Credit: Courtesy of #DontMuteMyHealth

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After work on Monday, D.C. residents met at the African American Civil War Museum to talk about serotonin. The chemical released in brain cells is linked to mood and depression, and Dr. Linda Thompson wants residents to know about it and what too much serotonin could mean for the District’s kids. Constantly overeating sugar-rich food activates serotonin pathways to a fault, says Thompson, an assistant professor in Howard University’s Department of Nutritional Sciences. 

“A diet high in sugar hinders learning and memory by literally slowing down the brain,” read one of the slides in Thompson’s presentation. “Sudden peaks and drops in blood sugar levels can cause you to experience symptoms like irritability, mood swings, brain fog, and fatigue.” 

Thompson was one of several health and wellness educators invited to speak at the latest #DontMuteMyHealth event. More than a dozen people met to hear her speak, along with Jasmine Washington, who teaches yoga at a charter school in Southeast, and Dr. Theodore Watkins. Inspired by #DontMuteDC, the movement that formed around protecting the go-go tradition, residents started anew: #DontMuteMyHealth is an education campaign about reclaiming the city’s health from “outside influences and interests,” according to a flyer promoting the cause—with an emphasis on addressing food insecurity in Wards 5, 7, and 8.  

“Some people think that their lot is what they are destined to be in, but it’s not. Their lot is the conditioning of things that have been impeded upon them,” says Stuart Anderson, who launched #DontMuteMyHealth in June. Anderson is an organizer who also works with the Anacostia Coordinating Council and Families and Friends of Incarcerated People. 

The new campaign is about letting those people know they have other options. It’s about, say, letting an overworked parent know where to access and prepare a healthy meal for their child. As Anderson and his fellow #DontMuteMyHealth ambassadors seek to educate residents, they also recognize systemic injustices that make it challenging for black and brown residents to change their behavior. That’s why Anderson intends to organize events like the 2017 Grocery Walk, where residents marched two miles from the Alabama Avenue SE Giant in Ward 8 to Anacostia, intending to bring awareness to the issue of food deserts. 

“The Grocery Walk was about elevating the bar so we can be able to say ‘Hey, we need better access to more quality food east of the Anacostia River,’” says Anderson. The march was organized by the nonprofit DC Greens, a #DontMuteMyHealth partner.  

#DontMuteMyHealth is about equitable access to grocery stores; there are only three grocery stores east of the Anacostia River and they serve hundreds of thousands of residents. Next Saturday, it’s also about playing basketball at Langdon Recreation Center in Ward 5; and in late September, it’s learning about how to eat healthy at the Giant on Alabama Avenue SE.    

So far, the campaign has attracted a few residents who don’t usually get involved with advocacy or politics. Artist Té Speight, for instance, wrote a poem for the movement that played during Monday’s event. Below is an excerpt:    

They figure, with the murder rates and the police statements behind these yellow tapings these young’uns will be dead any day anyway.

Not to mention

they know that we love television. So every time we turn on our tv screens, they’ll be sure to advertise it right on our BETs: cheap sugary drinks we can afford with our EBTs.

Look kids, you can drink poison too you don’t even need IDs.

Cuz mommy’s sick, daddy’s sick, kid’s sick too.

Capri-Sun, soda pop, ice cold brew.

Mom and the kid had two.

How can we win in a system where we’re destined to lose,

and the very same time they poison our foods.

Jacked up on Mountain Dew got him acting the fool,

funding that pipeline to the jails from our schools.

Started out as a good kid with a problem with rules, now a eight digit number sitting in cell number 2, shoot.

I know what to do, and I’m tired of hiding it. We must stop buying it.

Stop buying it.

At the event, residents—all people of color, with the exception of one attendee—connected poor diet with dangerous and sometimes violent behavior. The city’s high homicide rate and food insecurity are inextricably linked, disproportionately impacting residents of Wards 7 and 8. Attendees also brought up other ways black residents are dying; for example, black people suffer higher rates of fatal first-time heart attacks than other groups. People are dying and that’s why this is such a pressing issue.  

City officials are trying to do something about the food problem east of the river. The city is giving free taxi rides of up to three miles to the grocery stores for residents living in Wards 7 and 8 or across the Anacostia River in Ward 6. The Taxi-to-Rail pilot program averages 14 rides per day, with 43 percent of riders making trips to the grocery stores. (49 percent of rides are to Metro stations and 8 percent are to libraries, recreational centers, or Martha’s Table.) 

“Thanks to Mayor Bowser’s decision to expand T2R, overall ridership has dramatically increased by nearly 225 percent, and there is a seven-fold increase in the number of daily rides,” says Department of For-Hire Vehicles Director David Do in a statement. “Even more significantly, almost half of T2R rides are being used as transportation to and from grocery stores. This is making it much easier for individuals and families East of the River to shop for the food and household goods they need.”

That said, residents aren’t waiting for the government. Many made that clear Monday, when discussing #DontMuteMyHealth at the African American Civil War Museum. 

“We in this museum—if we waited for the government, we’d still be enslaved,” says Watkins, who was met with boisterous applause.  

Anderson believes city officials just need to be pushed. “Often times there are great people who are city administrators, who want to do great things,” he says. “But if there’s no calling for those great things, then they are not going to do them.” 

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