ASA RISE: Powering Change Through a Brave Space

Editor’s Note: The John A. Hartford Foundation is collaborating with ASA to advance equity in aging by supporting ASA RISE, a 20-week social justice and leadership program for rising leaders of color in aging, and via the development and dissemination of equity-related, partnership-based thought leadership through ASA’s Generations platform. This blog post from an ASA RISE Fellow is the third in that series.

When the American Society on Aging’s ASA RISE program was first posted, I was excited by the possibilities: an opportunity to have a mentor of color, to grow my knowledge about equity concepts, and to engage with fellow BIPOC professionals in aging. I am an attorney at Justice in Aging, an organization that has a demonstrated commitment to advancing equity in our programmatic work and has been moving our internal Diversity Equity and Inclusion work forward in an intentional way.

When considering the ASA RISE program, I wondered if it would be the right fit for me as I am already part of an organization that centers its work in equity. But I was drawn to its program goals and looked forward to developing a framework for individual growth as a leader and as a person. Thirteen weeks into the program, I have found that that the ASA RISE program hasn’t been exactly as I had envisioned— it has been better. It has built a network of truly inspirational professionals of color in the aging field who I learn from and gain strength from each week.

In one of our first ASA RISE meetings, our leader and facilitator, Patrice Dickerson (Director, Programs & Thought Leadership at ASA), introduced us to the concept of “brave space,” a term I had not heard before. Dickerson explained that our meetings would be used as a brave space—a space where we would have controversy with civility, own our intentions and impacts and respect one another, among other things.

Brave Space a Productive Place for Surpassing Challenges

By creating this brave space for us, ASA RISE has provided a place for me and the other Fellows to take a deep dive on some heavy, but important issues. We have used our brave space to work through challenges in our individual jobs, discuss past harms that have created barriers for us in our leadership journeys, and address how we can make big changes in the field of aging to better serve a diverse population of older adults. These discussions have challenged me and inspired change in my work.

As a Latina woman, I bring my own unique perspective to aging and legal services work. But through my participation in this program, I feel added urgency to incorporate more voices and expertise in every step of my advocacy and training work. Sitting in our “brave space” meetings each week has provided me with expanded understanding of the varied and diverse experiences of my fellow BIPOC professionals in aging.

‘I feel added urgency to incorporate more voices and expertise in every step of my advocacy and training work.’

These experiences are reflected in the older individuals we serve, who also bring their unique lived experiences with them as they age. The ASA RISE program has demonstrated the power of bringing as many people as possible to the table, from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and cultures, to advance our work and provide inclusive, person-centered services and advocacy.

ASA RISE is providing valuable opportunities to advance my career by connecting us to established leaders in the aging sector, providing us with supportive mentors, and giving us resources to build our expertise.

But I find even more value in the unquantifiable opportunities. At the ASA On Aging Conference this past April, I sat in a room with my fellow ASA RISE members and felt a palpable energy, an energy different than any I had experienced before. The room was filled with BIPOC professionals committed to advancing equity in aging, asking tough questions of leaders in aging, and challenging each other to rethink how our systems work (or don’t).

A little over halfway through this program, I am inspired to expect more of others and of myself to advance equity in aging. ASA RISE has created a group that I truly feel I can lean on, gain strength from, and eventually partner with to move change forward. I hope that this program will encourage others in the aging space to bring these leaders of color to their tables and provide opportunities for meaningful participation in decision making and service design.

Sarah Galvan, JD, is Directing Attorney on Justice in Aging’s Elder Rights team and serves on ASA’s Generations Journal Editorial Advisory Board.

Photo: Sarah Galvan presents the Gloria Cavanaugh Award for Leadership in Education at the 2022 On Aging Conference in New Orleans. Galvan won the award last year.