Linocut Artwork by Joan Kelly

Joan Kelly (ARTZ Philadelphia volunteer), linocut, June 2020

Letter From Our Executive Director to our ARTZ Philadelphia Community

This letter comes to you later than it should have and later than I wanted it to. In all honesty, the enormity of what we are confronting in our country and my desire to speak thoughtfully and responsibly — but also from my heart — are the primary reasons for that delay.

Our ARTZ Philadelphia community often looks inward for compassion and care and understanding.

What is outside our living rooms, our streets, our neighborhoods, our community of “people like us” is sometimes too demoralizing, too painful, too derisive and dismissive, too disenfranchising to bear. Living with dementia or loving someone with dementia often means being vulnerable to stereotypes, losing one’s unique identity to the demeaning generalizations that others overlay on “people like them.” We have some understanding as a community, then, of the experience of being “othered,” of being demeaned and dehumanized, and even in some cases, being left to die without comfort or compassion.

​Because of this, the events of the past weeks and months demand of us that we look outward, that we take up the challenge of reaching out to and sharing our compassion and empathy with other communities who have been systemically, painfully, and immorally dismissed, derided and disenfranchised.

​Dementia does not discriminate, our skins are black, they are brown and they are white. There is no “other” when it comes to dementia. But as with COVID-19, as with incarceration, and as with exposure to systematic brutality carried out by those sworn to protect the most vulnerable among us, dementia disproportionately affects people of color.

​​ARTZ Philadelphia is not a political organization. But we are an organization of, by and for community and compassion, advocating for the preservation of dignity and humanity in people who are too often perceived as having neither. If the events of the past weeks and months following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Tony McDade — and too horrifically many before them — are not about re-asserting the dignity and humanity of every individual, how can we otherwise make any sense at all of what has happened?

One of our Board members shared with me the following anecdote as I was preparing to write this letter to you:

You’ve asked about thoughts concerning the past week. For me it was a memory that had happened several years ago as I was riding a bus.

An African American man who couldn’t have been more than 20 years old got on the bus and sat near me. His face was glowing and in his excitement he turned to me to say that he had just come from a campaign rally for Barack Obama. He pulled out his phone to proudly show me the photo he had taken of Obama speaking to the crowd. I could see that this man believed in Obama’s mission of “HOPE.” I too believed that hope and justice was finally going to be achieved and quietly told the young man that I had planned to vote for Mr. Obama too. I remember the unrest of the 60’s. At that time I thought my generation would help to bring justice for all. I am appalled by the hatred I hear coming from Washington as though nothing had changed in the last 60 years.

I think of that young man sitting on the bus and wonder if he is disillusioned or is he peacefully marching in the name of HOPE?

This is the time for demonstrating in every action we take every day — small or large, routine or out of the ordinary — that we aspire to a different world, a world in which hope still has dominion; that black lives do matter; that we recognize injustice for what it is and are prepared to call it out; and that we see the pain of our black community members.

We are here for you.

Susan Shifrin
ARTZ Philadelphia, Executive Director