Monday, August 27, 2018

Frances Shani Parker: Black Aging Matters Webinar

American Psychological Association 

Black Aging Matters Webinar: How to Better Address Racism-Related Stress in African American Older Adults
(three presenters, audience questions)

Perspective of an Older African American Advocate (Excerpt)

My name is Frances Shani Parker. I was born and raised in the Jim Crow segregation of the South. I sat behind the sign for whites on the public bus when I wasn’t standing, drank water from the colored fountain, attended segregated schools, and endured America’s daily misery of racial injustice. Like many African Americans who remember being Negro, colored, and Black, every day was a reminder of our unimportance to the larger society. No doubt, these constant atrocities and indignities have taken a toll on us as we continue in our ongoing struggle to overcome.

Quality of healthcare always depends on the context in which it is given. Context includes all resources available, including biases of healthcare providers. Research studies indicate many healthcare providers have implicit bias in terms of positive attitudes toward white people and negative attitudes toward people of color. Systemic covert and overt racism against African Americans continues to flourish. Health disparities persist in large numbers year after year harming us, our families, our communities, our future generations, and ultimately the entire nation in loss of productivity and in economic burdens. This is not only a healthcare issue, but a moral issue.

A hospice volunteer, I know that many older people with dementia also have stored memories similar to mine that create shared connections with other older adults. I was moved to write this poem titled “Deeper Than Words” while watching Miss Loretta, my hospice patient, sleep. I thought about our shared African American history that bridged our communication beyond her dementia.
                                             Deeper Than Words
                                             By Frances Shani Parker

                                              The outside world arrives
                                              wearing my willing face.
                                              Toothless, your smile widens
                                              like a baby’s hungry for attention.
                                              Almost ninety-eight years old,
                                              your inner candle still glows.

                                              A hospice volunteer, I lean closer,
                                              talk into your listening left ear,
                                             “Today is Sunday, Miss Loretta.”
                                              My news drifts away like smoke.
                                              You stare at me through dying coals.
                                              Whatever I ask, you whisper, “Yes.”

                                              I stroke your age-softened arms
                                              while your hazed mind masters sleep.
                                             Watching you, I dream generations
                                             of women, black and strong, each one
                                             a book of sustaining stories
                                             about joy, pain, courage, survival.

                                            Within your warm brown frame,
                                            spirits from our common history linger.
                                            Aides say you have dementia,
                                            that you don’t know a word I say.
                                            Our language goes deeper than words.
                                            We speak to each other’s souls.

My hope is that audiences will increase their awareness of disparities, develop an urgency to eliminate them, especially if they are participants in causing them, and become more proactive in their own and others’ healthcare. I honor those who have died much faster than they should have, too often from causes that were preventable. I speak for those whose voices have been silenced.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Book:Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Blog: Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog


  1. Thank you for sharing this. My years in health care taught me that everyone has a story, a life behind what we see in our work or our visits. Making the human connection is the most important thing we can do.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Dave. You always add wisdom to our discussions. Happy endings, Frances