Internship Reflection

Minx Manuel at FresnoGrows: Using a place-based approach and environmental justice to tackle preterm birth and infant mortality

I was able to create an internal strategy to support local social movements, as well as a curriculum for the Environmental Justice Fellowship, to address health disparities that contribute to inequitable rates of preterm birth and infant mortality.
February 19, 2021
Minx Manuel

FresnoGROWS (Growing Real Opportunities in West Fresno), is a Best Babies Zone (BBZ) located in Southwest Fresno, CA. BBZs focus on improving the birth outcomes and the eventual life course of infants using a place-based approach. 

Fresno is the 6th largest city in California, as well as one of the most polluted cities in the United States. Here, African Americans experience a disproportionately high rate of preterm birth and infant mortality. 

To gain a better understanding of the historical context and current obstacles, I collaborated with my preceptor — Dr. Venise Curry, M.D. — to better assess the community of interest. I used resources such as historical redlining maps to explore the historical legacy of legalized segregation and the current systemic barriers (e.g., voter engagement, social capital, current city zoning practices, etc.) that the African American community of Southwest Fresno faces. 

In short, African Americans within this zip code have been segregated racially and physically within neighborhoods lacking healthy green spaces and adequate access to healthy food while also coping with living in close proximity to stationary emission sources (industrial sites, freeways, areas of agriculture) and exposure to PM 2.5. Members of this community belonging to the Concerned Citizens of West Fresno (CCWF) have even been involved in a 60 year battle for environmental justice against a meat rendering plant that causes noxious smells, the dumping of animal parts, and spillage of animal liquids. 

In regards to socioeconomic resources, these communities face increasing wage gaps from their White counterparts and pay higher percentages of wages towards rent. Most importantly, they reside in areas lacking convenient access to resources that can address systemic barriers to competent prenatal or antenatal healthcare. Together, this intersectionality deprives infants of protective factors which prevent infant mortality, respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular disease across the lifespan.

During my internship, I was able to create an internal strategy to support local social movements that address these health disparities through a literature review and power analysis. With this baseline understanding, I drafted an Environmental Justice Fellowship Curriculum. Through this curriculum, FresnoGROWS will be better able to attract a diverse array of applicants (city planners, law students, medical students, etc.) to tackle inequitable rates of preterm birth and infant mortality for years to come. 

I gained skills in critical thinking, community engagement strategy development, curriculum development, remote collaboration and networking, and the utilization of online resources to complete a community assessment (CalEnviroScreen, vital statistics, Community Valley Air, UC San Diego’s Preterm Birth Data, etc.).

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