Isolation in the workplace is a common feeling expressed by many African Americans. This was the case for a number of African Americans in Michigan working in the area of gerontology. The African American Gerontology Network (AAGN) was formed to address these feelings of isolation. This article discusses the development of AAGN.
ORIGIN OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN GERONTOLOGY NETWORK
One of the authors of this article (Neal) carried out her graduate social work internship in 1993 at a private geriatric clinic located in Michigan. During this time, as she became aware of the dearth of programs and services for older African Americans in Michigan, she became aware of the feelings of isolation expressed by many African American professionals in the field of gerontology with whom she came in contact. This realization led her to form the African American Gerontology Network (AAGN) by bringing together a small group of colleagues who were African American professionals in the area of aging. AAGN was established initially to address the lack of accessibility to aging services experienced by many older African Americans (ages 55 years or older) in Michigan and to help reduce the sense of isolation felt by African American professionals.
The manner in which AAGN helps reduce feelings of isolation is illustrated in the following example. An African American man came to a well-attended AAGN- sponsored conference and reported being amazed to discover so many African American professionals in the area of aging. He stated that before his attendance at the conference, he had experienced a tremendous sense of isolation. These feelings of isolation were assuaged by his joining (and later becoming the president of) AAGN. This individual, Herschell Masten, is now director of Older Adult Services for Catholic Social Services of Oakland County.
AAGN currently serves as a forum in which its members can speak freely and confidentially about issues they face as African Americans in the field of aging. Feelings of safety, comfort, and loyalty among AAGN members are enhanced by the fact that all comments made during AAGN meetings are regarded as confidential.
THE MISSION AND GOALS OF AAGN
Several goals were initiated that would ultimately empower AAGN members in meeting the needs of the aging African American community in Michigan. These goals are as follows:
1. to develop an aging agenda for Michigan for minority ethnic groups, with a focus on special issues facing older African American adults--that is, making sure that the aims of AAGN are met on a statewide basis
2. to lobby local, state, and federal legislators to promote the needs of older African Americans
3. to collectively challenge local, state, and federal policies that adversely impact the health and well-being of African American elderly people.
4. to serve as a resource for African American seniors who need assistance obtaining services
5. to foster information exchange, professional support, advocacy, and programs, policies, services, and research on older African Americans
6. to promote community awareness of issues and services relevant to older African Americans
7. to encourage research involving older African Americans
8. to sponsor business development and assistance to help develop an aging network in African American communities
9. to work closely with religious and other established community-based organizations to meet the needs of older African Americans
10. to promote the agenda of AAGN. Each of these goals was established to fulfill the mission of AAGN.
AAGN's approach is not confrontational in terms of public protests but rather involves directly addressing policies and practices that have (perhaps unintentionally) excluded African American practitioners, vendors, and clients. For example, AAGN has served as an information clearinghouse to gather statistics and information about African American older adults as a means of challenging current spending policies and funding allocations for members of this group. …