More than 100 people, including advocates and organizational representatives, packed the multipurpose room at the A.M. McGregor Home in East Cleveland, on May 17 for the 2019 Anna V. Brown conference. The conference is named in honor of Brown, who was the first director for the Cleveland Office on Aging. It is meant to discuss the current state and future needs of black elders in greater Cleveland. In the past, the conference was held annually, however the event went on hiatus in 2009. This most recent event was the first time that it was convened in a decade.
A coalition of organizations, led by Cleveland State University professor of social work Dr. Victoria Winbush, led the conference.
A coalition of organizations, led by Cleveland State University professor of social work Dr. Victoria Winbush, led the conference. Attendees included black older adults, employees in the community who have worked in the aging field for many years and everyone in between. The mistress of ceremony was Eleanor Hayes, an award-winning news anchor, formerly of WJW, Fox 8 Cleveland.
The conference opened with a presentation by Case Western Reserve University Associate Professor Dr. Anne Nguyen, who shared statistics about the number of older black Americans historically, currently, and projected into the future. In her presentation, she described how average life expectancy, as well as various other quality of life and quality of health factors can vary among black elders in particular. She described some of the historical factors that influence black elders and their perspectives and approaches to medical evaluations and diagnoses. Many of their perspectives have been shaped by life experiences of overt and covert experiences with racism.
Many of their perspectives have been shaped by life experiences of overt and covert experiences with racism.
After that, the conference next presented a two-person panel, featuring special guest Dr. May L. Wykle, a national expert in the field of aging and Frances Blount, who retired from the Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) and continues to be very involved in community organizations such as the Cleveland NAACP. Moderated by Cuyahoga County Department of Senior and Adult Services Program Administrator Denise Rucker-Burton, the two women described their own aging journeys, how they have remained active in their communities, as well as how they have assisted and supported loved ones as they aged.
Finally, there was a discussion I moderated, which featured panelists Rev. Lorenzo Norris, Pastor of Concord Baptist Church and President of the Cleveland Clergy Alliance, Mary McNamara, Director of Aging for the City of Cleveland, as well as Tangi McCoy, President and CEO of McGregor Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). McGregor PACE is a program which serves as an alternative to nursing home care, and provides in-home services to older adults. In that panel discussion, the service providers described their current ability to respond to the needs of black older adults, as well as some of the barriers they face to meet all of the needs of a rapidly aging and growing population. The group also discussed the need to ensure that elected officials hear and understand the needs of black elders, and adequately fund the public agencies that support seniors.
As a society, we will be judged on how we treat our most vulnerable citizens.
In the end, most attendees stayed throughout the day, and left with increased education and understanding on the state of black elders in the region. As a society, we will be judged on how we treat our most vulnerable citizens. For those who have blazed the trail before us, we owe them everything we can do to ensure they live their lives with dignity, freedom and respect. The Anna V. Brown conference was a major step in the promotion of aging and the need to support the elders of our community.