black history monthFebruary marks Black History Month and this is a time to celebrate, to reflect, and look forward. At FiftyForward we are championing and celebrating the role older adults play in contributing to our community and in Black history.

Black History Month began in 1976 but was initiated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who is known as the “Father of Black History.” He started the first Negro History Week in 1926 to ensure students would learn Black History.

The theme for Black History Month 2022 is “Black Health and Wellness,” which examines the legacy of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine and the legacy of Black people in general. Each year, the theme is determined by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and looks at the actions, rituals, and projects that Black communities have undertaken to achieve success.

FiftyForward, a long-time advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion of older adults, is committed to diversity and inclusion in its programs and centers. Living true to its mission to support, champion, and enhance life for those 50 and older, FiftyForward is evolving with the changing needs of the audience it serves.

To that point, and in advance of Black History Month, the FiftyForward podcast Squeeze the Day featured an interview with Dr. Paul T. Kwami, the Musical Director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. In the podcast, he spoke about the therapeutic potential of Negro spirituals, as well as showcased his love for history, music, and the students he teaches at Fisk University, a longtime treasure of the Nashville community. It’s important to note Fisk University was the first American university to offer a liberal arts education to “young men and women irrespective of color” in 1866. The school was in severe financial circumstances five years later. Fisk treasurer and music professor George L. White formed a nine-member student choir and took it on tour to raise $20,000 for the university. Now, 150 years later, the musical legacy of the Fisk Jubilee Singers is known worldwide.

Photo credit: Bill Steber and Pat Casey

Squeeze the Day was one of the new communications efforts launched by FiftyForward in the last two years. COVID-19 brought home to everyone the dangers of isolation. For older adults, this is an ongoing concern that FiftyForward is committed to addressing by offering inspiring interviews with older adults about their rich life and second chapters. So many inspiring stories have been featured here that offer rich slices of history and wisdom from older adults.

In addition to the podcast, FiftyForward launched a series of community conversations to showcase candid dialogue and topics that resonate not only throughout the community but also with older adults. The Black Voices of Nashville panel features an intergenerational panel sharing wisdom and hope. The panel highlights several Black Nashvillians including Melva Black, who served as moderator, Judge Rachel Bell, Senator Brenda Gilmore, Pastor Keith Caldwell, All of Us Research Program Peer Ambassador Vera Coleman, FiftyForward teammates Emily Eriamiatoe, and Elijah Avery.

In addition, and resulting from the advent of COVID-19, FiftyForward initiated a video series to amplify its desire to reach older adults who are isolated and staying safe as pandemic strains continue to create health hazards. In the inaugural FiftyForward Exchange community advocate and former FiftyForward board member Vanessa Hickman offers a firsthand account of growing up and the challenges she faced not only as a woman but as a woman of color. Her examples and stories are so telling and certainly resonate as they speak to exclusion and omission and the various forms of discrimination she faced as a young woman and later as a business professional, primarily early in her career.

Black History Month is a time to celebrate history and to come together as we create a more inclusive and vibrant future for generations to come.