Juanita Davis the Associate Director for the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL)

The NYC Elder Abuse Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, in our strive to honor our commitment to the advancement of racial equity within the elder justice field, wanted to highlight individuals who are making advancements in the field. This month, we feature Juanita Davis, a leader in the elder justice field.

Juanita Davis is the Associate Director for the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL), a project of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin (End Abuse). In her role at NCALL, she provides national leadership, technical assistance, and training to professionals across the country on various topics related to abuse in later life, including advancing equity principles and enhancing responses to survivors from marginalized communities. She oversees NCALL’s work on the Office for Victims of Crime’s National Resource Center on Reaching Underserved Victims. She also develops training resources, materials, and publications related to abuse in later life.

Juanita, and her NCALL team,  developed the Increasing Access to Healing Services and Just Outcome for Older African American Crime Survivors Toolkit, to provide professionals the tools they needed to step away from color-blind practices that limit our ability to serve a survivor if they can’t tell their whole story. She realized, early on, that African-American older survivors were constrained to provide full accounts of their lived experiences of abuse and adversity because they didn’t want to burden professionals there to help them. She wanted to give people of color a way to tell their story without feeling guilty for placing that burden on the people there to help them. Through the toolkit, which comprises useful assessment tools for professionals, Juanita hopes to support more professionals in the field unburden their client’s trauma.

Read Juanita’s thoughts on race and elder justice.

On a racial equity lens as being critical in elder justice

I believe that having a racial equity lens is critical in elder justice work because  race in society, historically and into the present, has always mattered in some way. The very origin story of this country is one that is complicit with and saturated in white supremacy. And while we have, over time, rooted out some of the most offensive and overt defenses to that doctrine within our social institutions, we have replaced those notions with the paradigm of colorblindess which is also problematic because creates systems and structures of racial privilege and it allows for more nuanced, covert forms of racial domination and racial inequity to linger.

Examples of the acceptance of colorblindess and colorblind approaches within elder justice work and within the elder abuse field abound. Older victims who are BIPOC, immigrants, refugees, and others are deeply marginalized. Service providers and support networks/individuals doing great work within minoritized communities (i.e. culturally-specific service providers) are tokenized, or engaged in inequitable partnerships with mainstream organizations, or devalued, exploited or otherwise made invisible and without access to critical social capital within the field. Structurally, we are beholden to a carceral response that reproduces racial inequity and is not capable of creating actual racial equity or building trust with many older victims in a way that can enhance their safety and quality of life.

A racial equity lens/paradigm is critical in elder justice work because it would function to positively impact our methods of building knowledge, our ways of analyzing our (in)effectiveness, our responses to the issues facing older victims, and our answers to critiques of our actions. Having this lens would also allow elder justice work to move closer towards a model of action that allocates dignity and respect equally for each older victim and moves us closer to the values we profess as a field.

On contributing to racial equity 

 My background is in education, law, and advocacy. In each of my formal work positions, I have been a strong voice for uprooting white supremacy and racial inequality. Each day at NCALL, I have worked toward that personal mission, whether it’s in the context of internal strategic development or in my trainings/technical assistance, and consultation with grantees, allied organizations and professionals, and/or the broader public.

Most recently, beginning in 2016, I worked to oversee NCALL’s work with the National Resource Center for Reaching Victims (reachingvictims.org) which is a one-stop shop for information, training, and technical assistance around increasing access to healing and just outcomes for marginalized victims of crime. Through that work, I was the lead author on the Increasing Access to Healing Services and Just Outcomes for Older African American Crime Survivors toolkit. This toolkit was published in July 2020 and it explores the existence and impact of structural oppressions on the ability of the crime victims field and those working to advance justice for older adults to effectively meet the needs of older African American crime victims.

In many ways, this resource is groundbreaking. First, it names, contextualized, and contends with the issue of structural racism in the crime victims field. Second, it centers the voices and lived experiences of older African Americans and their experiences at the nexus of age, race, and crime victimization. Last, it frames for the reader the implications of these issues and intersections on the work they do, and it offers some tangible strategies for building schema and shaping positive action to root out systemic oppression. 

On the meaning of racial equity work

I am passionate about doing work which embodies the values and ideals that I hold dearly – fairness, equality, dignity, compassion, self-actualization, and so on. For me, racial equity work in elder abuse and elder justice context is inherently about all of those things, and it requires the field to begin to disrupt narratives which profoundly constrain and limit our individual and collective empathy and our imagination as to what older victims are facing and what can actually be done to address the actual challenges they have endured. Racial equity work is also about reorienting our thinking and our work in a way that make us more authentic, more responsive, and more capable of handling the real and critical issues we face and that have been unaddressed so that we are more able to support older victims in the healing and recovery processes.

On hope for the future

My wish for all elder justice professionals as we further racial equity is that the field becomes more knowledgeable as to how the history of violence, subjugation, and racialized stratification in the United States directly impacted the how the field was created and the structures it put in place to respond to elder abuse. Understanding that history will better equip the field with information that is critical to analyzing and reforming our responses and creating the space for more racially just possibilities for all older victims. Moreover, with this information, the elder justice field can more effectively engage with the broad range of perspectives, insights, and lived experiences of elder abuse victims as well as professionals and other supports working with older victims who are from marginalized communities, and it can better support advocates and programs who are doing work on the frontlines to support older victims in a more equitable and just way.

We will feature the Increasing Access to Healing Services and Just Outcome for Older African American Crime Survivors Toolkit in our next post in August to give readers a chance to review the toolkit and learn how to implement it in their practice.

To join us in this work, please read Mistreatment of African American Elders, published by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), and African American Older Adults and Race-Related Stress: How Aging and Health-Care Providers Can Help, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).