In southeast Colorado Springs, it takes Du’Wayne Hall two hours to get to King Soopers by bus, and two hours back.
Not far away, 17-year-old Andrew Ware goes to school tired after working a minimum-wage job at Burger King to help his family pay the bills.
In the same part of the city, Margie Chavarria waits—and waits—for the local police department to solve the crime that has devastated her: the brutal murder of her 22-year-old daughter, Cindy.
An important new series, published in late November in The Gazette, Colorado Springs’ largest newspaper, weaves together the stories of these three people, and many others. They may never meet each other, but as residents of southeast Colorado Springs, Hall, Ware and Chavarria live lives that are shaped, in various ways, by the place where they live.
As much of the rest of Colorado Springs has been transformed by a spate of development and reinvestment, the southeast has been hobbled by policy decisions that put highways between neighborhoods, prioritized cars over pedestrians, concentrated wealth in some communities at the expense of others and allowed the city’s rare pockets of affordable housing to be overcome by a powerful slumlord’s neglect.
The series tells these stories plainly, without glossing over grim facts. At the same time, it refuses to consign the residents of the southeast to victimhood or martyrdom. The community is also a place where people take care of each other. Neighbors compete to groom their lawns into winning shape. Ware is the captain of the football team, thank you very much.
They deserve better.
You could find similar stories in any city in America. As Matt Mayberry, who directs the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, told the newspaper, “It’s a mistake not to see what happens in Colorado Springs as part of national trends.”
These are stories about infrastructure development, education and policing. They are also stories about health. Not because they focus on health care—though one section does—but because they demonstrate so well how our lives depend on our environments, even more than on the medical care we receive or how well we commit to good nutrition and exercise.
This is how health inequities come to pass. A four-hour trip to the supermarket makes it impractical to buy a lot of healthy food. Graduating from high school—a significant predictor of longevity—is harder if your parents’ wages don’t cover the necessities. Lives are shorter and unhealthier in places where violent crime is allowed to fester.
The series stops short of digging into the racial inequities embedded in the city’s plans. Southeast Colorado Springs is blacker and browner than much of the neighboring communities, and it’s no accident. That, too, is a result of policy decisions, says Mia Ramirez, The Colorado Trust’s community partner for the Colorado Springs region. Some of them have roots deeper than the history explored by The Gazette.
“Historically, if you were black, you could only live, eat, shop, swim, etc., in specific areas of the city,” Ramirez says. Segregation was enforced in part through housing covenants that specifically barred African Americans from living in many neighborhoods; the south side was carved out as an exception.
We all want our choices to matter. We want our lives to depend on how we live them—and not to be determined by the color of our skin or where we were born. It can be painful to know that these things matter more to our health than they should.
Solving these inequities, says Ramirez, doesn’t require charity. It requires justice.