ARLINGTON, Va. (7News) — With Black communities disproportionately affected by serious asthma-related health issues, the NAACP Arlington Branch is looking to plant the seeds of change in tree equity.
Branch President Michael Hemminger said there is a significant disparity in the number of trees in Black communities compared to White communities, which plays a role in why Black people are more likely to suffer severe complications with respiratory illnesses like asthma.
"When you start to peel the onion, you ask yourself why. It's because there are things like heat islands. We're in one right now. In this part of the county, there are significantly less trees than there are in some of our more affluent parts of the county. Because of that, there's a 10-year life expectancy difference amongst our zip codes," Hemminger said. "We're the smallest geographic county in the country, but depending on where you live you're going to live 10 years shorter or longer."
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Black people are five times more likely to visit the emergency room and three times more likely to die from asthma when compared to White people.
Hemminger is looking to attack the root of these issues.
Earlier this week, the NAACP Arlington Branch, through a strategic grant and partnership with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presented a $60,000 donation to EcoAction Arlington to help plant more trees in 10 historically Black neighborhoods across the county.
Hemminger said the pollution these neighborhoods are exposed to on a daily basis is why it's important to grow more trees, which act as natural filters against pollutants.
"We're in an urban area, so all of the buses we park in the county are right here in this neighborhood, all of our school buses, all of our county buses. There's a highway right behind this neighborhood that was intentionally designed to break up this Black community. There's just all around us, there's this urban environmental things that are causing Black and Brown people to live less than their counterparts. Planting these trees on the ground now is going to have a generational effect on extending life expectancy," Hemminger said. "We're going to get trees into this community and other communities that are historically underserved. Over time, it's going to have an effect on life expectancy."
The targeted neighborhoods are:
"It's absolutely going to be a longer-term solution," Hemminger said. "For us, it was literally a matter of life and death."