The shortest life expectancy in Texas — 66.7 years — can be found in Fort Worth, specifically the 76104 ZIP code. About 17,000 people live there, almost half living in poverty and most identifying as non-white, based on U.S. Census criteria.
The Rev. Kyev Tatum knows the area well. He grew up in 76104, which is roughly bordered by I-30 on the north, Berry Street on the south, the Hospital District on the west, and Cobb Park Drive on the east. He was one of 10 children raised by a single mother and attended Trimble Tech High School before earning a college football scholarship and leaving the area.
He wasn’t surprised about the recent UT Southwestern Medical Center study that examined the life expectancy rates of Texans and determined that people had the shortest life expectancies in 76104. Tatum’s mother died early of COPD, and time has whittled her brood of 10 kids down to four. Only one of Tatum’s six deceased siblings made it to 60, he said.
“We know that 76104 is a community that is suffering,” Tatum said. “Based on the report, the entire East Side of Fort Worth has a level of suffering that is unconscionable.”
Tatum, a longtime civil rights activist, has been pointing out injustices in the city and school district for years. He blames “systematic glitches” at City Hall for decades of catering to wealthy and prominent people and neighborhoods at the expense of the poor.
The UT Southwestern study could have prompted Tatum to spearhead a protest rally. He has organized many over the years. Instead, he reached out to one of the study’s authors, Sandi Pruitt, an assistant professor of population and data services at UT Southwestern. They decided to join forces, host a Unity Across the Trinity community event at 10am Saturday, and develop methods to address problems in 76104 and other neglected parts of town.
“We’re not trying to get into the blame game,” Tatum said. “What we’re trying to do is pull people from neighborhoods who are serious about helping [and make them] a part of this change from the bottom up. We can make things work for ourselves.”
Solutions won’t necessarily rely on city resources or leadership, Tatum said.
“We need practical things we can do on the lower level whether the government provides one ounce of support,” he said.
Still, city officials heard about the Unity Across the Trinity event and reached out to Tatum. Several city departments are sending representatives to be involved in the presentation. Others, such as the nonprofit Moncrief Cancer Institute, have asked to be included as well.
“I’m like, ‘Great!’ ” Tatum said. “Let’s bring all these people to the community to work with us to facilitate an empowerment model that starts from the bottom up, so we can hold ourselves accountable for the change we need and have access to what we need. It’s a health and wealth issue. People who have more access to wealth typically have better access to health and better education.”
Don’t expect all talk and no play. Unity Across the Trinity will be family-friendly and designed for fun as well as information.
“We want to make it a welcoming opportunity,” Tatum said.
The UT Southwestern study revealed several eye-opening facts, such as residents living in high-income neighborhoods lived to be 82 on average compared to 76 for those in poorer areas.
Pruitt will kick off the event by providing an overview of the study.
“I will talk about what we learned about Texas life expectancy overall and particularly about what’s going on in 76104,” she said. “I’ll be describing our study methodology and leaving it at that for community leaders to take over the rest of the day to talk about implications and what’s next.”
Solutions might involve establishing co-ops, creating jobs, and training people in 76104 to more actively supply products and services to surrounding hospitals and universities, Tatum said.
“We’re trying to create a strategy, and we’re looking at models around the country that have these same kind of issues,” he said.
One of those cities is Richmond, Virginia, where 40 percent of children live in poverty, although that number is much higher in certain neighborhoods. In 2014, Richmond officials committed to reducing child poverty and created the Office of Community Wealth to lead the effort. Case managers help connect residents with education, work training, and jobs while counselors do the same with high school students.
“Race matters,” Tatum said. “The neglect, the blight – all of that matters in life expectancy. We know it’s a reality.”
Unity Across the Trinity is at New Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church, 2864 Mississippi Av. Admission is free.