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Back To School: What Does That Mean for Underserved and Inner-City Students?

By Debra Peek-Haynes

Taking a holistic approach to “Back to School” Experience

Our children are facing many challenges this school year including trying to stay healthy while trying to learn in an environment hostile to good health. With the political posturing to return students to the classroom, where is the plan to build and protect their immune systems? The mask and social distancing may be necessary, but there must be more answers to the equation. One answer is so simple it is missed: Healthy Food! Many children living in inner cities have limited access to fresh produce at school and at home. Numerous studies cite the benefits of eating fresh produce, but many African American and Hispanic students live in “food deserts,” according to the USDA definition.

According to Courtney Connely’s “Racial Health Disparities Already Existed in America – the Coronavirus Just Exacerbated Them,” “Due to a history of housing discrimination and redlining, which is the systemic practice of refusing government resources to predominantly Black neighborhoods because they’ve been deemed a financial risk, generations of African Americans have been forced to live in areas that lack access to healthy food options. Many of these neighborhoods, which researchers have categorized as “food deserts” are filled with fast-food restaurants and small corner stores that have more junk food options than fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Former First Lady Michelle Obama raised awareness about the importance of proper nutrition for our children with her My Plate initiative. We must go further to teach and present healthier food choices in a more appealing way because we are competing with major corporations for the attention of our children.


In a World News article, “Study Says Junk Food Companies Spend Billions of Dollars On Ads Targeting Black Children,” author Christina Calloway cites Jim Krieger, the executive director of Healthy Food America, “Targeted marketing to low-income kids and kids of color is a significant public health threat. In the year of COVID-19 and beyond, there must be an emphasis on healthy eating. Just to rely on a possible vaccine and not on a healthy life-giving diet, is short-sighted.” In 2018, I launched the Healthy Youth Project to educate our youth on the correlation between proper nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices, and its effects on academics, physical and emotional health.

The classes include healthy cooking demonstrations and cultivating an organic garden on the school’s campus. Food that nourishes the body and soul is set apart from processed synthetic food. Synthetic food may fill your stomach but your body will still crave what it needs. Students must learn that cravings can be satisfied with the right foods. We must feed our children’s life and not death. The Healthy Youth Project teaches students how to grow herbs and vegetables in pots at home. Reimagining how we prepare these foods at home and at school is essential to improve health disparities. A healthy immune system will not only better protect our children now, but also prepare them to withstand the many years ahead. 

New episodes of the virus’ and ongoing environmental hazards, like the Flint water crisis, are in the future. 

Let’s consider a holistic approach to “Back to School” that includes building better minds and bodies. Hold your elected officials accountable. We must demand that our local, state, and federal elected officials provide incentives and resources to develop farmer’s markets and full-service grocery stores in food-insecure communities. Our children are depending on us! We can’t afford to let them down. When history considers how we addressed this pandemic will we receive a failing grade or will we pass?


Debra Peek-Haynes is a health and wellness advocate and author. Located in Dallas, Texas with her husband Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III, she is the mother of one lovely daughter, Abeni Jewel. For more information about her workshops, podcast, The Healthy Youth Project, Debra’s Healing Kitchen, DHK Wellness Strategies, and more, visit:

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