In late April, I was honored and blessed to facilitate one session of diversity and inclusion unlike any that crossed my path in recent years.
Two leaders who each serve clientele at the opposite ends of generational continuum in Lee’s Summit decided to bring together their clients together for the goal of bridging age gaps: Kevin Daniel, associate superintendent of instruction and leadership at the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District serves students from kindergarten to grade 12, and Kelli Snell, director of residential life at John Knox Village serves citizens in their “third age.”
Of the 70 participants, half were students from R-7 middle schools and half seniors from John Knox. They all attended the 105-minute session at the R-7 central office boardroom.
The setting was perfect for the occasion: a nice lunch served to all, and seating designed to have a youth sitting next to a resident. As soon as participants took their seats, conversations started between these people of different ages who had never met each other before. Members of the R-7 leadership team, including the associate and assistant superintendents and most central office directors, actively participated in all activities and interacted with all participants, thus making the event very inclusive.
Today’s children and older people have limited opportunities for meaningful interactions in Lee’s Summit. As in most places in the nation, generations are divided emotionally, physically and socially.
They are missing exciting opportunities to learn and share. The National Institute of Senior Centers reports that isolation of seniors may result in growing tensions with youth if lack of understanding leads to fear of the young. Other research shows that children who don’t have enough opportunities to interact with their grandparents are likely to have negative feelings about being old. If, however, children have enough contact with older people, they usually feel comfortable to be with them and have more understanding about aging. Some studies indicate that most people in their third age who are living in residential facilities feel lonely and depressed, and that is one major cause of suicide.
John Knox Village and R-7 schools want to break the cycle of age isolation in this community and enhance socialization and recreation. The purpose of this session was to provide opportunities for young people to interact and learn from seniors as well as for seniors to enjoy meaningful experiences and relationships with children. This will lead to the appreciation of the cultures of the various generations represented in the city, by providing them with practical tools to break age barriers and build efficient relationships across generations.
For the sake of increasing interactions among participants, three questions were asked, to which participants shared with each other and changed partners to seek responses to each of the questions: 1) how often they interact with persons from the opposite end of your age; 2) what are the advantages of frequent interactions with people from the opposite end of your age; and 3) what types of activities would bring together in a meaningful way persons of the opposite end of their age. The discussion reports were eye-opening from all sides.
The value of advanced age was highlighted in most communities around the world, especially in Africa. We then moved to have everyone participate in the most meaningful interactive activity ever created for all ages, one that enhances the exercise and the development of both the brain and the body, and builds character.
Imagine a group activity that reaches across all cultural boundaries, fully delights and engages all participants, promotes respect and acceptance of each other, helps build trust, and boosts their self-esteem in a fun, enjoyable and very relaxed environment. It’s called Yan-koloba! Yan-koloba is a game with roots reaching back in the cultural fabric and traditions of Africa. As the African community is generally divided by age and gender, children and adults, men and women do not play the same social games. Yan-koloba is the only African game that brings around the same circle young and old, males and females thus building inclusion and strong community bridges.
Playing Yan-koloba (which means “Watch Out” or “Take Care”), requires that participants sing a traditional African song that sets the pace while passing wooden blocks rhythmically, simultaneously and continuously to each other. I was amazed to hear the seniors continuing to sing in choir the Yan-koloba song after the session, as they were boarding their bus to go back to their residence. It would not be surprising if the Yan-koloba chanting continued on the bus and beyond.