Building Intergenerational Communities

Photo by Stephen Shames | Words By Maria P. Chaves Daza

Remember that Sunday when Beyoncé shook the world with her Formation performance at the Super Bowl? Remember how her wardrobe sparked outrage? Remember how soon after the mainstream media began to call the Black Panther Party a “subversive hate group” and compared them to the KKK? Some even blamed her for violence against cops. There were many articles breaking down who and what the Black Panther Party stood for but none outlined their actual work.

A few weeks ago, while visiting Ithaca, NY, my partner and I found a copy of the Black Panther Party’s own words while  browsing an antique store. On one of the magazine shelves stood an unassuming publication edited by the Black Panther Party. In 1974 they guest edited The CoEvolution Quarterly, a supplement to the Whole Earth Catalogue. After purchasing this for six dollars (!) I went home and poured over all of the amazing information about their programs and reflected on their work and how it informs my own personal and political commitments; specifically how we construct and take care of our communities.

There is one aspect of community that I am most concerned with, but, that always seems to evade our conversations: our elders. Where is the intergenerational concern in our organizing?

Lately, I have taken some time to dream with my chosen family about our future. Where, how and with whom will we live with as we continue to grow and age? How will we create a community outside of the nuclear hetero capitalistic ideals that are at the center of our oppression? How will we feel fulfilled? How will we nourish our community?

At the center of all of these concerns is our own aging. And deeper than this is our relationship with our elders and their role, or lack thereof, in our lives.  Ten years ago, I left one of my homes (I build home wherever I go). I don’t think I will return. But, I think about my grandmother and the other grandmothers on my block; my mom and the other mothers that were a part of raising me.  I think about the time that they spend alone and their general needs.


The issue of CoEvolution Quarterly that I picked up outlined all of the programs the Black Panther Party initiated within their community. One of the programs was The Seniors Against a Fearful Environment (SAFE) program which directly addressed the needs of the elders in that community. I found it interesting how the program developed.  It was initiated at the request of a group of senior citizens because they were experiencing violence when picking up their social security checks. They approached the Black Panther Party because they were mugged and attacked for their money and when they went to the Oakland Police department to ask for protection they were told “to walk close the curb” for their safety. The police left their safety up to them, not taking responsibility for the safety of the community. One member of the senior citizen community stated, “the fear engendered among us old people by these muggings almost makes us prisoners in our own homes.” How ironic that the police who were supposed to keep people safe, failed at providing protection and freedom of movement to this community even in 1974. In fact, 33 % of crimes in Oakland at this time were committed against senior citizens.

SAFE  provided free transportation and escort services to the residents of Satellite Senior Homes in Oakland. This was the bare minimum function for the program based on its initial budget.  However, there were five more goals for the program as funding increased.
  1. To provide round- the-clock transportation services (to senior citizens) in Alameda County, at no cost to low-income elderly residents who otherwise would have no means of transport… to do vital shopping, to keep medical appointments, and other necessary commitments.
  2. Provide delivery services of life-sustaining food, medical prescriptions and medicine…
  3. Provide assistance in moving household furnishings within Almeda County at no cost to low-income persons…
  4. Provide an escort to senior citizens as they to and from recreational, entertainment and social facilities, and activities, in order to prevent assaults against, and robberies of, elderly persons.
  5. Encourage a spirit of respect for, and concern about, the special needs of the elderly through the presentation of educational programs and the distribution of educational and scientific materials…
The SAFE program also aims to unite Black and poor communities by actively recruiting and hiring a number of our youth to help implement these much needed services. Both drivers and escorts will be recruited from among the youth and unemployed in our community; a strategy which, at the same time, will cut down the number of youth who would consider snatching a pocketbook just to get a little change. In addition, drivers and escorts will be given extensive training in their respective fields, with both groups receiving intensive safety and first aid instruction. (19)


The SAFE program is exemplary of what intergenerational justice looks like. The program recognized and prioritized the needs of the senior citizen community and implemented practical solutions to the problems identified by the senior citizens themselves. Further, within the plan for implementation SAFE incorporated the youth of the community as part of the solution. In providing training for the drivers and escorts, they enriched the general knowledge of the community.  The youth not only helped the elders but gained knowledge to use outside of their role within SAFE; giving the youth skills they could use and share with other parts of their community. For example, first aid instruction could be applied to the playground, school, and the home. The Black Panther Party understood that to address community problems the community must identify the issue and provide the solution from within and specifically with the help of all parts of community; creating an intergenerational and anti-individualist idea of what we mean by community. Giving jobs and a purpose and helping to educate the youth about the needs and contributions of the elders also provided a way to dream about the future.

The future that becomes possible is an intergenerational one. The future then becomes possible outside of the state sanctioned institutions that refuse to protect us. The future that becomes possible among members of a community  willing to listen and address problems with action. The future becomes possible because everyone understands the needs of the different age groups within the community and recognizes them as necessary. The future becomes possible because we are responsible for each other’s safety and well-being.  The future becomes possible because we will not let anyone be a prisoner of their homes and prevent institutional imprisonment. The future becomes possible because we have a sense of a future where the members of our community will take care of us like we take care of our elders now.


Maria P. Chaves Daza is a Latinx feminist scholar, has a Master in Philosophy from the Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture program, and a is Doctoral candidate in English at SUNY-Binghamton University in upstate New York. Born in Colombia, they had the privilege to live in large immigrant cities like Miami and Chicago. These immigrant communities and the matriarchs of their family have given them the perspective and exposure to quotidian feminist practices which inspire their scholarly and community work.

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