Tamy-Feé Meneide serves on the Executive Task Force of the Multicultural Coalition on Aging. She recently joined the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative Executive Committee to help promote greater diversity and inclusion within the Healthy Aging Collaborative. Tamy-Feé Meneide is currently the clinical research diversity coordinator at the Harvard Aging Brain Study.
What is the Multicultural Coalition on Aging (MCA) and what does it do?
The MCA is a group of dedicated individuals who are looking to improve the delivery of and access to culturally competent care for older adults, so that all services are available and acceptable to diverse populations. We are trying to help providers understand that being culturally sensitive is a part of providing excellent care. For instance, it’s important that older adults receive and share information in a language that they feel comfortable in, and it’s important to understand cultural customs like taking off one’s shoes when visiting someone’s home. Understanding and respecting these nuances help make people feel more comfortable, which goes a long way in building trust in communities that can feel afraid to rely on the healthcare system.
MCA has also transformed my thinking about diversity beyond skin color, to also recognize and include disability, socioeconomic status, and other factors beyond race and ethnicity.
For example, one of our Coalition members is legally deaf, and we have made sure that American Sign Language (ASL) is part of every presentation we do, and introduce ASL services to agencies that didn’t provide it before.
How has the MCA helped you to reach diverse populations for the Harvard Aging Brain Study?
The purpose of the Harvard Aging Brain Study is to understand how aging affects the brain, so that we can understand what healthy aging looks like and what factors can predict problems like Alzheimer’s disease. My job at the Harvard Aging Brain Study involves the recruitment, outreach, and retention of healthy older adults without memory loss, and to make sure that there is diversity among the study participants. We have completed enrollment with 300 study participants. Currently, twenty percent of enrollees are underrepresented minorities, spanning Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians. This percentage is much higher than most other brain studies and is about the percentage of minorities that are represented in the Boston area.
In reaching out to some of these underserved populations, we need to understand that we are entering a community that may not necessarily trust the medical field. There’s been a lot of history of underrepresented minorities being experimented on, like in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and so we are dealing with a lack of trust that has developed over many years.
A primary way of engaging these communities was for me and my team to insert ourselves as community members. I started off joining as many different communities as possible, like Seniors on the Move at the Roxbury YMCA, an intellectually and physically engaging program for seniors in the Roxbury community. I have also joined community agencies like the 60+ Veterans Group of Roxbury, who meet weekly at the 12th Baptist Church. By joining the Multicultural Coalition on Aging, I have been able to meet people from agencies servicing diverse populations that I might not have otherwise met, and gain people’s trust. The other members of the Multicultural Coalition respect my work as a colleague, and these gatekeepers allow me access to the older adult populations that I’m seeking to reach.
It does help that I am from a minority background myself, so when entering these different communities, I definitely blend in. But it took my first year attending these community meetings, sharing my voice, and participating in volunteer activities, before I was let in to speak to them about my research and the educational workshops that I provide. You have to be patient, and the level of engagement is sometimes a lot more than you would expect. But it’s an important investment, and we’re reaping the benefits of that now and will continue to do so as we remain an integral part of their communities.
How do people join the MCA?
I help with the membership committee for MCA, and so they can get directly in touch with me (email@example.com). The MCA meets the first Wednesday of every month in the Hebrew SeniorLife facility in Roslindale from 8:30 to 10am. To join, you don’t have to call me, you can just show up. You can also visit our website to find out more information: http://www.hebrewseniorlife.org/research-mca-membership-opportunities.
You recently joined the Executive Committee of the Healthy Aging Collaborative (HAC). What has that been like?
I was invited to join the Healthy Aging Collaborative Executive Committee to help expand the Collaborative’s work on diversity and inclusion. I am thrilled to join the Executive Committee. I’m excited to share my passion and my experience in working with diverse populations, and here I am at the table with different agencies that have powerful voices.
Some of the new work of the Collaborative revolves around building age-friendly communities in Massachusetts. Boston is one of the first cities in MA working towards designation as a World Health Organization (WHO) age-friendly city. The Boston Elderly Commission is looking at how Boston’s community demographics are changing and how health and safety and civic participation can be improved. Mayor Marty Walsh is a strong advocate for this program.
Making Boston an age-friendly city for older adults is making it wonderful for all ages. When we invest in an age friendly city, it means there’s investment in economic growth, we’re enabling happier and healthier citizens, and we’re elevating the quality of life for everyone. The Healthy Aging Collaborative strongly supports these efforts.
We’re all getting older. This is one trend that we will all have in common, and we want to be a part of making sure that when we’re there, we’re happy and healthy.