By Art Holliday
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Part of Dr. King's dream 50 years ago was creating economic and educational opportunity for African Americans. Fifty years later, jobs, education and health are the focus of a new study by researchers at Washington University and St. Louis University.
The first part of a five part study was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The study examines ways to improve the health and wellbeing of African Americans in the St. Louis area, many of whom are dying prematurely. A group called Beyond Housing is singled out as part of the solution.
Outside Obama Elementary in Pine Lawn, a sign near the entrance to the school reads "$500 dollars will be deposited in a MO$T college savings account for every kindergartner in the Normandy School District. Where's the money coming from? An anonymous donor."
"We have an anonymous foundation that has donated that gift and has agreed to continue that for the forseeable future," Jillian Guenther of Beyond Housing said.
Beyond Housing is a community development organization. It recognizes quality education and affordable housing often lead to better health outcomes and quality of life.
"Housing and economic development, jobs and health," Guenther said. "We focus on all of those things together to create the kind of community we want to live in."
Over the past two years, more than 400 families have signed up for the so-called 'promise accounts' of $500 dollars, one of the Beyond Housing initiatives.
"That idea is really to start the conversation early with students and parents about college and this dream is really possible," Guenther said."Just having an account to the child's name makes it much more likely that the student will think about college and enroll in college and so we're excited to be a part of it."
Beyond Housing is singled out for praise in the study conducted by researchers from Washington University and St. Louis University. The study's title is "For the Sake of All: A Report on the Health and Well-Being of African Americans in St. Louis". The project is funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health. The study finds that African Americans are dying in high rates from disease and disability.
"One in six deaths in 2011 among African Americans 25 years or older were attributable to poverty and low levels of education," Purnell said. "Over 500 of those deaths were due to poverty and low levels of education and we're able to estimate that they cost this region about $3.3 billion just in that single year."
The study will offer a comprehensive overview of current status as well as recommendations for change. Investing in early childhood development is money well spent, according to the study.
"Investing in early childhood makes individuals, makes children more likely to complete school, and people who complete their education have better health outcomes than people who don't complete their education," Purnell said. "They have better income, which allows them to purchase things like health insurance. Higher levels of education also make people more likely to consume better health information and engage in better health behaviors."
To read the entire study: http://forthesakeofall.org/. For information about Beyond Housing: http://www.beyondhousing.org/