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In a new location inside the Education Building on Wayne State University’s main campus, the 9th annual SAGE Metro Detroit Older Adult Summit drew a crowd of about 150. They weren’t necessarily all there at the same time but attendees flowed in and out throughout the day as guest speakers and panel discussions dealt with a variety of subjects.
Keynoting the summit was Citizen Detroit Deputy CEO Misha Stallworth, who spoke on the subject of multigenerational community building. Stallworth, a community organizer who sits on the Detroit School Board, said that ‘multigenerational’ is a very intentional term.
“If you are organizing and you’re saying, ‘I want to do this multigenerational organizing,’ well do you have someone from the age group you’re interested in as part of the planning?”
“I chose ‘multigenerational’ because it allows us to speak about how many generations are living across the lifespan right now,” Stallworth said, starting her address. “When we say we want to connect with youth, are we talking about teenagers? Adolescents? 20-year olds? Who are we talking about? Or when we talk about older adults, are we talking about 80s or 90s? 60s or 70s? Who are we talking about? There are different perspectives, different experiences. There’s different access, different places you will find groups of people when you’re trying to organize in that way.”
Stallworth said she has a three-way approach to multigenerational organizing.
“The world teaches us that we’re supposed to be in spaces with people our own age,” she said.
“I believe in starting with a level set of what are things that are interesting to you? What are the things you love and where are those things happening? If you love roller skating, go roller skating. And if you’re trying to connect with a certain group of people, you’ll find them there because people go where their interests are.
“My second thing is a collection of values that I think are foundational to building meaningful relationships,” Stallworth continued. “They are empathy, curiosity and humility. We have to approach people with humility in order to truly hear their stories. We have to be curious enough to ask questions to try to really get to the next level of things. Then we have to have empathy when we hear from them. I find that especially when we’re engaging across age, having those three things at the core of the approach is essential because stereotypes about age are so pervasive. Whether it’s a stereotype about millennials ruining every major industry in the world somehow all by killing the diamond industry. Whether it’s those type of stereotypes or stereotypes that older people don’t know anything about technology. These stereotypes are pervasive.”
Stallworth said her last approach is representation.
“I don’t care if you’re thinking about how to grow your social circle or if you’re trying to figure out how to get somebody to a meeting or an event, you have to identify someone who is the member of the group to be representative,” Stallworth concluded. “If you are organizing and you’re saying, ‘I want to do this multigenerational organizing,’ well do you have someone from the age group you’re interested in as part of the planning?”
Later in the day
Other speakers throughout the day included Truman Hudson, attorneys Jane Bassett and Henry Grix, Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow and Jay Kaplan from the ACLU. An afternoon panel discussion on connecting with technology also took place.
Between The Lines publishers Susan Horowitz and Jan Stevenson were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“The AIDS crisis taught us that it’s up to us to take care of each other,” said Stevenson in accepting the award. “Now it’s up to us again to take care of each other as we grow older. Thank you SAGE for your work in connecting older LGBTQ people to each other, to the resources within our community and within mainstream service agencies.”
Horowitz thanked the attendees for sharing their stories with BTL. “It’s your stories that make up the essence of the paper. Thank you for refusing to be invisible,” she said, referring to the theme of the SAGE conference itself.
Two very dedicated volunteers were presented with the Volunteer of the Year Award. Ron Doe is a member of SAGE Metro Detroit’s Programing Committee. Meanwhile, Janet Hunko is on SAGE’s board and is a volunteer member of their Training and Education Committee.
“SAGEs mission is to build awareness and promote change so that LGBT older adults can age with dignity and authenticity,” said SAGE Metro Detroit Executive Director Angie Perone. “It’s really important to keep that mission moving forward.”