Betty Johnson (in middle with her plaque), along with Dr. Meredith Minkler, UC Berkeley School of Public Health professor and program founder, and Jonathan Malagon, project director of the California Senior Leaders Program.
All 29 recipients of the statewide California Senior Leaders Award, along with Dr. Minkler and Jonathan Malagon, Betty is in the second row, fourth person from the left
After a long professional career, Elizabeth “Betty” Johnson is as busy in retirement as she’s ever been. As chair of the Inglewood Senior Project Advisory Committee, she provides leadership and advocacy on issues like senior food insecurity, transportation, housing and health care. She also works with AARP and the California Senior Legislature, and with groups like the Black Women’s Forum and the Museum of African American Art, for which she sits on the board.
In recognition of her outstanding contributions to community building and healthy aging, Johnson was selected as one of 29 seniors throughout the state to receive a “California Senior Leaders Award” from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and The California Wellness Foundation. The award, presented every other year for the past 12 years, honors Californians aged 60 to 95 who were chosen for their outstanding contributions to community building, healthy aging and social justice.
The award ceremony on March 8 was the culmination of a two-day event in Oakland’s historic Jack London Square, designed to shine a spotlight on the often invisible volunteer role of California’s rapidly growing senior population. The awardees participated in two days of training and recognition, during which skill-building sessions on topics like working with the mass media and fundraising in tough economic times were interspersed with networking sessions. Participants each were linked with graduate students in the School of Public Health, who will check in with them bi-monthly for the next six months, learning from their experiences and arranging technical assistance as needed on their community building and healthy aging projects. “The intergenerational component of the program is one of its greatest assets,” said Jonathan Malagon, a graduate student who serves as project director. Also participating in the program this year are two Senior Leaders from earlier cohorts, who introduced the new group to the cross-class California Senior Leaders Alliance, created to build on the talents and energy of this diverse leadership group to educate the public and policy makers alike on key issues facing seniors and their families.
UC Professor Meredith Minkler, who developed the program, points out that it is solidly based in research.
“Not only have seniors been called our only expanding natural resource,” she says, “but we now have strong scientific studies showing that active engagement with life is one of the most important contributors to a healthy old age. A project like this one can both honor seniors for their invaluable contributions, and, by supporting them in this work, hopefully contribute to their own healthy aging as well.”
With the induction of the 6th class, more than 150 California Senior Leaders will have been honored. And many continue to work their own communities, as well as together in the state Capitol, to work for change. In so doing, Elizabeth “Betty” Johnson is helping to change our images of what “retirement” and later life are all about.