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  • Shawntay Lewis

National ‘Aging While Black’ Founder Keynotes the 9th Annual Aging Matters Education and Expo

As one of the nation’s leading organizations for centering and amplifying Black people’s perspectives and experiences as they age, the Aging While Black platform seeks to create opportunities for collective learning and action. Raymond A. Jetson founded the resource organization last year, the latest step in his career in community building and healing. The former pastor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Star Hill Church, and former Louisiana state representative, Jetson has also served as deputy secretary for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and was a fellow in Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. He will take the stage as keynote speaker of the 9th Annual Aging Matters Education & Expo, at Detroit’s Fellowship Chapel, on Thursday, Aug. 1. 


Aging While Black focuses on addressing systemic inequities faced by older Black adults. “We saw that there is this broader story about aging, but then there’s this deeper story of aging in the Black community and what that means for older Black people in this country,” said Jetson. “At Aging While Black, we envision a society where Black elders are celebrated, supported, and empowered to thrive in every aspect of life.”


According to AARP, in the U.S. 10,000 people a day reach the age of 65 and over the next several decades, people over 65 will represent more than 20 percent of the population. Jetson said after he learned that information, he reflected on his own aging experiences. “One of the things that I realized is that the Black experience in America has been different in every way. So why wouldn’t it be when it comes to aging?” 


Aging While Black hosts weekly livestreams to discuss aging topics and communicates with stakeholders via an e-newsletter, sharing resources that are vital to organization and continuing the conversation.


“We exist to transform the aging landscape by cultivating a vibrant network of partners, innovations and opportunities that centers around Black elders,” he said. “Aging While Black presents an opportunity for people to leverage and amplify their work and learn ways to make it even more impactful.” They also hold monthly meetings, and convene peers in what they call horizontal groups.


“We have horizontal groups focused on caregiving, advanced care planning, economic mobility, and brain health and dementia. We have people interested in those things across the country. We have 15 states represented, where people are coming together, identifying organizations, sharing emerging work, lifting up best practices, so we could share that more broadly,” Jetson said. 


Jetson is an AARP national Purpose Prize winner and Next Avenue Influencer in Aging. He is also the founder of MetroMorphosis, an organization dedicated to the transformation of urban communities through community members. Jetson calls himself a catalyst, innovator, and elder who has played a pivotal role in driving positive change within communities. 


He says,  “I believe one of the greatest opportunities before us today is engaging older adults as resources to respond to many of the challenges impacting communities across the country while simultaneously making space for and listening to the wisdom that is emerging in younger generations.”


Raymond was in the inaugural cohort of the Encore Public Voices Fellowship which mentors community leaders to exert their influence by crafting op-eds that get published. He used this platform to create a focus for the role of elders in urban communities. “We are looking to build a movement across this country. We look at specific geographical areas, invite people to come together and have important conversations, design strategies around improving the aging, the well-being and the outcomes for Black elders in their community.”


Aging While Black conversations focus on three essential pillars: Recalibrating the Village, focusing on the changes society needs to make to care for the growing number of older adults in the community; Embracing Innovation and Rapid Change, ensuring Black older adults are navigating and utilizing technology;  and Leaning into Sankofa, the West African concept centered on embracing the wisdom of elders, giving the  deference and respect that the older people have enjoyed in our culture going all the way back to the continent of Africa,” Jetson said, adding that, “‘elders’ doesn't mean elderly here.”


To connect to Aging While Black, go to www.agingwhileblack.co and sign up for their e-newsletter. Their Instagram is @agingwhileblk and they have an Aging While Black Facebook group. 


Jetson will speak at the 9th Annual Aging Matters Education & Expo at Fellowship Chapel,  7707 W. Outer Drive, on Thursday, Aug. 1, beginning at 9 a.m. The conference is free and registration is required through Eventbrite, or by calling 313.937.8291, beginning July 8. To see the conference agenda, visit www.agingmattersexpo.com, or see page 17.

Sponsors for this year’s event are: the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, the Detroit Area Agency on Aging, Presbyterian Villages of MIchigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield - Blue Care Network, PACE of SE Michigan, St. Patrick Senior Center, Detroit Family Caregivers’ Project, Alzheimers’ Association Michigan Chapter, and the Hannan Center.

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