Our Pledge to Support Diverse Talent in the Field of Aging

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 is the second in that series.

Our nation is growing older and more diverse, and that is something to celebrate. The contributions and experiences of older people from different backgrounds and cultures will continue to benefit our society in innumerable ways. However, to reap those benefits, the field of professionals who provide services and care to older adults must help create an equitable experience of aging for all. In pursuit of better care for diverse older adults, The John A. Hartford Foundation has joined Archstone Foundation and RRF Foundation in Aging in supporting the American Society on Aging and its ASA RISE program, preparing a new generation of diverse leaders trained in the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The Critical Need for ASA RISE

Racial and ethnic minority populations of older adults in the United States increased from nearly 8 million in 2009 to 13 million in 2019. That number is projected to grow to almost 28 million in 2040, representing well over a third of all older adults. At the same time, we are undergoing a national reckoning with America's history of systemic racism. In addition, we continue to wrestle with profound inequitable health outcomes that the pandemic has only exacerbated for older adults of color.

People who were raised, live, and work in communities most affected by health disparities are often the most effective in bringing about needed change. For instance, community-led interventions have been essential to increasing COVID-19 vaccine promotion in Black communities. But barriers to accessing services, chronic underinvestment, bias and other related factors often prevent people of color from rising into leadership positions in the aging services field. As a result, organizations led by and serving older adults of color are left under-resourced and impeded in reaching their full impact potential.

ASA RISE serves as a launching pad for the next generation of diverse leaders in the aging field.

ASA RISE is one initiative providing a solution to this problem by serving as a launching pad for the next generation of diverse leaders in the aging field. The 20-week program for individuals of color provides training and mentorship on fundamental principles of advocacy, social justice and leadership development. The 32 fellows recently selected for the first cohort are building a national, cross-sector network of peers. With their mentors, they offer support to one another and their community networks to build capacity for implementing programs and services for older adults. Fellows are charged with developing projects on diversity, equity and inclusion that can be disseminated nationally or replicated by other organizations in the field.

The John A. Hartford Foundation’s Strategy to Advance Health Equity

The John A. Hartford Foundation is dedicated to improving the care of older adults, and has three priority areas: creating age-friendly health systems, supporting family caregivers, and improving serious illness and end-of-life care. Our foundation has always worked to ensure equitable outcomes for the older adults and family caregivers served by the programs we fund in each of these areas. Like many other organizations, we have reexamined and redoubled our efforts over the past two years. That work has included increased investments of time and resources internally, through staff-led development, and externally through grantmaking.

For example, we formed a staff committee and instituted a three-times-per-year training program on diversity, equity and inclusion. We are holding Trustee-level conversations about diversifying board member recruitment. In our grantmaking, diversity, equity and inclusion principles are now formally part of our proposal application and reporting process. We are funding initiatives that focus specifically on equity, such as our support of the Diverse Elders Coalition. We are embedding equity into all programs, by setting aims and collecting data, as exemplified by the Age-Friendly Health Systems initiative. We are continuously learning from our grantees about how to improve.

The ASA RISE program uniquely augments these efforts. By focusing specifically on racial equity and leadership, we are taking steps toward seeding a field that better represents and can meet the needs of an increasingly diverse and older population in America. Over the successive three cohorts and beyond, ASA RISE fellows will help transform their communities and the aging field through their leadership. The dissemination of their learnings and equity projects will continue to propel social justice and equitable outcomes for all of us as we age.

We still need further action to push our field’s diversity forward. We have much to learn and need to invest more resources toward equitable outcomes for older adults. The ASA RISE program is one important step on this journey.

Marcus Escobedo, MPA, is vice president, communications, and senior program officer at The John A. Hartford Foundation in New York City. Teffin Benedict is a health and aging intern at The John A. Hartford Foundation and is pursuing his Master’s in Health Administration at Columbia.