(8.9.17) This summer I’ve hiked approximately 30 miles. While this is only a fraction of my ultimate summer goal of hiking all of Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) – it is something completely unaccessible to the 16,000-plus Clevelanders living in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood. As an intern for Saint Luke’s Foundation, I drive through Shaker Square, and the rest of the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood, to get to work each Tuesday morning. Eight eight hours later I pack up my stuff and drive the 20 miles it takes to get to Peninsula, where I eagerly chip away at my summer goal.
Driving down Shaker Boulevard, I can’t help but wonder where all the people are. It’s 4 p.m. and yet there are few children playing outside, no grandparents out on an afternoon stroll, and no dogs being taken out for a walk. Then, 30 minutes later I’m in Peninsula, the home of CVNP, where the trails are teeming with folks from all generations. So, what’s the difference? Why is one location filled with healthy people engaging in physical activity of all sorts, and 20 miles away lies a neighborhood where about 30 percent of the population is obese?2
Well for starters, Peninsula is an overwhelmingly white town and Buckeye-Shaker is 85 percent non-white, majority African-American. The car population in Peninsula makes my ‘09 Subaru look primitive, while the median household income in Buckeye-Shaker is just $24,130. But, the differences aren’t just in the demographics. You can hardly go a mile in Peninsula without seeing signs for different trails, the noise pollution is minimal, recreational opportunities are endless, and the closest McDonald’s is 10 miles away: this is hardly the case in Buckeye-Shaker.
The deep difference between these two neighborhoods brought home a lesson I learned early on in my internship at Saint Luke’s Foundation: it’s not just education, it’s capacity. So often, it’s easy for public health professionals to push education as the silver bullet to any problem. If we just inform them about the facts, they’ll make the healthy choice! If only it were that simple. It’s not enough to just inform people about the necessity of engaging in physical activity each day, we have to ensure that people have the capacity to make that choice—whether they live near CVNP or Shaker Square.
Jory Gomes is a rising senior at Hiram College, where he is double majoring in Public Health and Biomedical Humanities, as well as pursuing minors in Political Science and Sociology. Outside of academics and balancing summer internships, including one with Saint Luke’s Foundation, he is an avid hiker, captain of the Men’s Swim Team, and student advocate for sexual assault awareness. He is originally from Elk Grove, CA, but considers Northeast Ohio his second home.
Learn what Saint Luke’s Foundation grantees are doing to transform the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities of Greater Cleveland. Check it out here.