A project nearly a year and a half in the making was unveiled Tuesday at an elementary school on Charleston’s West Side.
Lauri Andress, an assistant professor at the West Virginia University School of Public Health, spoke Tuesday in Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary’s cafeteria about her and her colleagues’ project on Charleston’s West Side. The project included photos taken and accompanying narratives written of the West Side by Charleston residents and WVU medical students.
Andress, who said her research focuses on policymaking and the social determinants of health, said she’s worked on the project, which also includes information gathered from interviews and U.S. Census data, for about a year and a half. She’s hoping to have the findings printed in a peer-reviewed publication, but the project presented at the school is a “photoanalytic” series of banners including information, charts and photos. She said the exhibition is meant to be visual, speak on behalf of the community and “portray a sense of urgency and to make the experience real.”
Andress said she was spurred to do the project after communicating with the Rev. Matthew Watts, a longtime West Side activist.
“He painted a picture of the West Side as a place that resonated with my research of the factors that impact health, besides health care,” she said.
“One of the messages [of the project] is about institutional discrimination and marginalization of groups of people, and how that creates inequities, especially in the development process,” she said. “It demonstrates the history of difficult development exercises in Charleston over the years. And the second message is that this kind of institutional discrimination actually produces health inequities. It deepens the differences between groups in their health status and makes it worse, basically, so where you might think that redevelopment on the West Side is positive it actually can have a negative impact when you exclude groups that have historically been excluded.”
Andress said years of anxiety experienced by low-income communities takes a toll on bodies, including by weakening immune systems.
Watts said the public will again be able to view the project at a 5-8 p.m. community meeting at the school Thursday. The reverend has publicly criticized what he alleges is a lack of investment from the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority in West Side residential revitalization — CURA’s vice-chair has said it can only fund projects that come before it — and has asked for a contract that would have his own nonprofit, which rehabilitates homes in the area, serve as a lead consultant on development plans in the West Side.