The Places You’ll Go
Do you remember Dr. Seuss’ book “Oh the Places You’ll Go?” The one about exploring the world, finding oneself, facing challenges and moving mountains? If you’re anything like me, it’s on your top ten list of graduation gifts – kindergarten, high school, MBA. No matter what stage of life you are in, it’s a great reminder of opportunity and possibility.
In the first couple of pages, Dr. Seuss says, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” It’s an inspiring message for graduates that is full of encouragement and signals that no place or destination is off limits.
Recent articles and research have made me consider not only the places or opportunity before new graduates, but also the places where they come from. The recent report on life expectancy from the Virginia Commonwealth University highlights that the place where you’re from can determine how long or how far you will go.
The map raised for me that this is not an issue of one graduate and his or her individual choice of path in life. Even Dr. Seuss recognized that “you can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in a lurch.” If people living just a few miles apart – relative neighbors in a region that spans over 4,000 square miles – can have vastly different life expectancies, then there are far too many who are being “left in a lurch.” This is a much larger issue that we need to understand. That our road can be cut short not because of our own choices, but because of where we grow up, is obviously unfair. An injustice. But why do children born in some places go on to live 8, 9, or 10 years longer than others?
Research shows gaps in health across neighborhoods stem from multiple factors such as:
• Unsafe or unhealthy housing which exposes residents to allergens and other hazards like overcrowding
• Stores and restaurants selling unhealthy food may outnumber markets with fresh produce or restaurants with nutritious food
• Limited opportunities for residents to exercise, walk or play outside
• Limited access to primary care doctors and good hospitals
• Unreliable or expensive public transit can isolate residents from good jobs, health care, child care and social services
“But on you will go though the weather be foul…on and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far.” Plus Dr. Seuss already told us, “And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!…[we’ll] move mountains.”
So, though this seems like a big complex challenge, I do believe there are many of us out there who care about our future leaders – not only about the places they’ll go, but the places they’ll come from. So what can we do collectively to improve the places we go and we come from?
Ginneh Baugh is the senior director of measurement and knowledge development at United Way of Greater Atlanta. She can be reached at [email protected]