Black Modern Elders: Telling Our Stories, Celebrating Our Spirits, Claiming Our Power.

February 15, 2022

Black Modern Elders: Telling Our Stories, Celebrating Our Spirits, Claiming Our Power.

May 29, 2023

As I write this blog, I have the row to myself on a morning flight to Cabo for MEA Mastery Week with Carl Honoré 18 hours ago I had no idea I’d be here. It had been 3+ years since I’d been in MEA’s second public cohort - Soul Train - to become a Modern Elder.

Now, as I hastily texted my family’s group chat, explaining that I’d miss today’s family Zoom call because of this trip, I thought “gee, I didn’t see this coming”. Here’s the back story…

Ten weeks ago, my friend Wanda called to tell me that Chip was planning to host an MEA week specifically tailored for people from the African diaspora (i.e. Black people). I’ll use the term Black here (vs. African American) as it includes all people of African descent. Wanda explained that there’d been a few discussions with Black MEA alumni about this week. So she was calling to tell me that (a) Black MEA week is happening in October 2022, (b) YOU need to be involved, and (c) talk to Chip ASAP.

Two days later, Chip and I had a Zoom. He outlined his vision: “I want to see more people of color having this opportunity to change their mindset about aging. There are barriers to making this happen, and I think if we offer a week that is exclusively for Black people, developing a curriculum that speaks to this audience, creating a safe space to learn with people who look like them, it can make a difference.” Four other Black MEA alumni (all women) had been slated to be on the core planning team. I could be the fifth. We closed our brief meeting with me saying I would talk to each of the four “Sistahs” and then decide what, if any, role I might play in this intriguing project.

Fast forward to yesterday. We, “The Five Sistahs,” had our big milestone meeting with Chip to share our vision, a rough cut of the content, structure and dream team for the design of this inaugural Black MEA session. We had scheduled an hour, but we finished our discussion with 12 minutes to spare. I don’t know what Chip was expecting, but I’d say we hit that one out of the park (he likes crisp meetings). At the end, while making me the new Zoom host so he could go on with the rest of his day, Chip casually announced “we had a last minute cancellation for our Mastery Week this week. If any of you can get down here on short notice, you are welcome to take that spot.” Then he signs off.

We debrief…well, it’s more of a high-five and then a somber healing ritual for our Sistahs who’d suffered tragic losses in the past weeks. One had lost her cousin to Covid, just a few days ago. And yet she soldiered through preparing for our meeting with Chip, despite her raw grief. She was the epitome of resilience. Prayers and tears of relief, joy, sadness, compassion and, at the end, utter hilarity, as Wanda (who we’d renamed “Magic Wanda”) put on a ludicrously oversized gold chain, with a 49er logo dangling from it. We laughed and teased our corporate Board Sistah, Paula, about her allergy to PowerPoint, and my gently teasing Chip that “even bald white guys have a complicated relationship with their hair, but it’s nothing like Black people!”

After our debrief, while grabbing something to eat, I casually told my nephew, “I might be going to Mexico tomorrow.” He’s like, “whaaaat?” Fifteen minutes later, having booked my flight, I announced “okay, I’m leaving tomorrow for Cabo,” to which he replied “can I rub your head for good luck?” I happily leaned over and presented him with my crown, smiling, winking and shimmying, all at the same time, like I had “diamonds at that meeting of my thighs*.”

So, Black to the Future…our inaugural Black MEA week Telling Our Stories, Healing Our Spirits, Claiming Our Power happens in Baja on October 9-16, 2022. Please share this with anyone you know who is Black (and identifies as such). This week will be something they will never forget. In addition to “The Five Sistahs,” we’ll be adding a few powerful guest faculty. In April we’ll host an info session, for those who are considering applying. This week will transform not only our participants, but the MEA campus and the surrounding communities of Pescadero and Todos Santos, who’ve not yet seen 25 Black people here at the same time.

I’ll use a metaphor for what we envision in Baja. The 2020 movie “Black Panther” is based in a mythical place called Wakanda, somewhere in Africa, that represents Afro-futurism - a world where Black people live peacefully, manifested through love and some very hi-end technology rendering the nation invisible to the rest of the world. Everyone in Wakanda is brilliant, beautiful, Black and badass, especially the women, who are warriors, scientists and Queens. White people have no presence or voice there (well, there is this one White guy who helps win the climactic battle, but hey, you know Hollywood needs its white saviors).

After the movie was released, Black people, young and old, were all walking around and greeting each other by crossing our arms over our chests saying “Wakanda Forever!” That was the new black handshake, for about a year… one glorious year of feeling proud to be Black, drawing on the strength and wisdom of our ancestral royalty. But gradually that energy faded, under the weight of politics, the global pandemic, George Floyd’s murder, and the insanely persistent disparities in our society that show up in every aspect of our lives.

So, with the clarity, open heart, magic and sheer “bad-ass-ness” of my fellow Sistahs, under the vision and sponsorship of Chip, and the deep wisdom of our “Council of Elders” we will manifest this spirit again. I cannot wait to co-create "Wakanda in Baja” in October.

*Reference to Maya Angelou's poem, "And Still I Rise"

LPP is an organizational consultant, out to change the world for good

From upper left: Diane Johnson, PhD, Linda Parker Pennington (aka “LPP”), Paula Pretlow, Linda Grubbs, Wanda Whitaker (aka “Magic Wanda”)

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