Black Americans bear a much higher burden of asthma than white Americans. Compared to white Americans, Black Americans are five times as likely to visit the emergency department due to asthma, two times as likely to stay in the hospital due to asthma, and three times as likely to die from asthma. This is why reducing asthma disparities is a critical part of the mission of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Despite these statistics, people like Darren Riley are making an impact within their local communities. In honor of Black History Month, AAFA spoke with Darren about the important work he does.
Darren Riley, CEO and Co-Founder of JustAir
Darren is the co-founder and CEO of JustAir, which aims to provide air quality insights to help communities better manage the health impacts of pollution. JustAir currently has neighborhood-level sensors in several communities, including Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Waterbury, Connecticut.
Darren has worked with community leaders to define relevant air quality objectives and build solutions so communities are better equipped to accurately identify sources of pollutants and develop data-driven solutions to protect their breathing environment.
Darren’s vision is multi-faceted and goes beyond air quality measurement. He hopes to equip residents with granular-level neighborhood air quality data that can help improve individual health outcomes. Residents can sign up for text alerts on air quality concerns. His technology can also determine the source of pollution within a particular neighborhood. This data can help inform policy or other strategies to work toward more equitable air quality.
Q: What led you to measure air quality data?
Darren: Getting diagnosed with asthma a few years ago made me more aware of how much our environment influences our quality of life and how many chronic diseases, such as asthma, disproportionately impact communities of color. I believe your health should not be determined by where you are born and your skin color. I am inspired and hopeful to contribute to the great work of leaders who came before me and continue to fight for the quality of life their community deserves unapologetically.
Q: Why are you passionate about working to end asthma disparities and improve air quality?
Darren: The experience of an asthma attack – where there is nothing in the world you want more than to breathe normally – is something that no one should experience. From writing code and drafting proposals to deploying air quality monitors, I am deeply driven by recalling moments of panic, wheezing, and gasping. Just the thought that someone is experiencing an asthma episode where their lungs are working against their well-being keeps me focused on easing the burden of asthma.
Q: What is your favorite part of the work you do with your local community?
Darren: As a Black founder in the environment/climate tech space, I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with the community that has and will continue to lead this work. JustAir is a supportive infrastructure for solutions, such as tree canopying or electric school buses, and means that can help create a more equitable breathing environment for all.
Q: What recommendations do you have for people interested in reducing asthma health disparities in their local communities?
Darren: We can reduce allergy, asthma, and health disparities by changing our behaviors, environment, and policies. Before jumping to solutions, I recommend discovering who is working on similar efforts and what has already been done in your community. There is also an opportunity to learn from other communities who may have faced similar disparities for inspiration and/or collaboration.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share as you reflect on Black History Month and your work?
Darren: As I reflect upon Black History Month, I feel hopeful that we are building toward a more just world. I find it hard to accept the status quo when so many before us had to overcome seemingly impossible odds to give us a better quality of life. We all deserve equitable access and quality – from the food we eat to the water we drink and the air we breathe. I am both grateful and committed to working toward a future where the community you are born into doesn't determine the quality of the air you breathe.
How Can You Help Reduce Asthma and Allergy Disparities?
The only way we can reduce health disparities is if we all work together. Everyone – from people with asthma and allergies to policymakers and the health care industry – can be a part of building programs that make a lasting difference for people, families, and communities impacted by asthma and allergies.
Sign up for AAFA’s community to stay up to date about the following opportunities to get involved:
- Advocate for people affected by asthma disparities
- Participate in patient-centered research and clinical trials
You can also donate to support AAFA’s mission to create real and lasting change.