Celebrating Black History Month: The Past, Present, and Future of Care

Celebrating Black History Month: The Past, Present, and Future of Care
Blog Stories Celebrating Black History Month: The Past, Present, and Future of Care

To close out Black History Month, we’re sharing perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future of Care featuring Black Women leaders in our movement. 

Bridgit Antoinette Evans is the CEO of Pop Culture Collaborative, one of the foremost thought leaders in the Culture Change space, and helped to develop our Culture Change Strategy in our early days. 

Josephine Kalipeni is the Executive Director of Family Values @ Work. Prior to joining FV@W, she worked as our Director of Policy and Federal Affairs for six years. 

Rebekah Azaylia Alexander is our Individual Giving Manager, and came to Caring Across Generations as a Care Fellow in 2018. 

Read on to hear what they have to say about how care shows up in their families, how COVID changed how our society thinks about care, and what they want the future of care to look like. 


How does care show up in your family?

Bridgit: My partner and I both have a very very tight extended family. My dad is an incredible caregiver in our family, and my mom has always shown up for my sister and I. I’ve always been very proud of the instincts towards caregiving that we all have – whether it’s around illness or child care or anything else. 

Josephine and her family
Josephine and her family

Josephine: Care has looked a lot of different ways in my family. I’m from Malawi, and care across multiple generations and multiple families is very common there. Families tend to stay in the same communities for generations, so you just get to know everybody, and there’s a communal sense of responsibility to take care of each other. 

In my family, my mom was a nurse and a domestic worker and my sister is a nurse. At points, both of them have had difficulty managing care in their professional lives and personal lives, and they have also shared stories of devastated families who couldn’t afford the quality of care they wanted for their loved ones. As deeply compassionate people, there’s a great emotional toll that doing care work takes on both of them. This is all while my mom was managing the care of my Dad whose chronic illnesses were worsening with time and age.

Rebekah and her mom and grandmother
Rebekah and her mom and grandmother

Rebekah: I’ve been a caregiver in my family for about 10 years. At that time, my grandmother came to live with us from Puerto Rico after my maternal grandfather passed away. My mom and I certainly had very different plans for that chapter of our lives, but we were proud to do it for her. But pretty quickly, my mother and I realized that our resources were not enough for the level of support that she needed, and outside support was completely inadequate and hard to access. 


How did care look in your family in the past?

Bridgit and her baby niece
Bridgit and her niece

Bridgit: In the past, it always seemed like care was about the short term moments in our lives when we needed that support. We just rose up and showed up for each other. At that time, my parents were of an age where their needs were always short term. 

Josephine: In the past, care seemed like a thing that was mostly about my mom and my dad. My dad had a chronic illness, and my mom was his primary caregiver. And it never felt like it was going to go beyond that. 

Rebekah: In those first years, we really came to grips with the challenges of care. It felt like we were the only people we knew who were struggling to figure out how to make it all work. My grandmother deteriorated at such a fast pace that at some points we even blamed ourselves, wondering what could have happened. But in hindsight, we realized that she had also been a caregiver for a very, very long time. My grandfather’s condition placed a heavy toll on her. 


What does care look like in your family now?

Bridgit's Mama Necklace
Bridgit’s “Mama” necklace

Bridgit: I have a child now, and so I am deeply connected to and grateful for the child care provider who we worked with and the support systems my child has come to understand and rely on. At the same time, my parents are aging and are beginning to think about how they want to grow older. And personally, I am disabled, so I’m considering what I might need at different points in my life. My spouse is a tremendous caregiver herself and has had to rise to the occasion with me in ways that were unexpected even a year ago.

Josephine: My dad passed on in 2020, and now my siblings and I are in the process of figuring out care for my mom – all while planning to start our own families. I just hope that this time around, it’s different – that we can access the culturally competent, compassionate care we need when we need it. And I think it’s going to have to be different. Where we go from here sets the course of the impact on care and caregiving for the next generations. 

Rebekah and her mom, holding a funeral prayer card for her grandmother
Rebekah and her mom, holding a funeral prayer card for her grandmother

Rebekah: My grandmother passed away last year, but I’m still a caregiver in a lot of ways. Caregiving for my grandmother took a toll on my mom’s health, and I’ve navigated being a caregiver for her at points throughout this journey. I call myself the CEO of care right now in my circle of friends and family – people are always asking me for advice! 


How has care changed in society over the years?

Bridgit: Before I began working with Caring Across, to me, care was invisible. But as soon as you hear about it, you begin to see it everywhere: the need for caregivers and all of the circles of care and support all around you, within your family and community. But it took the Caring Across team to really help me recognize all of these invisible layers of infrastructure, of labor, and of networks of communities that are at play in our society.

Josephine: The ability for families to be able to better care for their loved ones hasn’t changed much in the past decade, and I feel like we’re trapped in the same cycles that rely on women to do all the care in an unrecognized and undervalued way. I think about how, in 2008, the Affordable Care Act debates and conversations were really heating up. It was one of many historical moments where equality regarding care and health care was at the top of our nation’s discourse. So it feels like certain things didn’t change, and we keep repeating these conversations in different iterations because policymakers can’t muster the courage to do what our families know is needed. 

Rebekah: Our current systems of care are just as destabilized as they were in the past. But at least care is part of the conversation now. In the past, care was a private battle. Caregivers like us were just constantly getting sympathy or empathy, or sometimes it even felt like pity. But now, it feels like folks really recognize where we are at and our experiences resonate with them, and even help them be comfortable in sharing their own experiences. 


How has the pandemic changed how we, as a society, think about care?

Bridgit: The pandemic has made it so clear to so many more people that care infrastructure, and the care circles within our own lives, are so critical to our ability to be well and thrive. And on a political scale, the awareness of the importance of care and the visibility of the care conversation has changed dramatically. 

Josephine: Care is really top of mind right now, in a very different way than it was before. Before, there was this kind of obliviousness around the care we’ll all need or provide. The pandemic really woke people up to the challenges of our failing care systems. Now, people really understand that our care foundation is way more fragile than anyone, with or without care experience, would have ever thought before. 

Rebekah: COVID-19 has really brought to bear how the lack of a strong care infrastructure is really debilitating and destabilizing for the entire economy. We are finally hearing about how important women’s contributions to the workforce really are, and how detrimental it is when they do not have the support they need to balance their careers and their lives. We’re also finally talking about how we honor the humanity of people who receive care. Care is an ethics issue, and how we choose to allow our loved ones to age, and under what conditions, says a lot about our society. 

On a more personal level, my neighbors, friends, and colleagues are all talking about care, and we’re having more honest conversations about the helplessness people feel with our current options. In some ways, it’s a profoundly sad moment, but it’s also motivating us to demand what we need. It is deeply unfortunate that it took such a tragic turn of events to really awaken the nation to the care infrastructure we need to build. 


What gives you the most hope right now?

Bridgit: The work of Caring Across Generations is giving me a lot of hope right now. The organized movement strategy is systematically moving more and more people into this fight for the future of care and for a caring culture. And in the US, the impact that Caring Across is having is so palpable, and that brings me a lot of comfort. 

Josephine in a shirt that says "We Are the New Majority"
Josephine standing outside of government building

Josephine: My mom inspires me: just watching her constant perseverance and endurance, and seeing the hope that she maintains for our family, as well as our communal ability to get better and do better, gives me constant hope. 

I also get hope from seeing these moments of national transformation, where we see that our core values connect us across difference. For example, in the Olympics last year, mental health was front and center, and it was the experiences of Black women that seeded a national rallying call around wellness and wholeness. I see these moments – where the best of who we are, underlined by our shared values, really bubble to the top – and grab onto them and hold onto them as a source of hope for as long as I can. 

Rebekah: What gives me hope is that we’re actually talking about care, and that we have an administration that recognizes care, not only as a key social issue, but as a key economic driver. The path forward to a strong economic recovery is one that will give everyone the opportunity to provide for their families and to care for them. We are in a moment where we can reach that vision that we’re creating, our mission of care for all. 


What still needs to change?

Bridgit:  The big question right now is whether our political system is going to recognize and respond to the sea change around care, or if they are going to continue to drag down the pace of change. We are on a path from individualism to a sense of the collective well-being of the whole. That kind of momentum needs to continue to build and build. Care and social supports need to become core infrastructure and be normalized in the same way as other kinds of infrastructure. 

Josephine: There is still an ongoing need for us to see each other as interconnected. Despite our differences, we are fundamentally connected to each other. The impacts of experiences are different and inequitable by race and gender but our need for care and the demands for caregiving connect us. That’s a realization that we have to hold as unshakeable in our hearts, and pass it down to the next generation. 

We also need policies to change to respond better to who we are today – to what our families look like, to what care looks like, and to what our communities look like. 

And finally, I’m a strong believer that our thinking around ability needs to change: we need to realize that ability is very fragile. I think that, if we all knew that, we would look at our communities and how they operate in a very different way, and come up with new and better solutions. 

Rebekah: We need to have broader conversations around the financial implications of inaction. We cannot walk away from or shelve these decisions any longer. And when our policymakers make these decisions, they must center people of color, who are most directly impacted right now, and uplift the views and experiences of people of all economic statuses. 

We must also make it clear to all Americans that, regardless of where you are in the ideological spectrum or in terms of economic status, our systems don’t work for you. Almost everybody is one health care crisis away from financial ruin. We’ve created a system in which nobody’s safe, and we need to fix it. 


What do you want the future of care to look like in your family?

Bridgit: I would really love to have access to care beyond my family members. Care workers who are well resourced, well trained and well supported and valued in society. I would like the experience of building professional care support into your family to be normal and stress free and widely accessible. 

Josephine’s vision for the future, as illustrated by Lucy Gosline Art

Josephine: As my mom ages, I would love for her to still have the same level of access to family and community that brings her joy in a way that’s not restrictive, and in a way that doesn’t worry us, as her family, or stress us out financially, emotionally, and physically. I don’t want to have to think about if she is experiencing inequitable care because she is a Black immigrant aging woman. 

I’m the oldest child of six. None of us have kids yet, but I think that’s in the future for many of us. I would love to see multiple generations be able to spend time together and share stories and live in joy and thrive together in a way that’s not burdened by our inability to access and afford care. 

Rebekah’s vision for the future, as illustrated by Lucy Gosline Art

Rebekah: I imagine a world in which we’ve created the kind of infrastructure where, no matter what care needs I have, whether it’s for children or parents or anyone in between, I can pick up the phone and ask, “What can I do?” “What are my options?” and have someone on the other end, who cares just as much as I do about finding a solution, to provide me with choices and guidance. That’s what I want for myself, for my friends, and for my children.


What do you want care in society to look like, and what do we need to do to get there?

Bridgit’s vision of the future, as illustrated by Lucy Gosline Art

Bridgit: I hope that someday we will have a relationship to aging and to disability that is rooted in innovation rather than deficit: that we’re not shaping our thinking based on ableism, but that we understand that change and evolution within ourselves, within our bodies, within our families and within our communities is about abundance and not about what we lack or what we’ve lost. 

I believe that younger audiences, like millennials and Gen Z, hold the power to normalize these transformations, and normalize the idea that the transformations in ability we experience throughout our lives can make our lives more abundant, rather than less. 

Josephine: My ideal future when it comes to care is full of choices and options that work for all sorts of people in all sorts of family configurations, wherever people are. I hope we can live in intergenerational communities that are diverse and interconnected, where people share vegetables from their gardens and check on their neighbors and can get where they need to go without restrictions. Care has to work for a disabled Black immigrant working caregiver. To build this future, we need to see the importance of how it will allow us to connect with each other more and build community.

Rebekah: My priority for the future is that all of us can have access to home and community based care. All of us will need to take time to care or be cared for, and we need a system where everybody can access what they need, in the way that works for them. 

How do we get there? Care needs to be recognized as legitimate labor, critical to the physical, mental, and financial wellbeing of our communities. Care jobs must be valued and paid well so that we can attract the workforce that we need, and immigrant care workers should have the opportunity to apply for citizenship. Care providers should be recognized and celebrated, both for the labor that they do and for the acts of service that they perform. Care needs to be recognized as a universal issue regardless of gender or status or economic or racial or religious background.

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