Chief Diversity Officer, AARP
Panel: Engaging Older Adults as Catalysts for Change
Hilton New York
New York, New York
June 28, 2010, 10-11:30am
In this century, older diverse people stand to be the greatest catalysts for change in multiple areas of life, not just volunteering. Their numbers are continually increasing, positioning them to have enormous community and societal impact simply due to their size – but there’s much more than size at work.
More than anyone else, diverse older adults have experienced more social, political and economic changes, in some instances, for more than a century. This group has a lifetime of experience and information to help make decisions and predict outcomes based on events that have taken place in their lives – personally and as part of the nation. Therefore, they are in the best position to lead and encourage change where it is needed in current society.
As the older diverse population continues to grow and different segments begin to recognize their potential for influence, and their ability to challenge traditional wisdom and to have an impact on the world – from community service to policy making – their desire to have an impact will also increase. Their power will not be merely symbolic but participatory and influential.
While some diverse elders have been in the mainstream as influencers and architects of change. Others have not traditionally been invited to participate or were marginalized and closed out of the process – due to gender, race, language barriers, etc – but they’ve still have an impact.
For example, the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements changed history. And though the masses were not recognized nor invited into the mainstream conversation, their presence and participation helped bring about positive social change that affected future generations.
Regardless of their ‘station’ in life, all diverse older Americans bring personal perspective, which for many, includes experiences of injustice, disenfranchisement, marginalization, or being discounted or overlooked.
Let’s stop and appreciate the fact that many people recognized as older today, particularly people of color, did not experience many of the freedoms and privileges of U.S. citizenship until as recently as the mid-1960s and 70s. Other people of color were not even present in the U.S. in great numbers until the 1980s.
Older diverse adults have borne the brunt of adjusting to new and different ways of doing things – some over a lifetime, others as transplants from other cultures.
Not only must we learn to trust and respect the needs and desires of diverse older people, we must present opportunities for them to be the agents of change that most are well equipped to be.
As the aging population grows, they too will create opportunities for themselves in their communities as they take on leadership roles and add their voices neighborhood groups, advisory boards and task forces – building momentum as catalysts.
Our elders represent the link between our past and present. They are the voice of history. Diverse elders have successfully survived societal challenges of the past. They are the youth of yesterday and now they are the experts to look up to about living and what things to avoid so that everyone can live together successfully.
Older people are a significant element in overall diversity, combining many other diverse aspects within who they are – which also helps position them as catalysts for change. Many understand the potential they have for influencing major change. The rest of the nation must begin to recognize this potential, too, and be prepared to work with it.
[Older people are the social engines that make things happen in a holistic and transparent way.]
Like other people, no one may have asked them to volunteer. When we do, quite likely, they will be willing and they will be powerful.