When activists petitioned for the rerouting of a freight train that would run through their community, it was about more than noise concerns – it was part of a larger fight to end infant mortality.
Infant mortality may not appear to have anything to do with trains, but the environmental impact they would have – and the inevitable noise and air pollution – would negatively impact the community. Eventually, when it came time to vote, the council made it clear: for the health of their children and all future generations in New Orleans, Louisiana, the freight trains would not be allowed to plow through Mid-City.
The council’s decision was in no small part influenced by the advocacy of people like Kristen Kirksey, who leads Best Babies Zone Hollygrove. Kirksey and her team provided the New Orleans City Council with soil and air samples to show the environmental and health impacts the train would have on their Hollygrove neighborhood located in Mid-City.
“There’s an element of social justice [to BBZ’s work],” Kirksey said.
A holistic, “place-based” effort to give babies the best chanceBBZ Hollygrove is part of a national Best Babies Zone (BBZ) initiative based out of the University of California, Berkeley. BBZ is a collaborative, “place-based” effort to bring together four sectors – health care, early care and education, economic development and community systems – to address the social determinants of health and improve birth outcomes.
These three initial zones – Castlemont, Hollygrove and Price Hill – were chosen because each has the resources and the community will to create change. Cheri Pies believes lasting change requires the participation of those who call the neighborhood “home.” BBZ’s role is to serve as a catalyst, helping residents, community partners and local groups build on existing strengths to achieve community transformation.
As Kirksey says: “[BBZ] is really trying to touch on and improve all those conditions that in turn improve health.”