When I am seeking knowledge, I read books. When I am seeking wisdom, I go and have coffee with my 91 year-old grandmother. This is my personal testimony. This is also a mindset.
I grew up listening to the great Donny Hathaway sing a beautiful song called “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” It dealt with the trials, tribulations and the unique, but beautiful, struggle of being youthful and Black in America. It was originally written by Nina Simone after the passing of her friend (playwright) Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry died at the age of 34. Hathaway committed suicide at the age of 34. They are proof that not everyone survives being young, gifted and Black. What about those who do? Imagine surviving being young, gifted and Black only to grow old and have to survive being elderly, neglected and Black. It breaks my heart just to think about it.
Let me get straight to the point. My favorite African proverb says “when an elder dies, it is as if a library has burned to the ground. The Coronavirus pandemic seems to have taken merciless aim at the Black community’s most prize possession; our elders. If the Black community is suffering disproportionately from the virus and so are the elderly, this means the most vulnerable group are the Black & Elderly. No one is suffering more and no one deserves to suffer less than our elders. Another African proverbs states that “the youth can walk faster, but the elder knows the way.” To neglect our elders in a time like this is the greatest proof that we have lost our way.
I grew up in the 1980s during the the crack epidemic; which was, essentially, a pandemic without masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. So many of our parents became casualties of various battles in the war on drugs that our grandparents had to make the sacrifice; picking up the slack to raise us. My grandmother was always there to catch us when we fell. In my neighborhood we looked up to athletes and entertainers just like any other community, but it is our grandparents who were our heroes. Were it not for a strong grandmother I’m not quite sure if I, myself, would have survived being young, gifted and Black. This attack against our elders is not only their trial; it’s ours.
We live in a consumer-driven society that teaches us to value things that are new and to discard that which is old to make way for what is new. I can understand if this is how you treat your shoes, but there is a divine disconnect if this is how you treat your elders. Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick had the unmitigated gall to suggest that grandparents should be wiling to die in order to save the economy. To suggest that the value of the life of an elder can be compared to the economy of a nation that exploits the poor is indeed sick. The truth is, Mr. Patrick was only saying what others are thinking. They see the elderly as a class of people who have “already lived their lives” and can’t wait until this crisis is over so things can get back to “normal.” It makes me livid that there are people out here who take better care of their dogs than they do their elders.
Another African proverb says “How you treat your elderly is how your children will treat you.” The message we send to our children when we neglect our elders will come back to haunt us. We are teaching them how they should treat us when we grow old. The only way to avoid growing old is to die young. Treat the elders the way you want to be treated when you become one. Failure to do so is the height of ungratefulness and a sure way to anger God, Himself.
The coronavirus crisis has already caused the Black community to suffer great loss. We’ve already begun to calculate the loss of money, jobs, property, businesses, social moments, etc. My poor daughter who is a senior in high school may or may not have a graduation. What we will never be able to calculate is the loss of priceless wisdom that so many of our elders took to the grave with them during this great crisis.
If every elder who dies can be likened to a library burning down we must move to save as many libraries as we can. Start with the elders in your own family. Check on them every day. Make sure they have sufficient food, water and everything they need to survive. Make sure that those who depend on medications have what they need. Put on masks and gloves and carefully help them to clean and disinfect their living spaces. If you are unable to visit them, make sure you call and give them words of encouragement. Sometimes a lift in spirit is all they need to get through the day. Once you have covered the elders in your family reach out to those in your community. Start today!
Our elders are not expendable. They are not disposable. They are our most valuable asset. We must change their reality from being “elderly, neglected and Black” to being “Elderly, Respected, Protected and Black.” They deserve it.