“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of our country, and a finer world to live in.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 18, 1959; Washington, DC)
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a humble dream that resonated throughout all of America’s history, by reaching back and re-examining what it means to be treated equally; with respect, love and empathy. His vision, like those of many other Civil Rights leaders and African American social reformers, lit the path to freedom for humanity and created a foundation for many groups who are moved by civil rights and social justice; including culture change of long term care. February is Black History Month – a time to reflect and appreciate the pioneering efforts of African American individuals who fought a selfless fight to ensure the freedoms of future generations. Many of these heroes have passed on, leaving a legacy behind them that reverberates with a continuity that is never-ending. This month, we celebrate their memories and honor their service to humanity.
Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Rosa Parks had more in common than the color of their skin. They all fought against injustice by remaining steadfast in their belief that all people are created equal. These brave champions for humanity challenged systems and processes that were insufficient for the greater good, and empowered others through veracity, education, faithfulness and reverence for mankind as a whole. The courageous actions of these African American heroes made it possible for us all to fight for humanity and gave a voice of fortitude to populations that have been disregarded, disenfranchised and disrespected. Booker T. Washington once said: “In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” This powerful statement conveys the ameliorating philosophies guiding the culture change movement to create meaningful lives for elders and those working closest with them. Washington’s words echo the messaging heard so frequently from culture change advocates – We must coalesce to radically change archaic systems so as to protect the rights and freedoms of populations that have been far too frequently neglected due to race, gender, age or other discriminating factors.
Radical change takes radical efforts and the human rights crusade will continue to grow in numbers, gathering supporters along the way. In this movement to bring a sense of value, community and meaning to elderhood, we can take a page from history books and learn from the invaluable lessons taught by African American freedom fighters. Through these teachings we will become more empowered, energized and astute – fortitudinous enough to draw from the strength within the population of elders and their advocates and become the change needed to eradicate the institutionalization of our elders, ageism and other injustices against humanity. The paradigm shift of culture change is bigger than a single entity, person or organization; it is a civil rights movement that is continuing the legacy of those we honor this month.
“Without a struggle, there can be no progress” – Frederick Douglass