GBO NEWS: Covering COVID-19—On Nursing Homes, Racial Justice, Obit Writing & Palliative Care; Patterson Fellowship Deadline; Aging in Prisons; Hugh Downs, 99, Left Aging Legacy; Youth Author Jason Reynolds with Krista Tippett on Black Lives & Generations


E-News of the Journalists Network on Generations – Our 27th Year.  

July 9, 2020 — Volume 27, Number 8

EDITOR’S NOTEGBONews, e-news of the Journalists Network on Generations (JNG), publishes alerts for journalists, producers and authors covering generational issues. Send your news of important stories or books (by you and others), fellowships, awards or pertinent kvetches to GBO News Editor Paul Kleyman. To subscribe to at no charge, simply sending a request to Paul with your name, address, phone number and editorial affiliation or note that you freelance. For each issue, you’ll receive the table of contents in an e-mail, so just click through to the full issue at GBONews does not provide its list to other entities.

In This IssueYour Tell-All Resource on What’s New About Old.


*** Roadmap for Reporters on COVID-19 Nursing Home Crisis, by Trudy LiebermanUSC Center for Health Journalism; 

*** “Linking Old-Age and Racial Justice,” by Margaret Morganroth Gullette and Corinne T. Field, Los Angeles Review of Books

*** Writing Poignant New York Times COVID-19 Obituaries,” by Rich Eisenberg, PBS Next Avenue;

*** Diane Meier, MD’s “Brief, But Spectacular Take on Compassionate Care During COVID-19,” PBS News Hour.

*** GSA’s New Spanish Translations of COVID-19 Infographics on Ageism, Elder Susceptibility and Distancing Without Isolation.

2. EYES ON THE PRIZE: ***Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship Deadline, October 1. 

3. GEN BEATLES NEWS: ***Farewell to Dorothy Leland, a Star of Son John’s NYT Bestseller; ***Hello to Liz Seegert’s New Grandbaby*** Invites Writers.



*** “Aging in Prison: A Cruel and Not Unusual Punishment,” Series by Kate Ferguson, Real Health Magazine*** “After Pushing Lies, Former Cigna Executive Praises Canada’s Health Care System,” NPR All Things Considered interview by Michel Martin with former health insurance executive Wendell Potter

6. INTERGENERATIONAL WISDOM MATTERS: *** “Fortifying Imagination,” On Being’s, Krista Tippett interview with Jason Reynolds, Library of Congress Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, on connecting generations in “BLM” era.


*** Roadmap for Reporters Tackling COVID-19 Nursing Home Crisis by Trudy LiebermanUSC Center for Health Journalism (June 30, 2020): Lieberman, a veteran health care journalist, wrote,The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the chasms, the fissures, the cracks in many American institutions. Nowhere, though, are they more apparent than in the nation’s arrangements for long-term care — specifically, in its nursing homes, where some 1.4 million people, mostly women, live out the rest of their days.”

A contributing editor at USC’s Center for Health Journalism Digital and their Remaking Health Care column, Lieberman continued, “The virus has exposed what advocates for better treatment and families of loved ones in nursing facilities have known for years. Care is often substandard, infection control sometimes non-existent, living space overly crowded, staff members too few to keep residents safe, and a regulatory system that looks good on paper but too often looks the other way when politics and lobbying trump good enforcement and resident safety. In May, the Government Accountability Office released a damning report showing that only 18% of the country’s nursing homes had no deficiencies for infection control and prevention in one or more of the years from 2013 through 2017, before the virus hit.”

Among those she quotes is journalist and Urban Institute senior fellow Howard Gleckman: “What’s happening in nursing homes is shocking but not surprising. It was a catastrophe waiting to happen.” Lieberman asks whether the media will continue after the early waves of deaths to investigate why better care is so crucial? “Or will the coverage disappear when the shocking headlines subside?”

Lieberman, a former columnist for the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote, “Journalists have done their jobs well during COVID-19, despite obstacles and turmoil in their own newsrooms, bucking a long-running bias from editors against publishing too many stories about old people. One reporter told me when she was covering nursing homes before the pandemic that it was akin to pushing a giant boulder uphill. ‘As you know,’ she said, ‘It’s hard to get news organizations to commit a sustained focus on nursing homes most of the time.’”

She cites exemplary reporting at the Detroit Free Press, Palm Beach PostMiami HeraldArizona Republic and others, despite being hit with furloughs. Some have had to chide or sue state governments to release facility data. “In Boston, the Globe and other news outlets filed public records requests to get information about nursing home deaths that the state had been withholding from families and residents for months. Yet the nursing home team still managed to produce stories like this one. The nursing home team has been dismantled and one of the reporters transferred to the higher education beat.”

The article highlights several fine pieces, such as the thorough investigative report by Chris Kirkham and Benjamin Lesser of Reuters; PBS News Hour’s Lisa Desjardins, who also examined poor staffing; and Vox’s Dylan Scott, who gave a good overview of nursing vulnerability, among others. (GBONews adds the breakthrough []

by 2019-20 Journalists in Aging Fellow Luanne Rife, Roanoke Times. After she filed multiple stories about Virginia’s balking at reporting the names of nursing homes, where 62% of the state’s deaths had occurred, unlike many states, the governor relented on June 19.)

11 Experts, Four Key Issues

Lieberman asked, “Where should reporters go from here?” She interviewed 11 experts in long-term care “to assess why we’ve had such bad outcomes among nursing home residents and what we as a country can do, especially over the next 10 years when the first of baby boom generation reaches age 85 and are likely to need institutional or in-home care. Their suggestions offer a kind of road map for coverage as the nursing home saga continues.”

Her piece highlights four key issues: 

Staffing is chronically inadequate — “In over 30 years we haven’t been able to get a meaningful standard passed,” said Charlene Harrington, professor emeritus at UCSF’s School of Nursing. “One nursing home can make as much as $1 million a year by understaffing.” 

Ownership, especially by for-profit chains — Harrington said, “We don’t have good financial regulation. We know from research that the worst nursing homes have more Medicaid patients, poor quality and less staff, and are for-profit.”

Federal payment sources — Lieberman reports, “The U.S. spends about 1% of GDP on long-term care while other developed countries spend between 2% and 4% percent. ‘One way or another we have to put more money in the system,’ said Gleckman.” One major goal is to eliminate double rooms and four to a room, add common spaces and modernized facilities. She also observes that Medicaid waiver programs allowing more flexibility in care “may be under even greater stress right now because of looming shortfalls in state budgets.”

Lax regulation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), she writes, “has been a major story only recently, but it has been a problem for years.” Exposure of high infection levels by Louisville Courier Journal, “point to regulatory stories waiting to be written.”

Why, oh why, oh why, as generations-beat reporters have been asking for decades — and Lieberman inquires here — “do families have to impoverish themselves before Medicaid pays for their care, while Medicare pays for gallbladder surgery and most other care needed by those same people without requiring them to ‘spenddown’ and use up most of their assets first? Why isn’t nursing home care financed as social insurance like hospital care is financed under Medicare.”

In answer, Judy Feder, former dean of the Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute, explained, “There’s still general acceptance that it’s the family’s responsibility to take care of their family members,” she said. “We’re still relying on family care and underpaid workers to give the care, and that’s why this is such a wasteland of inattention.”

And there we have it, root and branch: family and underpaid workers. As T.S. Elliot wrote in The Waste LandWhat are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?”

In our potential for long-term care change, Lieberman concludes, “The future care for all Americans is at stake.”

*** “Linking Old-Age Justice and Racial Justice,” by Margaret Morganroth Gullette  and Corinne T. FieldLos Angeles Review of Books (June 29, 2020): What connects the deaths of unarmed young African Americans and those of older people–Black, Native American, Latino, white — in the pandemic? “All these deaths are premature, all extra,” say the authors. 

Field and Gullette add, “Today, in 2020, we know in our bones that until all the vulnerable are treated equally by the powerful, in sickness and in scarcity, in the frightening hospitals or on the frightening streets of our cities, there is no equality. . . . Can Americans learn to attack ageism on all fronts, as a multi-racial and multi-generational movement is finally attacking racism?” 

They observe that Black abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth opened old-age homes for formerly enslaved people. The essay quotes Black scholars on related cultural history. Field, a professor at the University of Virginia, is author of The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race Age and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America. Gullette, of Brandeis University, is most recently the author of Ending Ageism: How Not to Shoot Old People. 

Also see Gullette’s recent COVID-19 related commentary about ageism and “triage.” She writes of the ethical travesty of ill-prepared states sending guidelines to overwhelmed hospitals for deciding, battle-field style, who should get unnecessarily limited ventilators, intensive care — and life — or not, without individual evaluation. GBO’s editor wonders how many elected officials might lose their political lives for having failed to support public health preparedness when the onset of a pandemic was so well anticipated. (But I’m not holding my respiration until I’m blue in the ventilator.)

*** PBS Next Avenue Profiles NYT COVID Profile Writers: Managing Editor Rich Eisenberg’s June 24 piece, Writing the Poignant New York Times COVID-19 Obituaries,” begins, “You can learn in the New York Times how many humans have died from the coronavirus from its Tracking the Coronavirus graphic. But to understand the humanity, you need to read the Times’ Those We’ve Lost” obituary series.”

Dan Wakin, who edits Those We’ve Lost, said he wants its readers to get a sense “of the scope of the pandemic; that it spares no one. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how educated you are, how brilliant a doctor you are. You can die.” Beyond that, Wakin said he also hopes readers will “come away with a sense of the slices of our society that are particularly hard hit and a sense of the individual lives. Knowing that the COVID-19 death rate for Blacks and Hispanics has been much higher than for whites, Wakin has made a point of running obituaries of people of color.” 

The article quotes such staff contributors to the section as climate-change reporter John Schwartz, the Metro desk’s Aaron Randle, and gen-beat writer John Leland, bestselling author of Happiness Is a Choice You Make. Leland, also on the NYC Metro desk, said, You’re involved in a way we as journalists often are not.”

*** Diane Meier, MD’s “Brief, But Spectacular Take on Compassionate Care During COVID-19,” PBS News Hour (July 1, 2020, 3:32 min video with transcript): The respected director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care in New York City, Meier echoes many geriatricians in stating, “I trained as an internal medicine doctor and then specialized in geriatrics. I saw a lot of suffering. The medical profession seemed so caught up in our technology and in getting the next test done that we forgot these were human beings we were taking care of.” 

Running her national palliative care organization, which is based at Mount Sinai Medical Center, she explains, has been “my full-time job, until now, until COVID-19. Now I am all hands on deck contributing my time to those conversations with patients and families by phone that front-line clinicians don’t have time to have. We’re also trying to help families talk by phone or by tablet with their loved one in the hospital and helping to coach them about how to do that, because it’s very hard to talk to someone that you can’t see and who may not be able to answer you, either because they’re on a ventilator or they’re too sick, that, even when people are sedated, they can hear, and they want to hear your voice.” 

*** GSA’s New Spanish Translations of COVID-19 Infographics on Ageism, Elder Susceptibility and Distancing Without Isolation: The Gerontological Society of America has just posted Spanish translations of three infographics. Here are the actual links:

Understanding Ageism and COVID-19 (Also available in Spanish

Aging and Immunity: Why Older Adults Are Highly Susceptible to Diseases Like COVID-19(Also available in Spanish

Distancing: Physical Separation Without Social Isolation (Also available in Spanish)

For more information about these and other aging-related publications on the pandemic by GSA, contract Todd Kluss at


*** Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship Deadline, Oct. 1The Alicia Patterson fellowships are among the premium journalism fellowships offered today.  They include stipends of $40,000 for 12 month projects, and $20,000 for six-months and “are open only to U.S. citizens who are fulltime print journalists, or to non-U.S. citizens who work fulltime for U.S. print publications, either in America or abroad. Freelancers are welcome to apply. All applicants, including those being considered for the new Cissy Patterson Fellowship for Environmental or Science Topics, should complete the Alicia Patterson Foundation application.” For the Cissy Patterson Fellowship, honoring Alicia’s aunt, no special application is needed. Applications must be postmarked by October 1.


*** Readers who got to know John Leland’s Mom in the New York Times reporter’s  bestseller, Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lesson from a Year Among the Oldest Old (Sarah Crichton Books, 2018) will likely join us in a deep sigh at the news of her death in late June at age 91. In announcing her death, Leland noted to Facebook friends, “She became part of my writing life in 2015, when I wrote a year-long series in The New York Times following six people age 85 and up, always keeping her voice in my head.” 

Leland’s post continued, “When I turned the series into a book, I did the unthinkable, writing about her and my relationship with her.” He added that in his subsequent book talks, “I did the unimaginable: I stole my most reliable laugh lines from her. And I had some pretty reliable laugh lines.” 

*** Baby Maddie Arrived June 25, in the Arms of Grandmother Liz Seegert, GBONews’ “Leads From Liz” columnist and “Aging” core topic editor for the Association of Health Care Journalists. She emailed, “I’ve been helping out with babysitting a few times already. Big sister Chloe is curious and not real sure what to do with her yet.” New Yorker, Liz, and Grandpa Jim, plan to move closer to the kids, who live in 60 mikes away, in Danbury, Conn. 

ALSO – Seegert’s grand GBONews “Leads From Liz” column is on hiatus and will return in the fall. 

*** Follow-up on’s search for writers: Following the June GBONews  with the item on, founder Jay Newton-Small’s asked us to convey the following invitation to reporters. pairs professional journalists with families to help tell the stories of loved ones in long-term care settings. And their new is for the families of those who have died. 

For details, see the piece on the  news website, as well as going to the MemoryWell timeline explanation. Writers interested in this kind of freelance project can sign up here. Direct question to Newton-Small:

Newton-Small is a veteran Time Magazine political reporter and who created in 2017, following her Alzheimer’s caregiving experience for her late father. Using an iPad, she designed a biographical format that briefly familiarized nursing home staff with his life story—resulting in his improved care. To match families locally with a writer, MemoryWell is building a list of hundreds of writers nationwide. Also, GBONews welcomes feedback from writers who have worked with them about your experience. 

Further, Newton-Small let us know they’ve made their timelines (their templates for creating multimedia profiles) “free for anyone to use during this time of COVID.”


*** Hugh Downs’ Accomplishments in Aging were barely mentioned, if at all, in obituaries for the renowned broadcaster and author, who died July 1 of heart failure at age 99. He was so much the polymath – calling himself with typical self-effacement “a champion dilettante” – that even lengthy newspaper stories had to leave somethings out. 

The Washington Post quoted Ron Simon, curator for television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York, who said Downs “represented the entire history of broadcasting.” 

Thomas R. Cole, who devoted a chapter to Downs in his book Old Man Country: My Search for meaning Among the Elders  (Oxford, 2019), e-mailed GBONews, “What a man. Some individuals seem to live the lives of two people. And good ones at that.” 

The New York Times noted that Downs, “often said he thought viewers regarded him as bland, assiduously avoided the appearance of controversy.” But the story acknowledged his advocacy for environmental issues, family planning (including abortion rights), and other social concerns. The NYT obit also reported the rare off-note in Downs’ career when, in the 2000s, he drew criticism for appearing in a number of infomercials.

As for “bland,” the erudite explorer of theoretical physics, author of books on aging, and composer of a prelude premiered by Yo-Yo Ma with the St. Louis Symphony, was also a master sailor, pilot and horseman. As it happens, in 2003, when he was scheduled to keynote the American Society on Aging, where I edited ASA’s newspaper Aging Today, Downs cancelled at the last minute. At 82, he was briefly hospitalized, we were told, due to an accident. At first we wondered whether it was a car crash, a fall at home, or perhaps another mishap common to octogenarians. Then we learned what happened. 

Downs was galloping in the desert near his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., when a rattlesnake spooked his horse and threw him. The poor reptile slithered into the sagebrush. The startled horse, which Downs loved, suitably regained its composure, as one would expect of Trigger or “Hi-Ho Silver” and conveyed him to safety. 

He was profusely apologetic to ASA’s director and spoke the following year. That afforded me the opportunity to interview him for Aging Today, and he was interested to learn of our network of journalists on aging. In the coming years we’d occasionally exchange emails – always with my birthday greeting to him on Valentine’s Day — and later I interviewed him about his advocacy against the forced retirement of commercial airline pilots at age 60. 

Downs was a private pilot well into his 80s, regularly passing the required recertification tests. He testified before Congress that many other nations set the maximum commercial flying age at 65. The prevailing argument that reflexes slow with age, he explained to me, made sense for race-car drivers, but split-second motions aren’t a factor in airplanes. Were that true, why also set no age limit, but only functional tests, for private aviators? The government finally raised the limit to 65 in 2007. 

Cole wrote in his book, Old Man Country, “Throughout his career, Downs has challenged ageism and our culture’s dominant story of aging as decline.” Before joining ABC to host “20/20,” eventually alongside Barbara Walters, he co-hosted several seasons of the PBS program on aging, Over Easy, with actress Mary Martin, earning an Emmy in 1981. 

In broadcasts and several books, such as Fifty to Forever (1994), Downs exposed such ageist “lies’ as “old age is an illness” and “Intelligence declines with age.” He told Cole, “If we hang around long enough, loose lies will victimize all of us.”

Downs’ indefatigable curiosity led him to a deeper knowledge of aging that readers seldom find in celebrity self-help books. In the 1990s, he produced a television special with Robert N. “Bob” Butler, MD, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Why Survive? Being Old in America (1975) and founder of the geriatric medicine department at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. An avid student of science, Downs developed an ABC-TV special on aging and received Butler’s permission to audit the extensive training course for physician certification in geriatric medicine. For the heck of it, he also took the final examination along with the MDs and, to everyone’s surprise, including Downs’, he passed. 

Butler told me years later that while they obviously couldn’t qualify Downs to practice medicine, he had a special certificate made up to honor the journalist’s not-inconsiderable achievement.

Cole gave a nod to Downs’ concern about possible conflicts between younger and older generations over limited social resources. “Still, in his steady, optimistic way, he saw ‘an improving picture,” Cole wrote. Downs emphasized, “The only obstacles are myth, injustice and prejudice. And I believe we can remove them.” 


*** “Aging in Prison” Series – Part 1: “A Cruel and Not Unusual Punishment,” by Kate Ferguson, Real Health (May 1, 2020): The piece begins, “Like a spectral presence, death haunts the more than 150,000 people age 55 to 65 and older who are currently incarcerated in the United States, a collective of individuals who live under institutionalized inequities with many suffering from the associated health complications that inevitably come with growing old in prison.” 

Fergusson tells the stories of Black men incarcerated often for years beyond reason by an increasingly punitive system. She writes, “Fueled by the accelerated aging of incarcerated individuals 55 and older, the growth of the geriatric prison population has been a crisis in the making since the early-1990s. As mounting scientific evidence has started to confirm, incarcerated people tend to develop chronic illnesses and disabilities at a younger age than the general U.S. population, a direct consequence of life in prison. Driven by legislation that boosted the length of sentences [that] prosecutors could recommend for violent felonies and drug-related crimes, a steady increase in mandatory minimum sentencing laws, multiple-strike statutes and a decrease in the number of people eligible for parole, institutions became teeming cities filled with an increasingly aged and infirm populace.” 

In a sidebar, Emergency: Outbreaks in Prison,” Fergusson stresses, “Like the HIV/AIDS epidemic nearly 40 years ago, the coronavirus pandemic may prove particularly lethal to incarcerated people.” 

In her “Aging in Prison” Series – Part 2 (June 15) Fergusson wrote, “A short time after public health officials realized that the coronavirus pandemic had reached U.S. shores, experts warned that prisons would become hot spots for outbreaks of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. Organizations advocating for criminal justice reforms pressed harder as reports confirmed that elderly people, especially incarcerated adults, were more likely to contract the virus and die. In 2018, the First Step Act, legislation famously tied to original cosponsor Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.) was hailed as a landmark bill. Basically, the federal law reduces mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and allows judges to avoid imposing life sentences on people with three or more convictions for nonviolent drug offenses.”

She quotes Jose Saldaña, executive director of Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), a grassroots advocacy organization based in New York City. He calls for “community-focused federal and state legislation” to offer justice to “those who have been given the harshest sentences that constitute death by incarceration, sentences that created the crisis of men and women getting old, sick and dying in prison with little opportunity for release.” Black and Latinx families and communities, he noted, have been most heavily impacted by mass incarceration. Crime and punishment in the United States, he added, need to be redefined in ways valuing “redemption and transformation over perpetual punishment based on race and ethnicity.”

Kate Fergusson wrote this series for Real Health, a national quarterly magazine for Black communities, with the support of a journalism fellowship from the Gerontological Society of America, the Journalists Network on Generations (publisher of and The Commonwealth Fund.

*** “After Pushing Lies, Former Cigna Executive Praises Canada’s Health Care System,” All Things Considered (June 27, 2020, 6 minute audio): “NPR’s Michel Martin interviewed former health insurance executive Wendell Potter about the differences between U.S. and Canadian health systems highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Potter is a former head of corporate communications at Cigna Health Insurance and now founder and CEO of Medicare for All Now, a nonprofit advocate for universal access to health care. Potter discusses how he turned from  “slandering” of the Canadian single-payer system, calling his corporate campaign  “a lie,” adding, “and the nation’s COVID responses prove it.”

Potter explains that he turned against the health insurance Industry “when my crisis of conscience began, and it pertained to the premiere of Michael Moore’s movie Sicko.” For example, the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), sent insurance company flacks “a binder just as that movie was premiering with bullet points of things that we should say in our conversations with reporters and others about the Canadian system or the British or French system for that matter but, particularly, the Canadian system.” It included “cherry-picked data and anecdotes to make people think Canadians wait endlessly for their care. It’s a lie. And I’ll always regret the disservice I did to folks on both sides of the border.” 

He told Martin that his “aha moment” came when during a visit to his family home in east Tennessee he visited a health care expedition, one of the free clinics physicians set up to help impoverished communities around the country. Potter continued, “I just was absolutely stunned at what I saw. I just couldn’t imagine that I was still in the United States. When I walked through the fairground gates, I saw people who were lined up by the hundreds waiting to get care, and it was truly an epiphany. I also realized that what I was doing for a living — I had to take some responsibility for that because I was perpetuating myths about the Canadian health care system, myths about this health care system in this country, spreading this information to protect profits for my company and for the industry.”

Potter stressed, “I was a journalist in my first career, a newspaper reporter. And I realized, also, that what I was doing for a living was in many ways the exact opposite of what I tried to do as a reporter, which was to be accurate. . . . I looked in the mirror at one point. I said, what happened to you? How did this happen?” Soon thereafter, he left his job. 


*** “Fortifying Imagination” is the header for Krista Tippett’s June 25 On Being interview with Jason Reynolds, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature at the Library of Congress and author of a new companion to Ibram X. Kendi’s history of racism, Stamped From the Beginning, for young readers. Among the more positive podcasts we’ve heard in the wake of the George Floyd killing, this 50-minute program (with a full transcript) explores what youth and age can provide each other in these turbulent times. 

Reynolds has written many books for middle-grade and young-adult readers, notably, Ghost,  Look Both Ways and, most recently, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. He begins the interview with his favorite James Baldwin quote: “The interior life is the real life.” He goes on, “The intangible dreams of a person may have a tangible effect on the world.” 

Amidst the rise of racial anger, Reynolds says, “For me, I choose to put my rage into the energy of helping young people process the world around them. But it comes from a place of rage, and that rage is connected to a love, a true love, an aching love that I have for young people to grow into the people who will push forward freedom and anti-racism and an equitable world.”

Addressing the wider vision of change that has emerged about younger generation, Reynolds observes, “Even the way that they think about saving the planet, I think that their environmental foresight does not stop with vegetation and atmospheric happenings of the space in which we live; I think it also has to do with all natural elements, including human beings. When they’re talking about environmental change, I really do think that many of them want to change the environment; literally, shift the landscape. That does not exclude humanity.”

He goes on that particularly in Black communities, “Their generation is teased and ridiculed and criticized for being too empathetic, as if that’s a bad thing. And all of us who tease them and ridicule them, because they have somehow made our lives a bit more complicated and uncomfortable, because now we have to watch what we say, we have to be careful of — think about that. We have to be careful about making other people feel small, and we’re upset about it. We will have egg on our faces 20 years from now, because what they’re saying is, we are trying to make an equitable world. We want to make a world where everyone feels safe and free. And we ridicule them for it. So strange.”

Tippett asks about the task of older people, “What is our work to accompany them towards — I love your word — fortitude, so that they can really grow into the fullness of their imaginations and their power?”

Reynolds replies that although some older people are encouraging the young, too many he hears grumblings that the young only seem to “buck back” at whatever came before. Pushing back at those complaints, he states, “To them, first of all, I say, ‘No one wants to live in a world where young people are not irreverent . . . , because it is a world that is not growing. They have to shake the table. If you like your young person’s art and music, your young people are doing something wrong. . . It is their time to mold what they want the world to look like.”

He continues, “Despite what you may hear, it’s not that they want us out of the way, I think what they want for us to do is to listen to them.” Reynolds adds, “We really believe that we deserve their respect, simply because we have years on them, and the truth is that respect must be earned. And I think what they’re saying is, ‘Please, make a seat for me at the table. You can’t talk about my life and not include me.’” He stresses, “That is our role in this movement. It’s that simple. It’s like, I am here. If you need help, you need strategy planning, you need to understand how this works, you need some historical reference and context, I’m here to do all those things.”

What’s more, he’d tell the young, “If you’re going to walk into harm’s way, I’m gonna pull your coattail and say, hey, hey, hey, are we certain? Let’s go over the rules. Let’s make sure that we are doing what we want to be doing. But if you are emotionally broken, if something happens that hurts you emotionally, then it’s my job to step in and say, ‘Let’s process what has happened? Let’s figure out where the failure is. Let’s figure out how to grow from it, how to get strong, and then we need to get back out into the street.’ That’s the role of the elders right now, not, ‘Follow me,’ not ‘This is the way I did it,’ not ‘You guys are doing it wrong,’ not — ‘No, no, no, that doesn’t work.’ It’s like, ‘I’m with you. Tell me what you want me to do. Tell me where you want me to go.’ If I see the fire coming, I’m gonna say, ‘There goes the fire. I’ve seen fire before. Let’s head this way. That’s it.’”

The Journalists Network on Generations (JNG), founded in 1993, publishes Generations Beat Online News ( JNG provides information and networking opportunities for journalists covering generational issues, but not those representing services, products or lobbying agendas. Copyright 2020 JNG. For more information contact GBO Editor Paul Kleyman. 

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  • Ruth Migdal Taber

    Nice phrase: “All vulnerables treated equally” Excuse my pessimism – but until those under 65 recognize that one day they will be older, color/religion/ethnicity are meaningless. And alas, too many journalists join thoughtless pols and others in serving up an occasional ageist comment!