Community Action Team set to present findings on city’s health

By Imran Vittachi Special to the Daily Planet
Tuesday September 11, 2001

Sarena Chandler, 17, had imagined she knew everything about the realities of life in her west Berkeley neighborhood. 

But her ideas came into focus this summer when she and other residents of the low-income area walked their neighborhood to take a closer look at what was happening on the streets. 

A senior at Berkeley High School and student member of the school board, Chandler began to see a different reality. 

She said the walk that took her through her neighborhood, “caused me to realize that the problems are deep-rooted.” 

Chandler said she was taken aback watching small children head to the local liquor shop for soda or junk food.  

“You are what you eat, and if all we eat is Cheetos, then we're going nowhere,” she said. 

The walkers would also observe the smallest details of communal life. They noted cracks in the sidewalks, uneven pavements, or street signs that dangled dangerously overhead - all hazards that needed fixing, she said. 

The “community walk-through” program in which she took part, was launched in south and west Berkeley by the Community Action Team, a citizen-based group formed in 1999 in response to a city Health Department study that singled out Berkeley as having the worst low birth-weight gap between African-American and white babies in the country. The organization wanted to take stock of the neighborhoods for clues on how the city might improve the health of those who live there. 

Community Action Team representatives will present the neighborhood walk-through findings Wednesday evening.  

“We need to get the community more involved,” said Candace Miles-Threatt, who leads the CAT’s south Berkeley component with technical help from city health officials. “A lot of my neighbors have no idea about the racial and health disparities. It's important that we fight this battle because we know our neighborhood better than anyone else.” 

For Chandler, this irony hit home while she walked through her community armed with pen and clipboard. She is convinced that the health of south Berkeley children partly explains why black and Latino students in her school district generally lag behind white and Asian-American students. 

“We believe that racism, poverty, poor education, and (the