In April 2015—the week before the unrest—I began my Baltimore Corps fellowship at the Baltimore City Health Department, where I now serve as the Deputy Chief of Staff. It’s an incredible opportunity. We view public health as the answer to the challenges our city has faced for years.
Some of these problems are deeply rooted health issues that have never been adequately addressed. Trauma—caused by witnessing or experiencing violence, the oppression of structural racism, living in extreme poverty, being pushed to the margins—is at the center of so much of this.
Other challenges require us to continue thinking outside the box. Six or seven months ago we began to develop a public health plan—Vision for Baltimore—to ensure access to vision care for youth in city schools. We found that only 20 percent of kids in our city that need glasses actually have them. It was unacceptable. If you can’t see, how can you expect to learn how to read? And if you can’t learn how read or write by the second or third grade, you will fall behind in school and struggle to catch up.
During the planning process for this program, someone shared their experience with me; he needed glasses when he was younger but couldn’t get them. Because of that, he didn’t learn to read as quickly as everyone else. In order to hide his embarrassment, when the teacher called on him, he would punch the student next to him in order to be kicked out of class. Eventually, the teacher stopped calling on him, and he continued to fall behind. He told me that his life could have changed significantly with only a pair of glasses. Imagine what we can do for thousands across Baltimore. Such a simple tool can be empowering and life-altering.
Learn more about Vision for Baltimore, as well as other programs promoting health in schools on the Baltimore City Health Department's website: http://health.baltimorecity.gov/VisionForBaltimore