Levine: Who you callin' old?

Staff file photo by Dan Henry / Deborah Levine

Birthdays that end in zero are milestones to be celebrated, or completely ignored, depending on your point of view. I choose to celebrate my milestone by writing about the beauty and value of older women. Too often, the presence of older women can be used to delegitimize a good cause. There were several editorials about Women's Marches calling them irrelevant because so many of the women involved were old, limping, and decrepit.

Maybe I should be used to this dismissive language, I've heard it often enough. I'm reminded of the time I gave a presentation at a national interfaith workshop in Huntsville. Wrapping up, I asked for comments from an audience of woman chaplains and pastors. The first question had everyone nodding their heads, "How do you get people to listen to you? Once I turned sixty nobody cared what I thought or said."

Let's get this right and understand that older women are like the glue of society. They are walking historians, hold families together, and are innovative in caring for children, parents, neighborhoods, and communities. And we tell it like it is as I explained at the retirement party for TN State Rep. JoAnne Favors. A long-time friend asked me, "Why is it that so much creativity and productivity happens when we're older" My response was, "Because it takes decades before we're able to worry less about pleasing everyone." My wording was a whole lot more colorful than that, but you get the gist.

Many young women are powerful yet they must overcome major challenges before they blossom into movers and shakers. Favors had four children in 5 years, a major feat in itself, but also attended nursing school. Back then, African Americans weren't allowed in the elevators so she had to continually climb the stairs. Her daughter mentioned how Favors ended up wearing support hose in her 20s.

Determined and persistent, Favors not only became a nurse, but the force behind a community health center, not to mention being a board member. She was described as always polite, but persistently insistent in shaping health care in Chattanooga. After becoming the first African American woman on the Hamilton County Commission, she then proceeded to the Tennessee General Assembly.

Accolades came from both Democrats and Republicans, city council members, state legislators, sitting judges, church pastors, and civic association leaders. There were speakers who called her an exceptional Minority Whip.

They called her an expert in health care policy making. They called her unforgettable for passing the law requiring seat belts on school buses after the tragic bus crash of Woodmore students. The crowd gave her multiple standing ovations and deafening loud cheers.

No one called her old, and, if they're smart, they never will. No way does the image of an irrelevant old woman apply to JoAnne Favors! She'll continue to be a forceful advocate for the community in the next phase of her life. Her presence inspires and her stories instruct and motivate. Sharing their wealth of wisdom and experience is what older women do best.

It's time to reverse the bias that looks past older women. Not to discount the appeal of youth, but each generation has its own beauty. Each stage of life has its distinctive character, adding more depth with each year.

Every decade should be a celebration not just for us older women, but for the community. We are among society's most enduring assets. Those who say otherwise need to be more carefully taught. Celebrate with me and know that the best is yet to come.

Deborah Levine is an author and trainer/coach. She is editor of the American Diversity Report. Contact her at deborah@diversityreport.com.