Jackson, Mississippi

July 2014

The City with Soul, as Jackson is known, is steeped in a rich heritage of food, music and southern hospitality and is situated along the slow-moving Pearl River, creating a distinct sense of place in Mississippi’s biggest city. However, the city also has another, less inviting distinction.

As of 2012, Jackson, along with the rest of the state, still rates number one in adult obesity. In 2009, estimates suggested that half of all girls in Jackson, and four out of every 10 boys, were obese or overweight. Confronted by this reality, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) and its partners applied for a Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) grant. In collaboration with Alcorn State University Cooperative Extension Program, the City of Jackson Department of Parks and Recreation, Jackson State University Center for University-based Development, the Mississippi State Department of Health Office of Preventive Health and Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, the Jump Start Jackson initiative was launched, embarking on a plan to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.

MBK, already working in partnership to reduce health disparities by enhancing the health and well being of minority and marginalized populations through leadership in public and community health practices, understood how the relationship between physical inactivity and unhealthy eating contributed to Jackson’s weight problems. Based on a cultural revolution for health and wellness, Jump Start Jackson continues to work toward increasing access to affordable healthy foods through the development of community gardens and farmers’ markets, the development of Safe Routes to School initiatives, supporting healthy eating and active living policy changes within community and legislative institutions, and supporting the need for improvements to the built environment.

Some of their key accomplishments include:

  • In collaboration with the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives and the Department of Parks and Recreation, the partnership developed market guidelines, identified and recruited farmers and vendors and, advertised and
    established the Jump Start Jackson’s Farmers’ Market.
  • With capacity-building support, a local Washington Addition neighborhood association received non-profit status and ongoing technical support, enabling them to seek funding for the continuation of the community garden established in 2011.
  • In collaboration with the Department of Parks and Recreation, a green space policy was developed to convert unutilized or underutilized green space into places for physical activity and recreation for children and families.
  • MBK was awarded one of 61 Community Transformation Grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch Project CHANGE, a statewide initiative focused on policy, environmental infrastructure and systems changes to improve cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
  • In partnership with the Mississippi Department of Health, Jump Start Jackson conducted a number of Safe Routes to School educational sessions with over 500 K-5 grade students. Jump Start Jackson is currently assisting Raines Elementary School and five other local elementary schools to establish a formal Safe Routes to School program. In addition, they will be partnering with a local elementary school and providing maps of safe routes for International Walk to School Day.

HKHC has not only helped Jackson become a healthier community, it has rippled out to other communities as well. “Thus far, we have been able to expand many of the Jump Start Jackson efforts (Safe Routes to School, school and community-gardens, and developing and expanding farmers’ markets) to other areas across the state,” says Project Director DeMarc Hickson.