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Community Corner—Mayor’s Council on African American Elders

Community Corner highlights the work of Seattle Human Services’ community partners. Our goal is to gather stories and photos that illustrate their amazing work on behalf of the people of Seattle. This post highlights the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders (MCAAE). Pictured above: The MCAAE and guests welcomed Mayor Bruce Harrell at a 2023 meeting at the Central Area Senior Center.

What is the role your organization fulfills in your community?

The Mayor’s Council on African American Elders (MCAAE) informs the Seattle mayor and other government leaders and policymakers about the unique needs of older African Americans; advocates for changes in policies, practices, and programs; educates the public; and encourages and sponsors research to address unmet needs and gaps in services. We are volunteers appointed by the mayor to serve as an intermediary between City government and the community.

How does your partnership with Seattle Human Services (HSD) assist you in that role?

Black History Month presentation by reps from the African American Elders Program, The Tubman Center for Health & Freedom, and Heart ‘n Soul Hospice, February 2024, facilitated by ADS director Mary MitchellWe are fortunate to receive staffing from HSD’s Aging and Disability Services (ADS) division. HSD and ADS support us in making connections in the community and help us coordinate several annual events—Memory Sunday (emphasizing brain health and Alzheimer’s information among faith communities serving people of African descent, on June 9), Grandparents Day (in partnership with NAAM—the Northwest African American Museum—on September 8), and Legacy of Love (the African American Caregiver Forum on November 2, during National Family Caregiver Month).

We have also presented special events—such as the Black History Month presentation by representatives from the African American Elders Program, The Tubman Center for Health & Freedom, and Heart ‘n Soul Hospice in February 2024, and candidates forums during election years (information only—no endorsements).

Karen Winston with her parents, featured in her digital story, “Hope for the Heart of Our Community"  at of the topics we have studied include home ownership and generational wealth, and HIV among people of African descent. We have studied King County data for African Americans aged 60+. During the height of the COVID-19 epidemic, we led a vaccine distribution focus group discussion for the Washington Department of Health, and we assisted ADS staff and Aging Network providers with outreach efforts to BIPOC older adults to help with scheduling vaccine appointments.

What is your organization’s origin story?

Mayor Norman B. Rice with original members of the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders, 1995In 1994, Mayor Norman B. Rice created the African American Elders Program within Aging and Disability Services. A few years later, it became a community partner program, now hosted by Catholic Community Services. The program reaches out to frail, isolated, and hard-to-serve African Americans in central and southeast Seattle and south King County. Our coordinator, Karen Winston, created a digital story (“Hope for the Heart of Our Community”) about the origins of that program—why it was created, and why its services were and continue to be so important.

Closely related, due to overwhelming evidence of need, Mayor Rice established the MCAAE the following year. The MCAAE advises on the need for and development of comprehensive services to serve the needs of African American elders. We have met regularly since 1995.

How has your organization grown or developed in recent years?

The MCAAE draws on the strengths and interests of its members—all of whom are Seattle and King County residents with strong community connections. Often, our members have experience in health care, research, fund development, and public relations, and many have contacts in African American churches.

Why is it important for HSD and City of Seattle taxpayers to invest in community-led work?

While the MCAAE does not receive City funding directly, we partner with mission-driven community nonprofits that address the unique needs of older African Americans and provide critically important services for older adults, individuals with disabilities, and caregivers in general. Examples include the African American Elders Program, mentioned above; the African American Reach & Teach Health Ministry (AARTH), which was founded to respond to HIV/AIDS and other chronic health conditions that disproportionately affect African and Black people in the diaspora and is now heavily involved in promoting health equity; and the Center for Multicultural Health, which supports Black, Indigenous, and other people of color as well as individuals with limited English proficiency through health advocacy, health promotion, disease prevention, and immigrant and refugee service programs.

What motivates your members to keep you going?

Our members have a strong commitment to advancing racial equity and social justice. As long as racial disparities exist in education, wealth, health, and living conditions—all of which affect quality of life in our later years—we must advocate for improvements so that no one is left behind.

In June 2020, Public Health—Seattle & King County declared racism to be a public health crisis. If you review The Race Gap, a Public Health report from about the same time, you will see evidence that the systemic racism and disadvantages that Black residents of King County experience across their lifespans has resulted in four years shorter life expectancy than that of White adults.

Until disparities are eliminated, we will continue to advocate, inform, and educate policymakers about needs, and fight for fairness and dignity of older African Americans.