Grassroots organizing and capacity-building are core to BlackRoots Alliance’s values. Our mission is to support the safety and liberation of all Black people, promote Black leadership and cultivate Black-centered community transformation as we work collectively to build social, economic, and racial justice, heal our communities and fundamentally transform our society. We have to ensure this work is rooted in an intergenerational approach.
A generation is defined as a “birth cohort,” a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place who possess similar preferences, characteristics, and values over a lifetime. Each generation is influenced by how they were parented and the way in which technology and events – such as the Kennedy assassination, 9/11, or the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – shape their belief systems on how the world operates. Since aging is universal, bridging generational differences is an important yet often overshadowed part of the organizing conversation.
Ageism must be addressed alongside the work we do to address other ‘isms. Ageism, also spelled agism, is stereotyping and/or discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. While this term was initially coined to describe the experience of seniors, stereotyping and discrimination know no age. You can hear hints of ageism when elders talk about “kids these days” while dismissing the experience of youth. Like all ‘isms, practicing ageism is a learned behavior, and it is important to be aware of how our thoughts, feelings, words, and behaviors can stereotype and dismiss people because of their age.
Everyone approaches life from their unique lens, and when we can value the worldview of all in our community, we’ll be able to see the kaleidoscope of justice more clearly. Real transformative change requires us to stop strategizing within generational silos. Each generation has particular needs and visions for their future, based on the cultural conditions under which they were raised. And if those of us who may be seen as “elders” are honest with ourselves, we can remember how much we resented being dismissed because we were young. From another perspective, those of us who see ourselves as "youth" can learn from the successes and challenges of generations before us, taking care to honor their experience and apply the lessons they've learned to our own lives. We all have something to teach and something to learn. Wisdom shows up at every stage of life, and if we are to pass on this planet to future generations, we must recognize the wisdom in one another.
Regardless of your age group or “generation”, we can all practice bridging different age groups by being open-minded and curious about new ideas, outlooks, approaches, and values. Ask clarifying questions instead of making assumptions. Be willing to teach and be taught, you can share your experience without defaulting to ‘when I was your age’ or dismissing others' perspectives as “antiquated”.
What other ideas do you have about bridging generational gaps? Let us know in the comments below.