Fort Worth

Stopping Fort Worth deaths: Forming strategies to keep people of color in 76104 alive

Before he saw the study released in February showing that African Americans on Fort Worth’s Southside were dying at a faster rate than people in other places and of other ethnic groups, Kyev Tatum said he had suspected it.

His suspicions were born of experience, said Tatum, New Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church pastor.

“No one in my immediate family of 11 has lived to reach 65 years in Fort Worth, Texas,” Tatum said. “My mother passed away at 64 in 2001 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. I am convinced that working as a custodian in the old asbestos-filled FWISD schools caused her early departure from this earth.”

Tatum, 53, said he is suffering from chronic high blood pressure and kidney disease, while his two siblings remaining alive also suffer from chronic illness. All of his remaining immediate family members either grew up or still live within the 76104 ZIP code, Tatum said.

In reaction to the study’s findings, Tatum has called the stakeholders in the city to a Saturday meeting at the church he pastors to look for solutions that can lengthen the lives of residents in the 76104 ZIP code.

“We must examine closely everything, including the air we breathe, the food we are eating and the water we are drinking to help us truly understand the impact of what is going on in the 76104 ZIP code,” Tatum said. “This is a matter of life and death for our children and our community.”

“It’s probably too late to do anything for me,” he said.

Sandi Pruitt, the study’s lead researcher who will be presenting the research group’s findings, said she is happy to see that a group of Fort Worth’s leaders will be gathering to develop an agenda to address the issues highlighted by the study.

The problem of low life expectancy averages for African Americans, and particularly African-American males, is not only identifiable in Fort Worth but nationally, said Pruitt, an assistant professor of population and data services for UT Southwestern in Dallas.

“African-Americans just don’t live as long as everyone else,” Pruitt said. “We looked at two things and did an analysis and found that the poverty rates are significantly related to life expectancy. We also found that neighborhoods with low health insurance rates had lower life expectancies. Simply saying it’s the number of hospitals does not explain the whole issue.”

The study found Fort Worth’s 76104 ZIP code has the shortest life expectancy in Texas at 66.7 years — 70 years old for women and 63.7 for men. That’s more than 10 years less than the state’s 78.5 year average. Researchers relied on death records for 2005-2014 to determine mortality rates.

The median household income within the 76104 ZIP code was less than $26,200, and more than 1,300 families out of a total of nearly 3,500 families in 76104, about a third, lived below the federal poverty level, according to a report from mySidewalk, an organization that records citywide trends and data. The median income level for the whole of Tarrant County was more than $62,500, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Federal officials estimated that the uninsured rate for those under 65 in Tarrant County was about 17 percent, or nearly one in five, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The 76104 lies south of Interstate 30 and north of Berry Street. It is generally bounded to the west by Forest Park Boulevard and to the east by Cobb Park Drive. The population in the district is made up of about 7,400 black residents, nearly 7,100 white residents, more than 3,100 people who identified as “some other race” and about 360 Asian residents, according to the U.S. Census.

Jawanza Kunjufu, the founder and president of African American Images, a Chicago-based publishing company who is also presenting at the meeting, says he will focus on discussing disparities in education and social service investments in addition to other areas that have handicapped the efforts of minority communities to thrive.

Oktawia P. Wójcik, a senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who has studied the issues surrounding low life expectancy rates in the African-American community, says that getting together to discuss the problem is a good first step.

But Wójcik also said it is important that people who live in the 76104 ZIP code be at the meeting to share their experiences with the researchers and city leaders who will be present. While the issue may be framed in the context of racial disparity, the more immediate problems that must be addressed are equal opportunities to meaningful and sustainable employment, systemic poverty and access to quality education, Wójcik said.

“There are signs of hope that problems like historic redlining can be addressed and that outcomes can be changed,” she said. “I hope they (the residents of 76104) bring their knowledge and experiences and share their experiences with others. There may important data that needs to be shared, but the telling of their stories can be just as powerful.”

If You Go:

The health summit is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday at New Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church, 2864 Mississippi Ave., Fort Worth, Texas 76104.

Sandi Pruitt and Jawanza Kunjufu are special guests.

The agenda will focus on creating a community conversation about life expectancy in the inner city of Fort Worth and developing a long-term plan to address this critical issue. The event is being organized with collaboration from the City of Fort Worth, local churches, chambers of commerce, the University of North Texas Health Science Center, JPS Health Network, Cook Children’s Medical Center, and Texas Health Resources.

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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.