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A Lifetime Commitment to Community Service

Jerry Florence
Group Executive Officer, Membership and Director of the AARP Foundation
The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Annual Conference

Good afternoon brothers and friends. It's always a good time to be among Alphas.

This year's event theme, "A Lifetime Commitment to Community Service," speaks to our past and the spirit of our founders. Yet it also speaks to the present and future of the United States.

We all know our Alpha history, how our fraternity first served as a study and support group for minority students facing racial prejudice at Cornell in New York.

Our foundation is firmly based on the principles of scholarship, fellowship, good character, and the uplifting of humanity.

These principles that our seven jewels established in 1906 are what bound all of them together. Those brothers encouraged one another through oppressive negativity until they graduated.

It was the exact opposite of what the handful of Black students admitted the previous year had experienced.

Without ongoing support, those students were crushed by the intense racial pressure and never returned to earn degrees.

But the Alpha founders not only graduated, they each went on 'to be somebody,' and have an impact on their world—our world.

What they did in looking out for each other and other minority students, was community service at the highest level.

I'm very proud to be a part of the Alpha brotherhood —committed to serving the community at work and at home.

In the same way, I'm proud of my current workplace—AARP—where I am Associate Executive Director for Membership and Director of the AARP Foundation.

Community service is at the core of this organization, which is dedicated to serving people over age 50 and their families.

Serving those most at social and economic risk.

This year, AARP's greatest advocacy and service effort is focused on Social Security. After 70 years, it's still the most successful domestic program in U.S. history.

Even so, there's been talk about Social Security shortchanging Blacks, Hispanics, and women. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At the center of this debate are private accounts.

So I want to explain why Social Security is so important—especially to our community and not just the older members—and why radical privatization proposals are dangerous, expensive and unnecessary- and simply a Bad Deal!

Over the years, Social Security has been critical to the African American community.

It's the only guaranteed, inflation-proof, lifelong benefit that millions of workers—present and future—can depend on.

The Social Security promise of 1935 embodies the deepest values of all Americans. And that promise has endured for 70 years.

African Americans, on average, rely on Social Security for almost half of their total retirement income. It represents nearly 57 percent of income for African-American women over 65.

Did you know that the poverty rate for all older women would jump from 12 percent to over 50 percent without Social Security? It's even higher if we're only talking about Black women.

One of every three African Americans would have no retirement income without Social Security. For that segment of our community and many other older Americans, Social Security is all that stands between them and poverty.

In fact, the total African American poverty rate would increase from 22 percent to more than 57 percent if there were no Social Security.

But it's not just simply a retirement program. Social Security also provides indispensable disability and survivors' benefits, which are lifelines to so many people.

The National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality did a study showing that African American boys and girls are about four times more likely to be lifted out of poverty by Social Security than white children. And disability and survivor benefits are essential for our children.

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