Even though growing up in the 1980s on 85th Avenue and Olive Street had its challenges, there are still memories that I look back on with fondness. I can still hear the snapping of that old telephone cord we used as a jump rope as we played double Dutch in front of my house. The only disagreement my friends and I had to settle was who would jump first -- which we usually solved with the flip of a penny.
But no day would be complete unless we held one of the sweetest celebrations ever known: the coveted candy party.
Each of us would ask our folks for a dollar. We would then strategize on what sugary treats we would get. With about $5 among us, it was off to the two corner stores on 86th and Bancroft avenues to claim our goods. We would leave with brown paper bags just about to overflow with Now-and-Laters, Blow Pops, Mambas, Corn Nuts, and occasionally, cotton candy. We would then head to the porch of one of our houses and divvy up our goods.
Oh, sugar. At that time, no one had much of a problem with you. As long as we ate you in moderation, and as long as we were active, we would be in good shape (no pun intended).
Today, we have a national obesity epidemic. A new report published by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Trust for America's Health says that in less than two decades, half the population in 39 states could be obese. California's adult obesity rate, the study shows, could reach above 46 percent.
And sugar, it seems like nowadays you're catching a lot of the blame for a massive problem that weighs heavily on cities such as Oakland.
I am a program manager at a health department where I manage a nutrition and physical activity program. We design and implement activities to promote healthful behaviors, specifically targeting low-income communities like those I grew up in.
My childhood gives me an advantage in the work that I do -- especially in understanding what factors make it hard for people to be physically active or eat healthful. Violence and crime in the streets are huge obstacles to health. Who wants to take their family for a walk if they don't feel safe?
As a kid, sugar was a big part of my life and diet -- but my mother and grandmother did a great job of making sure my siblings and I only had candy and desserts in moderation. They always stressed the importance of meals filled with fruits and vegetables that we were fortunate to have grown ourselves.
Plus, we had tons of opportunities to be physically active.
I cherish the memories of my grandmother and I skipping to my dance classes. Even though my streets were hit hard by drugs and violence, I still felt safe.
I was fortunate for the abundance of activities that kept me from being overweight, regardless of the amount of sugar I consumed. But today, I realize that not many kids are as fortunate.
It's a blessing that I am a health educator who works to encourage healthful behaviors and lifestyles. One of the reasons I chose this work is because I saw the effects cancer and heart disease were having on my family and community, and I wanted to make a difference.
But I do struggle with understanding how to provide sound education and resources without judging or victim-blaming the communities I serve.
My dear, sweet sugar. My heart aches for you, as I know you don't intend to do us harm. In my childhood, you meant such happiness. But in my adulthood, I see how you can cause sadness and pain.
If only finding solutions to epidemics like this were as easy as flipping that penny.
Katherine Brown has lived in Oakland since she was 6 months old. She enjoys volunteering, dance and sports, with football being her favorite.