Summa Scholar, 2019-2020
In Recognition of Her Commitment to Intergenerational Bonding
Participation in the International Zoom Meeting on COVID-19
Excellence in Research, Interviewing, and Writing
More than 175 people attended the virtual intergenerational Youth Power Solidarity Meetup that took place on May 20, 2020. I enjoyed participating in this experience with my maternal grandmother, Eileen Cooper-Reed, and my paternal grandmother, Marsha Swann, who joined remotely from Cincinnati, Ohio, and Oxon Hill, Maryland, respectively.
Participants hailed from Zambia, the Philippines, United Kingdom, Togo, and Kenya and from Nepal, Italy, Tanzania, and Canada. The conversation–which I thought would be only intergenerational– was also international. After we identified ourselves by name and by location, we split into breakout rooms where we were able to have meaningful discussions in smaller groups.
The conversations in the breakout rooms began with the question, “How are you seeing older or younger people portrayed in your home?” The second question was, “What can we do now/how can we take action in response to COVID-19?” In response to these questions, there was a euphony of voices that shared experiences. A central point of the responses was that young people and elders have one crucial thing in common: society does not value either group.
That is what my Nana, Eileen Reed, said. Adults, she said, do not want to be burdened by either group. My Grandma, Marsha Swann, shared stories about her father who was three years old and living with his parents in Washington, D.C. during the Flu pandemic. She explained, “At the time, the most profound spread of the virus was among troops headed to their positions in WWII.” Crowded conditions and movement contributed to many deaths among the troops. Similar conditions prevailed in U.S. urban areas.
The second wave of the virus was deadly because there were no vaccines or antibiotics with which the fight the virus. People fought with disinfectants, limited public gatherings, isolation — the same measures we are using today to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. Interestingly, my Grandma Marsha remembers that, although there was a shortage of medical personnel, African American nurses were NOT allowed to treat some patients.”
In the international zoom, elders asked us to consider elders who cannot drive and who can no longer take public transportation due to COVID-19. They asked us to consider elders whose routine health checkups have been delayed by COVID-19. They asked us to consider elders who are experiencing depression and loneliness because of safety measures all of us must observe during the pandemic.
I must confess that I once believed that dismantling systems of oppressions meant waiting for older people, through death, to be a small minority in the world. Then, and only then, would we see change. However, after my reading, writing and intergenerational experiences in Spelman’s Independent Scholars Oral History Project, I have reformed my way of thinking about elders and participating in this international zoom widened my world view on the focus of our research in SIS Seminar: Ageism: Whom It Hurts, How It Hurts, and Why It Thrives. It taught me that conversation is the key to bridging the gap between young people and older people. We need to spend more time together, share stories about life, and engage in discourse on how to change the world. This meetup was a call to action for me to do more. I was blessed to have heard the call from an international group that included my maternal grandmother Eileen Cooper-Reed and my paternal grandmother Marsha Swann.