Did you know that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, age-adjusted data shows hospitalizations were three times higher among Blacks (all ages) compared to whites in King County?
Did you know that older Black adults experience elevated rates of chronic disease deaths, including Alzheimer’s and dementia?
Did you know that people of color aged 60 and older face housing cost burdens regardless of their status as renters or homeowners?
One more question: Do you care about the current and future state of older Black adults in our communities? If your answer is yes to any of the questions above, and especially the last one, what about using your voice on the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders (MCAAE)?!
The MCAAE was established as a result of a community-driven effort to address the needs of Seattle’s African American elders. The initiative began in 1994 when former Seattle Mayor Norman B. Rice sponsored roundtable discussions with community members. In 1995, the roundtable commissioned a report that included recommendations and a mission “to develop a comprehensive continuum of services that will improve quality of life while strengthening the community’s capacity to support the basic needs of its elders.”
Thanks to the roundtable’s vision and insight, the African American Elders Program (AAEP) was birthed in the late 1990s in partnership with the Seattle Human Services Department, Aging and Disability Services division; Public Health—Seattle & King County; and Senior Services of Seattle and King County (now known as Sound Generations). As a result of a successful funding process, Catholic Community Services has served as the program’s sponsor since 2004.
Mayor Rice simultaneously created the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders—a 12-member commission that included several roundtable members to review and evaluate the 1995 final report and act as his advisors. Today, the commission is seeking candidates to fill vacant positions, beginning in January 2023.
Members are appointed by the mayor to serve renewable two-year terms. MCAAE members must reside in Seattle and/or King County and be willing to serve without compensation.
The MCAAE makes recommendations to City officials regarding programs and services of benefit to older African Americans. The group periodically conducts public forums on a range of issues impacting older adults, solicits public input, and provides formal and informal comments and recommendations to the mayor.
Since launching the AAEP in 1995, the MCAAE has continued its commitment to advocate for accessible, culturally appropriate, comprehensive services with a focus on people of African descent who are isolated, frail, and low-income. Most recently, the commission successfully advocated to increase funding to support a nursing position for the AAEP.
Other activities and accomplishments include:
- Promotion of community education and mobilization on relevant aging issues (e.g., fraud, Alzheimer’s and dementia, and end-of-life planning) through annual events such as Memory Sunday and the African American Caregivers Forum.
- Testimony on the growing number of elders who are homeless, the lack of affordable housing, and the impact of institutionalized racism on homeless Black elders.
- Advocacy for a Neighborhood Preference Policy for future project development in the Central District and other Seattle neighborhoods impacted by gentrification.
- Advocacy for revisions in the Washington State Property Tax Exemption Program to increase in the maximum household income qualification.
- Letters to local and state policymakers expressing concerns about COVID-19 disparities and its impact on Black/Brown communities and requests for more accurate counts and protection for older adults.
- Assistance for ADS staff and Aging Network providers with outreach efforts to older BIPOC residents at the highest risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and help to schedule vaccine appointments.
- Letter to members of the Seattle City Council expressing concerns about defunding the Seattle Police Department.
- Co-sponsorship of the annual Grandparents Day celebration, initiated in 2010, and numerous state legislative and local candidate forums.
In 2022, MCAAE commissioners have focused on addressing health disparities impacting older African Americans that were highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The MCAAE is advocating for equity to become an integral part of the healthcare delivery system in King County.
Your voice is needed and welcomed, too! To learn more about MCAAE, visit our newly updated webpage. Participation requires a significant commitment, including attendance at monthly meetings (currently the third Friday of each month) and participation on at least one committee that may meet monthly. MCAAE members also attend and participate in relevant public meetings and events.
MCAAE members reflect a broad range of professional and community experience and perspectives and seek to maintain the diversity and strength of the commission. More specifically, the Mayor of Seattle seeks candidates who are active in age-friendly community affairs, have the knowledge and/or experience with caregiving, health care, senior housing, legal, public relations, and have contacts with African American churches in King County.
Interested in being appointed to the MCAAE? Visit the City of Seattle Boards and Commissions website to apply online.
The Harrell Administration is committed to promoting diversity in the City’s boards and commissions. Women, persons with disabilities, sexual minorities and persons of color are encouraged to apply.
Contributor Karen Winston is a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for King County, and a division of Seattle Human Services. Karen staffs the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo at top includes the original members of the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders plus Seattle Mayor Norman B. Rice.