The National Council of Elders

Special to The TelegraphSeptember 12, 2012 

On Wednesday, the newly formed National Council of Elders will release the Greensboro Declaration, the first statement of the organization since its founding a month ago. The NCOE founding conference was held in Greensboro, N.C., site of the historic Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins in 1960, that represented a major advance in the civil rights struggle.

The declaration will be presented at significant historic sites of struggle and freedom seeking work, with the anchor site being the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C.

Other sites will be in Detroit and New York. Dr. Grace Lee Boggs, a 97-year-old Detroit revolutionary theorist and activist, the oldest member of the NCOE and author of the “The Next American Revolution,” said, “This statement represents a new epoch. It calls on Americans to become engaged in a different kind of citizenship, one that transforms their souls in addition to asking them to go to the polls.” This statement exemplifies the spirit of the civil rights and human rights veterans who called the NCOE into formation.

Those veterans are, Dr. Vincent Harding, the Rev. James Lawson, the Rev. Phil Lawson, Dolores Huerta and Dr. Boggs, along with others who represent decades of committed activism in every major human rights movement of the 20th century.

It was clear to these elders that there was a continuing and critical role for elders to play in the human rights movements in the U.S. The Occupy Movement emerged during the time that the founders were considering ways to go forward with organizing the council.

As their work to organize continued, a clear national connection between the council and the Occupy Movement emerged. As Dr. Harding put it, “We realized that human societies are at their best when youth and elders combine their gifts. We can serve, teach and inspire each other across generational lines as we carry out the never ending work of ‘creating a more perfect union and a more compassionate world.’” Members of the NCOE will continue to extend their support to the Occupy Movement and other younger generation activists while continuing their own civic engagement in arenas where they have worked for years.

Along with this they will document and archive their own movement experiences in order to leave a substantial, accessible legacy for the justice workers who will come after them.

I can barely express my deep gratitude to these wonderful warriors who have laid down their lives for justice for decades and who continue to envision ways to embrace the long journey toward true justice and freedom for all in our land.

While I know some of the NCOE members personally, I have not met others, but it is clear they have captured a vision that will bear fruit for all of us. This is a marvelous model for this community to reflect upon. Where are the elders among us who are helping the passionate young people who are innovative and creative in their efforts to bring about change? How are we working to build the connection between youth and elders?

Perhaps I have missed hearing about that work in this community, because I don’t know where it exists here.

All of us who are past 60-years-old can testify to the ways in which we see the world in a different way than we saw it in our earlier years, and if we have been engaging the justice issues that face us, we should have something to share with the youth. They don’t need us to tell them what to think and how to engage their work, nor our criticism. They need our wisdom, support and love. We need to consider forming a Council of Elders.

In order to learn more about the NCOE, visit their website at

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. E-mail her at

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