The Key West Mystique

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Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

March on Duval 2017 by Larry Blackburn

Key West’s next generations | It’s time for aging boomers to step aside

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

12/18/2023

Chances are pretty good I can make this statement without doing any research: If your birthdays are between 1946 and 1964, most of your conversations these days with friends begin with “how are you holding up,” followed by lively discourses on various aches, pains, medications and procedures.

That’s likely followed by shaking heads and some lamenting hyperventilation over the day’s disappointing headlines and a weariness with the messy state of affairs.

Maybe there’s a quick review of kids and grandkids or perhaps the cats. Maybe a query about how to use the digital portals for a doc’s telehealth visit or why Facebook keeps doing weird stuff, an argument over Kindle versus paper books and how to change a hacked password from “iloveyou2.”

It’s what old people do, right? Grouse about how it’s not the good old days? We rolled our eyes when our parents and grandparents did that and now we find ourselves doing the exact same thing, but don’t dare call us old. I call myself mid-century modern. We’re experienced, knowledgeable and still kicking (sorta) and we cannot image a world in which we are not in charge.

Honestly, I wish we weren’t.

Boomers have set the agendas for local communities, indeed the world, for almost 80 years. Leading edge boomers (those in our 70s) are past our best-used-by date. We’ve much still to offer, but it’s time for us to create space for the next two generations — and especially for Key West’s next generations.

Key West's next generation March on Duval 2017

Key West’s next generations | Women’s March 2017

I first saw this boomer reluctance to share power with younger generations in late 2016 during the early planning days of the Key West Women’s March, which drew upwards of 3,500 people to Duval Street on a spectacular winter day on Jan. 21, 2017. About two-thirds of the room was filled with young Key West women who had to raise their voices to be heard above the gray-haired activists who’d cut their teeth on street marches and protests in the 1960s and ’70s.

It was clear there was going to be a tussle over who’d be in charge. Thankfully, the young ones prevailed, but not before several of the old guard asked me to champion their right to take the lead. We’ve been there, they said; we’ve done this and we definitely know what to do. These kids, they added, were too young to know how this all works.

I demurred. Firmly. Just as we had had to learn how to do things, I said, so do they. Our role is to support them, counsel them, show up and write checks. This march is their time. It was and they did a great job. I’ve celebrated over the years as those young women grew their families, their businesses and their lives in Key West.

I got to thinking about those march dynamics and the push-pull between generations this week as I listened to two young women talk about the future of Key West and the Keys as we wrestle with the hollowing-out of our once-stable middle class as the community ages, the cost of raising a family on the island escalates and we transition fully from a working home town to a pleasure destination for second-home owners, snowbirds and short-term vacationers.

Our nonprofit boards and public advisory commissions are filled too often with aging boomers and, in some cases, those boomers’ parents. The island can no longer support multiple social agencies, cultural organizations and other nonprofits with multiple directors and boards and staff.

The Keys and Key West include people among the most at-risk in Florida and among the wealthiest. The middle class that holds a community together is disappearing. We cannot risk our future by holding too tightly to the old days no matter how worthy were our efforts.

The merger announced in late November of AH Monroe and the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition is proof that two exceptional organizations, which started with very different missions, can today transform themselves for the future. Let them be our role models.

My breakfast companions work in leadership positions in organizations deeply woven into the fabric of Key West. You likely know them, but their names aren’t what’s important here. What matters is this: They know the island can flourish if we move forward with consolidating organizations; sharing people and financial resources; and accessing and deploying funding that can stabilize, then grow and sustain our middle class.

It’s their time. They will succeed.

Featured photo at top by Larry Blackburn 2017

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