Aging While Black

During Black History Month, local church helps seniors get health and financial assistance.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Winifred Johnson sat in the basement of New Hope Church in Vienna listening to a group of fellow members in her small congregation discuss and offer solutions to the health disparities, both financial and physical, between African American seniors and their white counterparts. 

“We go down stairs after we’re filled with the Holy Ghost during our service, have lunch and listen to these young people,” she said.

The workshop, “Aging While Black,” was created by three church members, a cardiac nurse, a retired primary care physician and an accountant. Held each Sunday afternoon during Black History Month, the one-hour sessions are designed to help elderly members of New Hope’s congregation locate and gain access to health care providers and financial experts who understand and respect the cultural practices and experiences that can be attributed to their current health and financial woes.

“They’ve experienced a lifetime of racism in employment, health and education. … You name it and they can tell you a story about an experience they’ve had with discrimination,” said Angela Belton, RN, a cardiac nurse and one of the program’s creators. “We’re helping them because we owe it to them because of all that they’ve endured.”

“A lot of our members use home remedies when they get sick because they don’t trust doctors,” said one of the creators. “Instead of seeing a cardiologist, they treat high blood pressure by eating a clove of garlic stuffed into a banana slice or treat flu symptoms with honey, lemon juice and whiskey.”

Getting help from people they know and trust often quells suspicions of African American seniors and removes some of the barriers to services that they need. explains Belton.

“We do everything from helping them choose a doctor who takes Medicare to making a list of questions to ask their doctor,” she said. “Some of our younger church members have even accompanied our elderly members to their doctor’s appointments to make sure they’re getting the help they need, sharing the right information and remembering what the doctor told them to do.”

Social Security is the primary source of income for the majority of New Hope’s elderly members, which limits their quality of life. 

“So far we’ve taught them how to manage the money that they get each month so that they can stretch it enough to help meet their basic needs. Some don’t even get enough money to do that,“ said financial advisor and co-creator Kristen Baker. “The members who are blessed to live in their own home oftentimes have a house that needs repairs to make them safe and livable. Our younger members who’re handy have gone in and made repairs.”

The month-long workshop has been a source of strength and comfort to New Hope’s seniors.

“It’s so good that we can help our own in our own community,” said Johnson.