Why look at childhood obesity as just a children’s issue? That’s what Keith Benjamin, street scale campaign manager at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, has come to discover. Through his work in public spaces and transportation, Keith has come to see the interconnectedness of childhood obesity with health disparities, public safety, food access, civil rights, disability and education. Read on to learn how Keith has been working with Safe Routes and the new work they’re doing on active and safe transportation. Connect directly with Keith through his PreventObesity.net Leader profile here.
Name: Keith Benjamin
Title: Street Scale Campaign Manager
Organization: Safe Routes to School National Partnership
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
Joining the Safe Routes to School National Partnership two years ago was the beginning of my work in childhood obesity. I have been a mobility and access advocate since my college days working in Chester, Pennsylvania, but now through my work as the street scale campaign manager, I have been able to identify and address the inequities in healthy, active transportation, safety and place. My inspiration comes from the fact that the disparities I work on eliminating everyday are someone else's everyday reality—and that needs to shift.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
I believe that safe and healthy mobility access is key if childhood obesity is to be completely eradicated. If parents still say that one of the top five reasons they don't let kids out to play is because of crime, violence or profiling; that 70 percent of African American and 81 percent of Hispanic neighborhoods lack adequate recreational facilities; or mothers have to walk over five-lane highways just to get "so-so" fruits vegetables and meats—then we have an accessibility problem. The best options, programs and food can exist, but if a community can't get to them, the work is for naught. Through the establishment of the National Active Transportation Diversity Task Force and resources like the Equity Asset Map and “How to use SRTS to combat the threat of violence in communities,” the National Partnership requires us as staff to raise the flag of equity and make sure that everyone can have access to a healthier and safer lifestyle.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
I think for both myself and my Voices for Healthy Kids work partner Mikaela Randolph, it has been the innovative relationships we have formed to show that active transportation can be a solutionary point to the priorities our most vulnerable citizens face. Building and mending bridges with faith, civil rights, disability, food access, crime/violence and education advocacy constituencies has challenged us to be uncomfortable in order to reach better outcomes. In addition, we have been pushed to not just be excited over national or state wins but empower local and regional communities to be a part of the movement as well.
Who is your role model in your work?
I don't know if I have a specific role model from the childhood obesity space, in general I would say William Sydney "Wes" Wesley, who is called “World Wide Wes.” Labeled as an agent for Creative Artists Agency, most people in the football and basketball world know him as the go-to guy for the smallest or biggest connections you need. If there is work you have to get done, a new player that needs limelight or an innovative project to push to sponsors or teams, he is the go-to person. I have tried and want to continue to grow to be that type of resource for communities working to be healthier and safer. So many communities, especially those most in need, can see their issues, how they want to improve and what makes sense. But they may not have the needed coalition members, know where the financial resources are, how to collect data or understand how to implement equity. I’d like to be the World Wide Wes for my field—someone who can bring that empowerment, support, guidance and "sticktoitiveness" to those communities so they are no longer left out.
What game or sport did you play growing up?
Growing up I loved track and field. I ran the 4x100, 4x200 and did high jump, and our coach would have us doing 8x200s with 60 second breaks in between each.
Each week, our own Prarthana Gurung speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Prarthana’s profile and contact her.