Diversity in Senior Living Communities
I recently spent time with a wonderful board of directors and engaged team members. It was a day devoted to Strategic Visioning. As with many organizations this one stood at the crossroads of pandemic life, emergence, and determining what a prudent and vital future entails. The board dedicated themselves to thoughtful reflection on meaning and purpose. In doing so, board members addressed questions of growth, partnership, service, and why do we exist? You can read my short LinkedIn post here. They tackled diversity in senior living communities.
Those assembled were a diverse group, in terms of age, ethnicity, opinions, and experiences. So it may have been inevitable that the topic of “who they should serve” would emerge. What was fascinating to me is that the board members and team members embraced the question. The issue was not temporized or minimized. It ultimately materialized as a central theme of the day. While their plans may not yet be clear, the intention certainly is. They need to serve more people in more diverse ways. They can no longer be content with only serving wealthy, upper class white people. There, I said it.
“I don’t want to be the first.”
When it comes down to it. Inclusion is not theory; it is practice. So, the first step is to face it. Straight on.
One person talked about touring an African American woman at the community. She had been very impressed, and was contemplating a move, save one thing. There was this question. “Are there other African Americans living here?” The answer was no. “Well, I don’t want to be the first.” There was a bit of silence as this sank in. It pointed to the lack of diversity in senior living communities. I love the fact that this board was willing to hear this, take it to heart, and make it part of their strategic work to cross boundaries, and become more expansive. It was a privilege to be part of their journey. I urge us all to consider how we begin to make it possible for anyone to be the “first”, and not the last. Only then does diversity become more than a conversation.
Learning from the experience of others
It is crucial that we hear from people who may have very different life experiences and perspectives. We may take things for granted that are not so obvious, or even correct. In a recent roundtable meeting an African American man shared his experience. When he moved into his retirement community, he and his wife were invited, enthusiastically, to attend the on campus movie in the theater. They declined, explaining that for them, going to the theater among white people had not been a pleasure they enjoyed in their youth. They recalled watching from the balcony with no access to the refreshment that was available to their white peers. A teen experienced such difference based on the color of one’s skin. The effect remained. Only when we are aware that listening is an essential part of learning can we be poised for change.
I continue to discover that the conversations are most difficult before we begin them. With integrity and honesty we tackle big topics and find new pathways forward. For such a time as this, indeed.