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Addressing inequalities in African-American community

As Black History Month winds down, we at AARP Texas would like to take a moment to reflect on the significant progress that has been made in our country. We salute all the civil rights pioneers of yesteryear -– African-Americans, Hispanics, women and others -- and the people who are still working to make positive progress toward creating a more equal and just society.

Amazing strides have been made since the 1950s. The bus boycotts helped begin a movement that culminated in the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s. Two generations of Americans have never known segregation. In the past two decades, the number of African-American college students has approximately doubled. Between 2004 and 2008 alone, more than 2 million more African Americans started voting.

Yet there is still work to be done. And AARP Texas wants to help do it.

The recent economic downturn has affected the African-American community disproportionately. Unemployment rates are higher. A recent AARP survey showed that African-American boomers and seniors are cutting back on medications and prematurely withdrawing funds from retirement savings. The number of people reporting trouble affording rent, mortgage payments, utility bills and food is double that of whites. One in four African Americans lives in poverty.

It's not just financial security that is unequal. It's also access to health care.

Due to inadequate prenatal care, African American children are more than twice as likely to die as infants as white children are. As adults, African Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic disease and are less frequently screened for some cancers. Older African Americans are less likely to get flu shots, even though they are recommended annually for people ages 50 and up.

These disparities divide us as Americans, creating an uneven playing field. Last fall, AARP traveled to Marshall, Texas, to sponsor a mock health care debate by the forensic team at Wiley College, a historically black school affiliated with the United Methodist Church. It was rewarding to challenge these young leaders with the tough questions and to hear the solutions they proposed.

In the past year, we've gone into Houston-area Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal churches to talk to about how individuals can help make a difference in their own community and beyond. We have built valuable connections that can be helpful in our future work toward improving the lives of our members and their families on issues like access to health care and financial security and making our communities more livable.

In January we walked hand-in-hand with participants of the City of San Antonio’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. march, the largest event of its kind in the U.S. It’s an event that speaks to the character of the people. Folks from all walks of life, young and old, made a symbolic three-mile march. In marching, we all saluted the achievements of the past while recognizing that we have significant challenges and opportunities in the present.

AARP members and their families have been marching for years, both in this San Antonio event and the nationwide movement for greater equality among all races. We don't plan to stop anytime soon.

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