7 Tips for Great Holiday Conversation w/ Elders


As we being the holiday season, this is a great time to learn about the lives of our elders and the communities that nurtured them. I can tell you from experience, jumping head first into the topics of Jim Crow, segregation or integration is not always the best approach. Your conversations will be far more fruitful if you simply find out about their lives. We must remember, Jim Crow segregation was an all-encompassing presence in their lives. You will be able to learn about segregation and the Jim Crow system because every aspect of their lives was impacted by its existence.

I've put together 7 tips that will help you with starting your conversations. Share some nuggets and tidbits you've learned via social media using the hashtag #CreateTension.

  1. Begin with questions that are universal
    • Did you have chores as a kid? If so, what were they?
    • Did you get an allowance?
    • Where did you go to school?
    • What was your favorite subject? Why?
    • Who were your best friends?
    • What games did you play?
    • Who was your first girlfriend/ boyfriend?
    • Tell me about the neighborhood where you grew up?
    • What was your first job? Did you like it? How much did you get paid?
  2. Ask follow-up questions
    • Remember to follow-up some questions with "why."
    • What ever happened to your best friends?
    • Who was your school's biggest rival?
    • What sports, clubs, activities did you participate?
  3. It's a time of sharing, not an interrogation. Relax. Be patient. Give them a chance to recall their memories. Some of these people and experiences they haven't recalled in decades.
  4. Memories won't be perfect and that's alright. - They may not remember every, single detail of every memory and that’s alright. Enjoy the memories they can recall.
  5. When they share a tough/ sensitive topic, ask them how it made them feel. - Give them a chance to share with you how certain things made them feel. This allows you to connect on a more personal level.
  6. Some memories are painful, so listen to cues when it's time to move to another subject. - Being sensitive to their feelings at that moment, may allow them to feel comfortable about opening up to it at a later time.
  7. Let them know you appreciate their sharing. - Whether it’s saying thank you, a hug, or writing them a note, let them know you appreciate them taking the time to share.

If you want to record your conversation, I strongly encourage you to download the StoryCorps app and participate in their The Great Thanksgiving Listen project.

Remember, please share your insights and tidbits of wisdom via social media using the hashtags #CreateTension #TheGreatListen