Catherine MacDonald, 31

Director of Greater Richmond Age Wave

When you ask Catherine MacDonald why she got into gerontology, the study of old people, her answer is simple.

“I love [it]. I’m a data person. That’s my jam.”

Greater Richmond Age Wave’s role is focused on rethinking social systems and structures when it comes to older people. She emphasizes how important it is to give everyone a fair shot at experiencing old age, which can vary depending on accessibility to needs.

“In Richmond, you can travel just a couple miles and see a life-expectancy drop of about 20 years. We’re really short-changing people by 20 years,” she says, emphasizing the word years. “So let’s look at why that’s happening.”

The largest advocacy issues she targets are transportation and public housing — removal of which is an issue, MacDonald says — equal rights restoration and financial health.

When she’s not on the conference circuit talking about the prevalence of homelessness in the elderly population or putting on a series of learning labs, she’s giving others the microphone. She likes being the behind-the-scenes person. 

“It’s not really about my story,” she says. “It’s about how whether you’re a community member or someone who works in housing [and can] listen to people’s stories and histories and share your own.”

She sneaks in how she’s also working on researching autonomous vehicles, which she says is important to address from a social-justice standpoint. Her team has also launched the hashtag #disruptageism to address discrimination.

“Elderhood is a time of growth and development. We forget about that,” she says. “There’s a lot to look forward to when it comes to getting older. … It’s about being liberated from that fear.”

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