Octogenarian Hopes To Be Part Of The Racism Solution

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Boomer JoEllen Collins enjoys time with her GenZ grandkids. Photo credit: JoEllen Collins

Longtime Valley educator to launch meetup group on race

By Eric Valentine

Boomer JoEllen Collins enjoys time with her GenZ grandkids. Photo credit: JoEllen Collins

If you could cross a think tank, a group therapy session and a book club, what would you get? That’s what JoEllen Collins wants to find out, and there’s no better time than now to do so.

Now 83, Collins is part of the “boomer” generation and she wants to be part of the solution when it comes to our nation’s current and ongoing introspection on systemic racism.

“I fear what the younger generation is facing from what we’ve left them,” Collins says after observing these past few weeks which have been filled with news of protests, a rethinking of policing, and a reexamining of certain societal norms that all play into racial and cultural tension.

Collins, who grew up in the mostly progressive Bay Area of California and taught English at the high school and community college level, never felt like she was on the racist side of the racism spectrum. In fact, she spent part of her 50s in the Peace Corps teaching English as a Second Language in Thailand after her daughters graduated from high school.

Nor does she see herself as racist now. But in light of recent events, she has been coming to terms with many racial insensitivities that she doesn’t want to pass down to the next generation.

“My favorite book as a kid was ‘Little Black Sambo’ and I don’t think that was necessarily harmful, but it created an image that wasn’t a positive one or the whole picture,” Collins said. There are a lot of people in her age group, Collins says, who would never define themselves as racist but are starting to see how some of their behaviors or their words can be construed that way.

“We didn’t always acknowledge things like this at the time,” Collins said. “They need a safe space where that can be explored.”

That’s why, on June 24 and 25, at Rotary Park in Ketchum, Collins is hosting the first “Grandmas For Change” discussion. The meeting will start at 3 p.m. All age groups are welcome, although the discussion will focus on thoughts and feelings of the elders in the community.

Collins said she doesn’t have specific plans for the group, but figures that there will be reading material participants can absorb on their own time and then report back to the group with their reactions, impressions and questions.

“I think it is time for my generation to rise up once more and listen, learn and communicate with each other and others in a civil forum and gain wisdom from examining our own reactions to all the chaos around us,” Collins said.