Jan 14, 2022
This weekend, we remember and celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. I recently read the full text of Dr. King’s memorable “I Have a Dream” speech, which he gave in August 1963 in Washington D.C. As I think back on the past two years, I realize that Dr. King’s words are still true 59 years later.
In this historic speech, Dr. King referred to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as a promissory note in which “was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Dr. King had an unshakeable belief that all people should be treated equal. This equality includes all people, regardless of any differences, including age and ability. The civil rights movement encompassed positive changes for Americans aged 60 and over.
The Older Americans Act (OAA), which passed in 1965, provides for adequate income in retirement, adequate health care, housing, long-term care, recreation community services, freedom and self-determination, and protection against abuse, neglect, and exploitation for people aged 60 and older. It was the first federal level initiative aimed at providing comprehensive services for older adults. This legislation has been amended and adapted as the world has changed and needs were identified. For example, Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), such as SeniorCare Inc., and the national nutrition program for the elderly were established fifty years ago. More recently, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, additional funds have provided $1.12 billion in FY2020 and $1.609 billion in FY2021 for OAA programs and activities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.
As we age, we often become prone to illness, disability and often lower income. All of this creates unique civil rights challenges. The Older American Act and its subsequent amendments are there to help support the rights of older Americans.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 people over the age of 60 are in some way serviced by the Older Americans Act. There is now an infrastructure across the United States known as the national aging services network. This network’s key service includes information and referral services. Regardless of where you live in the United States if you need homemaker or personal care services, home delivered or congregate meals, caregiver support, preventive health service, job training, transportation, legal assistance, or elder abuse prevention resources, you can find that information at your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). SeniorCare Inc. is the local AAA for nine towns on the North Shore– Beverly, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield, and Wenham. Our neighboring communities are served by AgeSpan (formerly Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, www.agespan.org) and Greater Lynn Senior Services (www.glss.net).
While older Americans are not recognized as a constitutionally protected class, additional legislation has been passed throughout the years to further protect the vulnerabilities of aging. The 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects applicants and employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
As we contemplate Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for fairness and equality this weekend, let’s not forget that equality, love, support and compassion are of the same family. We must ensure that all Americans are treated with respect and dignity.
Let’s remember Dr. King’s closing in 1963 “When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
The full text of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech is available online at www.archives.gov.