Three Important Words
June 25, 2024
At Aging While Black, we envision a society where Black elders are celebrated, supported, and empowered to thrive. This vision is inspired by the lives of individuals like my great grandparents, Walter and Rebecca Whitfield. Growing up next door to them, their impact on my life continues to unfold even at 68. They were humble, hardworking, adaptive, and family-centered. Despite living in a world that sought to oppress them at every turn, Walter and Rebecca managed to build a good life for themselves, their children, and beyond.

My great grandparents found a way to thrive, no matter the measure. If they managed to thrive in the vicious Jim Crow world of the 1950s and 1960s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, why are we so consistently confronted with the negative realities of so many aging Black people in America today?

At Aging While Black, we have chosen to build our existence on three important words: thriving Black elders.

There is no shortage of perspectives, theories, and approaches aimed at improving aging outcomes in our communities, country, and world. While many are well-intentioned and thoughtfully developed, we still live in a world where older Black Americans have higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and kidney disease compared to older White Americans. The poverty rate for African Americans aged 65 and older is 18%, double the rate of 8.9% for all older Americans. Black Americans are biologically about nine years older than White Americans of the same chronological age, a disparity largely attributed to inequitable social and economic lived experiences.

Achieving the vision of Aging While Black will require a profound transformation in aging service providers, government entities, private businesses, and the communities and institutions that support Black life in America. This is a daunting task, but we are up to it.

We believe the three Pillars of Aging While Black—Recalibrate the Village, Embrace Innovation, and Lean into Sankofa—provide an actionable framework to begin meeting this challenge.

Recalibrate the Village: The Alter project led by Dr. Fayron Epps equips Black churches to support families impacted by dementia, demonstrating what recalibrating the village looks like in real time. Just as Walter and Rebecca thrived with the support of their community, recalibrating our modern villages can create similar networks of support for Black elders.

Embrace Innovation: Dr. Bashir Easter’s rideshare app, My Melanin Nav, is a type of innovation that must be designed and implemented. Innovation was key for my great grandparents, as Walter embraced new farming tools and Rebecca continually upgraded her food preservation techniques. Today, technological advancements can similarly enhance the lives of Black elders.

Lean into Sankofa: The Kris Bowers documentary, “A Concerto is a Conversation,” is one of the most compelling displays of intergenerational wisdom sharing I have ever witnessed. This echoes the wisdom-sharing that occurred in my great grandparents’ home, whether on the front porch, in the living room, or the kitchen. Leaning into Sankofa means drawing from our past to inform our future, ensuring that Black elders are both teachers and learners in our communities.

Walter and Rebecca thrived because of their village, their adaptability, and their commitment to family. Recreating the essence of these experiences in 2024 will require much from all of us.

I invite you to take three actions. First, take a good look at your spaces. Are they fundamentally aligned with the idea of older people thriving? What can you do to make an impact? Second, connect with the Aging While Black movement. We have launched our horizontal groups focused on Caregiving, Economic Mobility, Advanced Care Planning, Brain Health and Wellness. Join one. Third, join us in building community across the country by connecting someone else to this space.

Remember, it is all in service to three important words: thriving Black elders.