Celebrating Black Leaders in Aging Advocacy

By Afrah Shah, Graduate Intern, SPI Social Policy Institute

In honor of Black History Month, we recognize and celebrate the contributions of Black individuals who dedicated their lives to improving the well-being of older adults. Here, we highlight five remarkable people in American history and modern-day who made significant strides in advocating for the needs of older adults.

Eliza Simmons Bryant (1827 – 1907)

Born into slavery in North Carolina, Eliza Simmons Bryant became a renowned humanitarian known for her efforts in the Cleveland area. Recognizing the lack of support for aging Black individuals, she rallied her community to establish the Cleveland Home for Aged Color People in 1896, later renamed the Eliza Bryant Home for the Aged. The home served as a crucial resource for over a century, providing essential care to marginalized communities.

Solomon Carter Fuller, M.D (1872 – 1953) 

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, a pioneering psychiatrist and neurologist, made significant contributions to Alzheimer’s disease research. As the first Black psychiatrist in the United States, he conducted groundbreaking research that helped establish Alzheimer’s as a physical disease, advocating for better care for older adults. His work laid the foundation for understanding and addressing Alzheimer’s disease, impacting countless lives.

Jacquelyne Mary Johnson Jackson, PhD (1932 – 2004)

Dr. Jacquelyne Mary Johnson Jackson, an activist and sociologist, dedicated her career to studying aging, particularly within Black communities. Her research shed light on the unique challenges faced by older Black adults, advocating for policies and programs to address their needs. She was also the first tenured black female faculty member in the Duke School of Medicine. Dr. Jackson’s pioneering work paved the way for greater awareness and understanding of aging issues among minority populations.

Mildred “Mit” Joyner DPS, MSW, LCSW (1949 – 2023)

Mildred Joyner was a trailblazing social worker and educator who dedicated her life to improving the lives of vulnerable communities, including older adults. As a professor and advocate, she played a pivotal role in shaping social work education and policy, establishing programs to support marginalized individuals. Her commitment to equity and social justice continues to inspire generations of social workers.

E. Percil Stanford, Ph.D.

Dr. E. Percil Stanford is a pioneering figure in the field of gerontology, advocating for diversity and inclusion in aging research and practice. he played a key role in establishing gerontology programs and promoting multicultural perspectives in aging studies, including at San Diego State University where he taught for three decades. His dedication to addressing the needs of older adults, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, has been profoundly impactful on the field.

These remarkable individuals exemplify the importance of diversity and inclusion in aging advocacy. Their efforts have not only improved the lives of older adults but have also paved the way for a more equitable and compassionate society. As we honor their legacies during Black History Month, let us continue to uplift and amplify the voices of those dedicated to serving aging communities, ensuring that their contributions are never forgotten.