AN INCLUSIVE TABLE | Remembering my grandfather and the ongoing work to empower Black elders

Eartha Hopkins

The holidays are a time for families to reconnect and spend much-needed time together.

It’s especially hard for those, however, who have lost their loved ones. For me, it’s a reminder of the loss of my grandfather, who passed away in January 2020. I watched the last vestige of my childhood be buried in the grave with him.

He was the strongest man I’d ever known and his death will leave a lasting impression on me and my family. The entire year prior included a gut-wrenching dose of reality for me about death and life as my mother, myself and our family cared for him.

For months I watched my hero become physically weaker and less coherent. I was able to enjoy some of the most entertaining and fun conversations that I’ll never forget that brought us closer together in his last months of life.

The moment he took his last breath sent a surge of pain that took me nearly a year to truly deal with. What pains me, even more, was that this strong Black man seemed to deserve more. A bricklayer by trade from Alabama who has raised 11 children and survived so much deserved the ability to live a more quality life toward the end of his days.

Unfortunately, as much as I like to find solace in the fact that death does not discriminate and it was simply his time, I can’t ignore how systematic racism played its role in this situation. Data indicates that life-long exposure to racism both personally and systematically dramatically imposes a higher risk for adverse health effects.

Reports note that African-Americans endure illnesses associated with age earlier than that of other ethnicities with increased severity and consequences. The onset of external stresses of racism wreak havoc on health outcomes for our most vulnerable populations and as they age, their health can rapidly decline. This stress can often manifest into illnesses, such as hypertension, diabetes, stroke and cancer.

All of which my grandfather experienced as myself and my family helplessly watched while we cared for him.

America has been negligent in its ability to care for all of its citizens in a manner that can be considered as “equitable,” creating the perfect storm for racial health care disparities in this country.

Older African-American generations — our grandparents, nanas and papas — are an integral part of the fabric of the American family. As our older adults live longer, it is our work to preserve their dignity and work to create an equitable society that sustains a long healthy life for them rather than deteriorates their very essence slowly.

When we think about structural racism, we often forget the many layers of its composition. From the cradle to the grave, its insidious nature creates enormous harm that impacts generations.

My hope is that non-Black Valley residents take the time to imagine life from the perspective of myself and others like me. Only then can actual change begin to address issues of racism and classism while simultaneously redesigning a community where everyone has true access to the resources they need to live the life of their choosing.

— Eartha Hopkins is a Youngstown native and an alumna of The Ohio State University. Born with a penchant for storytelling, the business owner and journalist offers a distinct voice with the goal to inspire her generation to live authentically. Be sure to catch her 2 cents on her website and Instagram @eartha__hopkins.