I recently had the pleasure of seeing Tim Shriver deliver the commencement address at my daughter’s high school graduation.
As you may know, Shriver is chair of the Special Olympics, which was founded by his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, in 1968.
Shriver’s speech resonated with me on several levels that day, mostly because he spoke of an issue that is top of mind for many Americans: inclusion. As he referenced his work as a special education teacher and of course as the head of Special Olympics, Shriver took the opportunity to urge his audience to consider the power of unity and the transformative impact it has had on the people that his organization serves.
“When in doubt, always choose inclusion,” he implored the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School class of 2017. Not only was Shriver referring to the importance of including people with intellectual disabilities in all aspects of society, but he was also making a larger point about the injustice of excluding people who have been moved to the margins of society—those who have been “otherized.”
In fact, Shriver suggested that the Special Olympics, which began as a summer camp in his mother’s backyard in the early 1960s, have become a movement for everyone.
In my opinion, it is in this vein that Shriver’s entreaty applies as well to older adults. To paraphrase Jeanette Leardi, who has already put it much more eloquently in a previous post, the insidious thing about otherization is that it is applied to all kinds of distinctions: race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and, of course, age.
The ChangingAging movement and many other voices in this field have led the way in advocating for and with older adults to be included, recognized, and revered in all aspects of community, just as Shriver and his family has done with the Special Olympics organization.
A recent Generations United/Eisner Foundation survey of adults nationwide illustrates how the otherization of elders happens. The study found that among 53 percent of the respondents, aside from family members, only a few regularly spend time with people who are much older or much younger than they are. What’s more, young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 appear to be the most isolated from other generations, with 61 percent reporting “a limited number of much older or much younger acquaintances.”
Whether intentional or not, age segregation is neither natural nor benign. It was with this in mind that I recently launched Age In America, a project that chronicles the lives and stories of older adults, captures their images, and posts it all on social media, including Instagram, Facebook, and a blog site.
If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you are one of more than 17 million people who follow Humans of New York, a blog site that also uses Facebook and Instagram to tell the stories of ordinary people from New York City and all over the world.
Inspired by the transformative and attitude-changing features of Humans of New York, I hope that Age In America will harness the potent power of stories and images to bridge the generational gap that exists today and alter people’s perspectives about aging and being older.
The mission of Age In America is to demonstrate that we are all essentially the same–human and interesting and imperfect; to dispel the myths and stereotypes about aging; and to help eliminate discrimination of people based on age.
Please check it out here, give me your feedback, and follow it if you like it.
We are currently visiting senior centers, retirement communities, and other locations in Baltimore and D.C. to capture images and stories. If you would like Age In America to visit your community, please connect via our contact form.