America is built on stories. The collection and dissemination of oral history have long been a way to preserve the past and, for the generations who came before us, a way to pass on traditions and family legacies.
For older adults, in particular, these stories are built from the memories of their life and the nostalgia for days past. Even the most mundane of the everyday events are looked back on with fondness.
Today, much like the stories being shared, the aging process occurs behind closed doors. Rarely discussed and often avoided, as many people choose to refuse the aging process rather than embrace it.
Age in America offers alternative narratives and challenges long-held assumptions about what it means to be old by, as their motto suggests, chronicling lives, challenging stereotypes, and changing perceptions — one story at a time.
The founder, author, and creative director of Age in America is Meg LaPorte. She cites that she is influenced by close colleagues and leading experts in the field Dean Judah Ronch, P.h.D of the UMBC Erickson School of Aging. And Bill Thomas, MD an author, entrepreneur, and physician whose wide-ranging work explores the terrain of human aging (ChangingAging, About).
Meg received her Graduate degree from the school and is currently writing for Dr. Bill Thomas’s blog ChangingAging.org.
First Stop…Age in America, Baltimore!
Inspired by the Human’s of New York series, Meg found a beautiful way to bring the stories of aging America out of the confines of the nursing home and share them with the rest of the world. She admits that although she had periodic moments of doubts, the “candor that the residents express is amazing” and their excitement and receptiveness for the series drives her love and desire to share this important work forward.
She believes that by demonstrating that we are all essentially the same–human and interesting and imperfect–we can shatter the stereotypes of aging and help to eliminate discrimination of people based on how old they are.
Still relatively new, this project is evolving. With such a strong network foundation and support, Meg foresees that this project will continue to unfold and grow in a variety of directions.
In just a few months Meg has introduced her readers to a number of people living in and around Baltimore city. From lost love to second chances, the residents Meg has interviewed do not pine for their youth, but proudly describe the path they’ve taken that has led them to the person they are today.
“…But I won’t let that get to me. I’m very blessed.” -Nancy
Meet Nancy, 82, from Arbutus, MD. She has volunteered her whole life and lives by values taught to her by her mother at a very young age. Despite having a recent surgery and blindness in one eye, Nancy continues to volunteer at her local senior center every day. She says, “I just live down the street, and I used to walk it, but I can’t judge steps and curbs anymore so I can’t go outside. But I won’t let that get to me. I’m very blessed. I do all the things I can do.”
“…I lived in West Virginia every summer on my grandparents’ farm. Those are my best memories.” -Robert
Meet Robert, age 83. Robert worked for the B&O Railroad in Baltimore City for over 30 years. Born and raised in Baltimore he reflects on his youth “I would get on the streetcar and go to Baltimore as a young kid, go to the movies, come home late on the streetcar and I never had any problems.”
Robert’s and Nancy’s stories highlight the importance of Meg’s work, which connects stories to faces and brings a new presence to their local communities. With their respective reintroductions to the reader and to the community, Meg’s project weaves together past and present narratives into a larger and familiar story that we can all identify with.
The Future is Age in America
Age in America’s vision is to create a society where ageism does not exist and where aging is not feared but revered. And their mission is to reframe perceptions of aging in America with oral histories, storytelling, and images that illustrate the positivity, diversity, and value of being older.
Over the next year, Meg will be conducting interviews in cities across the country. With a set list of questions, she hopes to capture the stories of our nation’s past from the people who lived through it.
If you would like to be interviewed for the project or you would like to host the project in your community, please contact Age in America via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meg LaPorte is a journalist specializing in aging issues. She served as managing editor of Provider magazine for nine years and holds a master’s degree in Management of Aging Services from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.