Dear Mrs. Obama, I would like to propose a new slogan for your second term.
You have done a lot through “Let’s Move” in raising awareness about the epidemic of childhood obesity and its dangers to the health of the next generation of Americans. But, I think we need to focus even more on the root causes of the obesity epidemic. The fact that kids don’t move is in fact the symptom of a larger problem. That's why I am recommending you change the logo to “Let's Mind.”
In the last four years, I've been honored to be an AmeriCorps recipient and to be responsible for placing nearly 1000 young adults as AmeriCorps coach-mentors in underserved communities across this country. The purpose of our Coach Across America program is to get kids physically active, and we measure our impact based on how many kids we inspire to exercise regularly through sports.
But the one thing I've learned from these coaches is that before we can get to the physical health of our children, we really need to address their mental health. The obesity epidemic is far worse in communities where kids are experiencing tremendous amounts of duress because of poverty. Many of these children do not have positive relationships with other children or with caring adults who can inspire them to make the kind of life changes that would lead to their better health. So while the purpose of our program is to promote physical health, we also spend much of our time training our coach-mentors on mental health and addressing the trauma that so many urban youth experience in their neighborhoods. Yes, we focus on their mind.
Breaking through the mindset of children who are often stressed, socially isolated or distrusting of adults is the first step to inspiring change in their lives. Once this trust is established, our coaches can then influence our kids to regularly exercise (and to regularly attend school too!). In a nutshell, these coaches create an atmosphere where the mental changes happen---the physical changes then follow.
“Let’s Mind” means something else too.
Many children grow up in atmospheres where they do not think adults “mind” about them. They may come from homes that are dysfunctional or lack parental authority, or attend overcrowded schools where they see their teachers and other authority figures as not caring. Consequently, they internalize this and learn not to care about themselves or others. This contributes to our obesity epidemic and it also leads to our youth violence epidemic in which children do not value life.
We train our coaches to show kids that they “mind” about them. This is a powerful lesson for working with all children, even those who at first seem the most hardened. After all, our coaches can tell you better than me: with a little minding all children are capable of amazing things….like regular exercise, doing well in school, and contributing to their communities.
So I say let's capitalize on what you started in the first term by getting at the root issue that isolates children from the kinds of activities that get them moving.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director