SHAPE Community Center director Deloyd Parker (r) seen here with Michelle Barnes, director of the Community Artists Collective during a 2017 event. Photo by Aswad Walker.

SHAPE Community Center is known for many things: being an iconic Third Ward center, its award-winning after school program, its Parenting Workshop, the annual Pan-African Festival, its leadership in the annual Citywide Kwanzaa festivities and much more.

One power aspect of that “much more” is SHAPE’s Elders Institute of Wisdom (EIW). “The EIW is a formal network of elders whose collective wisdom is drawn upon to educate and guide our community,” said SHAPE’s director Deloyd Parker.

The EIW meets at SHAPE every Tuesday and Thursday from 9am – 2pm (SHAPE, 3815 Live Oak, 77004) where participants are serves a nutritious meal most often prepared by Parker himself. They also exercise, dance, share their personal stories and histories and encourage one another via the fellowship.

But these seniors come together for more than just the food and fellowship. Parker says these elders have duties and responsibilities that come with their role as an elder, which is not a title bestowed upon an individual simply because they reach a certain age.

“Their duties and responsibilities are to advise and give guidance about activities of the village and share information that is beneficial to elder communities. They share ‘the story’ of our community and culture,” stated Parker.

According to Parker, there has always existed an informal network of Elders through SHAPE was founded in 1969. Thus, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact date when the EIW was founded. However, the EIW “is a formal network of elders whose collective wisdom is drawn upon to educate, guide, direct, and/or lead our community.”

In a 2016 interview for the Civil Rights in Black & Brown Oral History Project, Peggy Fontenette-Yates shared that one of her favorite times of year for EIW participation is the summer, when elders are paired with youth in SHAPE’s summer program.

“You’d be surprised how the children listen intently to us elders,” said Fontenette-Yates. “They listen to us closer than they do the younger adults.”

Fontenette-Yates takes that responsibility seriously, as she believes she and other EIW members have information critical to children, adolescents and teens.

“I have a quote that I always tell everybody: this generation knows how to die. We must teach them how to live. Things are killing them, whether it’s worry, whether it’s drugs, whether it’s their way of living. They know how to die, let’s teach them how to live. That’s wisdom.”

Nationally-renowned author and activist Perry McCary the EIW positively impacts not only youth and other community members, but the EIW participants, as well.

“The primary purpose and mission of the Elders Institute of Wisdom is to capture and instill the wisdom of those who have gone before us, or ancestors, as well as those who are still here with us, meaning the living elders,” said McCary. “The EIW exists to support these valued elders because we think sometimes, they get to be seniors and they should just kind of disappear or sit in a wheelchair over there in the corner. It turns out that they’ve got some great minds and some of them are in their eighties and their nineties. And they’re just remarkable.”

SHAPE’S ELDERS INSTITUTE OF WISDOM ACTIVITIES

  • OBRA TUMI FITNESS FOR HEALTH Exercise Class– to improve, restore and promote mental and physical health, longevity, fitness and to develop innate potentials. 
  • SHARING – passing on information to others about resources, education, health and mentoring. Village news is disseminated through our Elders group.
  • COMPUTER CLASSES – internet surfing, Microsoft Office basics.
  • ART CLASSES– creative expressions.
  • FOOD PREPARATION AND NUTRITION CLASSES– healthy food preparation and guest speakers.
  • LUNCH– wholesome healthy meal – veggie burgers, spinach salad, veggie spaghetti, plantains, raw foods etc. 
  • GARDENING CLASSES– planting herbs and vegetables at the Alabama garden.
  • MENTORING YOUNG PEOPLE – S.H.A.P.E.’s After School Enrichment and Summer Enrichment Programs youth.
  • OUTINGS– Library, African Art Galleries, Buffalo Soldiers Museum, Sunfired Health Foods, Ensemble Theatre, Arizona Eden, Community Involvement Protests and/or Demonstrations and City Council Meetings.
  • SPEAKER ONCE A MONTH– special luncheon
  • ELDER OF THE MONTH AWARD– attendance, participation and sharing.

QUALIFICATIONS TO BECOME AN ELDER OF OUR PEOPLE & COMMUNITY

  • You must be known in the village/community.
  • You must be a longtime resident of our village/community.
  • You must show evidence of self-determination.
  • You must have respect for all ages, gender, and ethnicity.
  • You must have African-centered values and behaviors.
  • You must be able to discern the needs of our people.
  • You must be committed to improving community conditions.
  • You must be a spiritual, trustworthy, and moral person.
  • You must be willing and ready to serve the people/village.
  • You must be 50 years or older.

CATEGORIES OF ELDERS

There are two categories of Elders in our village/community:

Elder in Training: 50-57 years old with the above qualities and who is still developing, learning, and evolving. Certified Elder: 58 years and older with the above qualities and who is still learning and evolving. 

DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES OF AN ELDER

  1. Advise and give guidance about activities of the village.
  2. Serve as an extended family member to youth and families.
  3. Serve as a role model for youth and families.
  4. Serve as advocates for youth and families.
  5. Share “the story” of the community and culture.
  6. Play a major role in all African-American celebrations, especially Rites of Passages for our Youth.