboard panels in 1940 and 1941 – each with a brief, eloquent caption. For example,
• Panel 3: “From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north.”
• Panel 49: “They found discrimination in the North. It was a different kind.”
• Panel 58: “In the North the African American had more educational opportunities.”

To complement the exhibit, the museum lined up more than 20 special programs and community events. Two distinguished guests, who spoke at full-house performances, deepened the context for understanding this massive migration:
• Pulitzer-Prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson discussed her landmark book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, a 15-year project for which she interviewed 1,200 people.
• United States Representative John Lewis shared personal stories about nonviolent activism during the Civil Rights era. He was accompanied by writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, who collaborated with him on the graphic novel trilogy, MARCH, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

In their lives and work, Lawrence, Wilkerson, and Lewis have reached new audiences with well-documented but untold stories that hadn’t made it into the textbooks. Explaining his motivation for a 31-painting series about Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman, Lawrence said in a 1968 oral history, “We hear about Molly Pitcher. We hear about Betsy Ross…. [but] the Negro woman has never been included in American history.” Thanks in part to Lawrence, some of the gaps have been filled. But we’re still catching up. From the Seattle Art Museum, “To this day we have barely understood the full impact of this movement that was driven not by one single leader, but by six million Americans seeking political asylum in their own country. This migration reshaped culture and politics, North and South, and set in motion the current racial challenges and disparities we now face as a country.”

What about our region?

During SAM’s Migration Series exhibit, exhibitions at two other Seattle museums offer local perspectives on themes of migration and displacement:
• At the Northwest African American Museum, An Elegant Utility (through May 28th) features photographs, household belongings, and other artifacts of artist Inye Wokoma’s family to explore the broader story of African-Americans in Seattle.
• In Year of Remembrance: Glimpses of a Forever Foreigner (through Feb 11th, 2018), the Wing-Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience brings together poems by Lawrence Matsuda and artwork by Roger Shimomura to recognize the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during WWII, and to relate this to current events.

Upcoming events at Seattle Art Museum (all free and open to the public) include:
• Thu Apr 6, 6:30–7 pm, Migration Stories: community members share personal stories of migration, immigration, place, and home.
• Thu Apr 6, 6:30-8:30 pm, The Migration Series: free drop-in art-making session led by artist Eve Sanford.
• Wed Apr 12, 7-9 pm, Complex Exchange (Part 2 of 2) 7–9 pm, Seattle Art Museum and Northwest African American Museum’s recurring series Complex Exchange pairs Seattle community members from a variety of disciplines in conversations to tackle themes inspired by an exhibition. The April 12 event will focus on Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series.

Pediatricians urged to tackle poverty head-on

For the first time ever, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a policy statement on poverty.  As affirmed by AAP President Benard P. Dreyer, “research shows that living in deep and persistent poverty can have detrimental health consequences that are severe and lifelong.”  Acknowledging that “almost half of young children in the United States live in poverty or near poverty,” the AAP has emerged as a strong advocate for programs and policies that improve health and quality of life for children and families living in poverty.

Pediatricians are being asked to do more than increase their awareness of poverty.  In the context of a family-centered medical home that coordinates strategies to address social determinants of health (poverty, for example), physicians are urged to:

  • Assess family financial stability (perhaps by asking if the family has trouble making ends meet at the end of the month).
  • Screen for risks for adversity (food insecurity, maternal depression, family instability, unemployment, frequent moves).
  • Identify family strengths that protect against adversity (secure attachment to caretakers; strong family and social connections; responsive, nurturing, and consistent parenting).
  • Coordinate care with community partners (such as those providing legal aid and job training, and addressing issues like food, energy, and housing insecurity).
  • Participate in programs that integrate behavioral health into primary care (Incredible Years and Triple P) and promote literacy (Reach Out and Read and the Video Interaction Project [VIP]).
  • Link families to community resources that support and assist families in need.
  • Advocate for programs/policies that buffer children against adverse effects of poverty. Examples include:
    • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
    • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
    • Raising the minimum wage
    • Supports for quality child care and early childhood education
    • Access to comprehensive health care
    • Nutrition support such as WIC (the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), SNAP (formerly “food stamps”), and the National School Lunch Program
    • Home visiting programs such as the Nurse-Family Partnership

Does this go “above and beyond” what should be expected of a pediatrician?  The AAP affirms that it’s all in the line of duty:  prevention of childhood diseases – an accepted pediatric mandate – depends in part on “early detection and management of poverty-related disorders.”

Of course pediatricians cannot tackle poverty on their own. In King County, they can expect support from a wide assortment of community-based organizations and effective programs already in place. They should also be able to tap into the expertise and community networks that continue to evolve around regional efforts such as Communities of Opportunity and Best Starts for Kids, which are already aligned with the goals of the AAP’s war against child poverty.

For data on poverty-related indicators, see Communities Count updates on food, housing, income, qualification for free/reduced-price school meals, and the relationship between adult health outcomes and adverse childhood experiences.  Communities Count has recently added several years of data on student homelessness, making it easier to look at trends (by school district) from 2007-08 through 2014-15 school years.  For data on child, maternal, and adult health, see King County’s Community Health Indicators.

Free books reverse summer reading loss

Summer vacation is a time for beaches, biking, and corn on the cob. For 8 in 10 children from low-income families, however, it’s also a time for losing ground in reading proficiency. An innovative Read for Success program has managed to turn that around. Instead of losing ground over the summer, 57% of students improved their reading skills.

A key component of the year-round program, piloted with 33,000 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders by Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), was providing children with new and interesting books on what are called “STEAM” themes (STEAM = science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics). Reading books on these themes sets the stage for “reading to learn,” something that typically starts in about 3rd grade. The best STEAM books pair clear illustrations and pictures with new words, concepts, and ideas.

Children were able to choose — and keep — their summer books. This can be a very big deal for children in poverty, as more than half do not have books of their own.
In another program, Reach Out and Read, Washington state children from 6 months to 5 years old get developmentally appropriate books from their doctors at every checkup. Reach Out and Read partners with 55 King County medical practices in which doctors “prescribe” books and encourage families to read together.

Communities Count reports disparities in reading to children and the proportion of students who meet the 4th-grade reading standard.

Data-to-Action Workshop

Communities Count is hosting a free data-to-action workshop from 8 AM to noon on Wednesday, May 6, at Harry Thomas Community Center at Lee House (7315 39th Ave South, Seattle – an easy 2 blocks from the Othello Light Rail station). The interactive workshop and will address the following topics:

• Using data to advance your organization’s mission
• Finding and selecting reliable data
• Using data to support grant proposals
• Integrating qualitative and quantitative data
• Evaluating programs and measuring impact

Although the workshop has already filled, it’s still possible to sign up for the waiting list. For additional information, or if you might be interested in participating in future data workshops, please contact Kelsey Mesher at Kelsey.mesher@kingcounty.gov or Emi Yoko at Nalani.yoko@kingcounty.gov.

Best Starts for Kids: Focus on prevention

In his annual State of the County address, King County Executive Dow Constantine introduced Best Starts for Kids, a 6-year, levy-funded project that, if approved by voters, will implement proven and promising strategies to help children reach their full potential. The long-term goal is to invert the County’s current pattern of spending more on negative outcomes (such as incarceration) than on effective strategies, early in development, to prevent those outcomes. Best Start for Kids is designed to jumpstart this inversion.

Some excerpts from this morning’s presentation:

“From 1950 to the late ‘70s, … 90 percent of American households enjoyed 70 percent of all income growth…. Yes, the rich did get richer, but as the economy grew, so did the middle class. Back then, a rising tide really did lift all boats. But … between 2009 and 2012 here in Washington state, 175 percent of all income growth has gone to just the top 1 percent…. This mocks the fundamental principle on which we were all raised: That if we work hard, we can all succeed.

“From Boeing to Costco to Microsoft to Starbucks to Amazon, King County has prospered because our people have excelled at solving problems. But income inequality puts our future prosperity at risk by denying more of our children an equal opportunity to contribute to a well-educated middle class…. The sad truth in America today is that a top predictor of a child’s success in life is the income of the household in which that child is raised. Our goal must be to break this connection between income and outcomes.”

“One of the worst outcomes for children who are victims of abuse, neglect, homelessness, or mental illness is to land in the juvenile justice system. Every child who drops out, who gets kicked out, who is locked up, marks our failure as a community to provide the love and care and support that every child needs. These kids aren’t failing us—we are failing them.

“We can and must do better, as a county that prides itself on taking its name from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A full century before Dr. King, Frederick Douglass observed: ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’ Strong children require strong communities, and it will take all of us working together across sectors to ensure that every child has the opportunity to fulfill her potential, and to participate fully in her community.”

For full text, go to 2015 State of the County address. For background information and an infographic, go to the Best Starts for Kids webpage.