The was the crowded site yesterday for “Nuestro Futuro Saludable,” or “Our Healthy Future,” a youth-led summit that examined nutrition, exercise, a variety of other health concerns, and community activism. The event was organized by Tufts University in association with the Boston Public Health Commission, the Latin American Health Institute, Northeastern University, a host of local agencies, and a board of community advisors.
“This event was months in the making,” said Lynette Correa, a career youth developer and one of the adult facilitators for the project. “I started in January,” she stated, long before the Whole Foods/Whose Foods fray.
But the youth summit was no food fight. The first part of the program took place in the school’s gymnasium where numerous community organizations and local agencies distributed information about health and social matters, and were on hand to answer questions. Adult exhibitors included theand , Whose Foods, the Beantown Society, ABCD Summer Works, and others.
The true heart of the displays, however, were student projects undertaken as learning exercises to research and resolve health equity matters in Jamaica Plain. The children of the inspired demonstrations investigated everything from smoking and alcohol abuse to food prices and opportunities for physical activity.
“There are too many pizza parlors in Jamaica Plain,” said sixth-grader Harry Caffrey Maffei. “It’s greasy and unhealthy, and cheap so kids eat it all the time,” said the 12-year old.
Harry’s classmate and project partner, Alejandro Nuñez, pointed out a photo on one of the signboards that they had made to illustrate their points. “There’s trash all over the ground,” mostly from fast-food restaurants, stated the 11-year old, “And there’s a trashcan right next to the litter.”
12-year old Brianna Fernandez and her team compared and contrasted the prices and selection of foods at and . Among the group’s recommendations were to “Make healthy and high quality foods available, accessible, and affordable for every family.”
Eighth-grader Itzamarie Torrez’ team did a similar comparison between and , and found that there are “two sides of Jamaica Plain.” “We need healthy, low-priced food that people can afford,” she stated.
Daniel Sanchez called for “community gardens, another Hi-Lo, and a food pantry” for the needy. “We need to demand lower prices at Whole Foods,” added the 14-year old eighth grader.
Subsequently, the event shifted to the auditorium. Following the opening remarks by Dr. Linda Sprague Martinez of Tuft's University's Community Health Program and other adult speakers, the stage was turned over to a panel discussion among the program’s youth.
The first-name only, five-person panel consisted of Curley student’s Yolanda, Nadine, Harry, Jeffrey, and Jerome.
“People think smoking, drinking and drugs solve stress,” said Yolanda. “But they cause it.” Yolanda also expressed her apprehension about self-esteem issues and “being skinny to impress your friends or boyfriend.”
Jerome described walking from the to Jackson Square, and again from the to South Street. He described two different worlds: one white and clean and the other multicolored and garbage-strewn.
“Make all neighborhoods equal and safe,” urged Harry, who voiced concerns about gangs and illegal activity. The sixth-grade student precociously noted that some communities have little police protection while in others there are “overactive police.” “Everyone needs to feel safe in their house,” he added. Harry also supported more sports facilities for football and soccer.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, was the keynote speaker. The longtime Jamaica Plain resident decried high mortality rates for black babies and called for “equal access to things that promote health. Fight for racial and social justice,” she urged. “Take care of yourself and everyone around you.”