Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. 

Howard Thurman 

Over the past year there has been a lot of talk in our towns about equity. And rightfully so. The documentary America to Me helped focus a much-needed and well-deserved spotlight on the race aspect of the equity issue.

I want to raise another important aspect — age equity.

I am not pitting racism and ageism against each other. They intersect, and raising awareness about and fighting against one can help fight against the other, as well as against sexism or homophobia or ableism or any form of prejudice.

In our youth-obsessed society, old is bad — older people are routinely treated like worn-out machines and then we become invisible.

And the most invisible among us are older women of color, located firmly at the intersection of ageism, sexism and racism.

Age equity means that everyone has opportunities, recognition, respect and fair treatment, regardless of their age.

Ageism is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systemic, internalized or cultural.

The term “ageism” was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against older people. Butler defined ageism as a combination of three connected elements: 

1. prejudicial attitudes toward older people, old age, and the aging process; 

2. discriminatory practices against older people; and 

3. institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people.

By 2030, 30 percent of Oak Park residents will be over 50 years of age, a sharp increase, which is only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s identify and eliminate ageism in Oak Park — from village hall to community institutions to local businesses to nonprofits to our own neighborhoods.

One example of doing just that occurred last Monday evening, when Arbor West Neighbors (AWN) hosted a very successful campaign discussion about aging, held at the OP-RF Township Senior Services Center. Ten candidates for Oak Park trustee were in attendance along with 50 interested voters. The candidates got to listen and talk about an important issue which, until that point, had been missing from this campaign season.

Kudos again to the village of River Forest for becoming just the fifth government body in Illinois to earn “Dementia Friendly” certification. Last week the River Forest Village Board passed a resolution recognizing that certification. This is an important step forward for how River Forest citizens with dementia are treated, how their caregivers are supported, and how their community stigma is reduced.

Finally, I stopped in on the Memory Café last week, just to see for myself what this innovative community endeavor looked like. It looks pretty good! Held at Township Senior Services, 130 S. Oak Park Ave. on the third Tuesday of the month from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., the Memory Café is a good stop for anyone, not just our neighbors who have some type of memory issue. The coffee’s hot and the people are real. What more can you ask for? It’s a pioneering example of what life in our towns will be looking like more and more as those intersectional invisibilities become unsustainable.

Marc Blesoff is a former Oak Park village trustee, co-founder of the Windmills softball organization, co-creator of Sunday Night Dinner, a retired criminal defense attorney, and a novice beekeeper. He currently facilitates Conscious Aging Workshops and Wise Aging Workshops in the Chicago area.

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