When we unveiled our request for stories for the new Diverse Elders Stories Initiative back in April, I wasn’t sure what kind of responses we would get. What are the challenges facing our elders and their communities? How can we put those challenges into concise, thoughtful stories? Would anyone write to us at all?
Thankfully, Mikael Wagner arrived to assuage my fears. He sent us his story within a week of our call for submissions – the first person to do so – and it was everything I could have hoped for in a story. Mikael was diagnosed with HIV in 1982, and found himself at a loss as “one by one, two by two, and then 20 by 20, I started to lose my best friends, colleagues, and lovers.” He found solace in his mom, who told him, “All of your friends are dying and so are mine. So, let’s figure out this together and how we will survive.”
More than thirty years later, Mikael is flourishing. He runs a marketing company for diverse communities called Promotions West, and he is a Volunteer Leader with AARP of California. He recently returned to the Bay Area after a one-year assignment with the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington, DC where he managed a national youth anti-drug media campaign with the White House. In 2005, KQED featured Mikael as one of their Local Heroes, and it’s not hard to see why. “Life has taught me that aging does not mean getting old and feeling depressed,” Mikael writes in his story. “Aging means using all of your insightful experience that has been acquired along the way and transforming your life into a magical experience to reach new goals or to expand your life. Reimagining life is making what could be into what is.”
I’m so inspired by the work that Mikael is doing and the ways in which he has reimagined his life and the lives of others. As he notes in his story, “I never thought I would say it, but getting older has helped me to spread my wings, expand my mind, and push beyond the barriers that I created to protect or imprison myself. I am wise enough to know that all sorts of negativity exists in society against those in the LGBT community, against communities of color and against older people in the workforce, but I refuse to be put down because of any of those negative thoughts.” What a beautiful sentiment for Pride Month – and every month.
Do you have a story to tell? Share it with us here.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.