Like millions of others, the video of gleeful 106 year-old Virginia McLaurin dancing during her meeting with the Obamas in the White House made my Monday. I watched it multiple times and could not stop smiling with joy. LOVED when the President looks at Mrs. Obama with a look of, “you are painfully awkward and I love you so much,” as she dances and chats with Ms. McLaurin.
Of course, I wondered, who is this sweet centenarian? Is she really 106? What has she experienced in her life?
A quick search brought up a video where she’s tells the interviewer how she does not want to leave her home during a snowstorm, how she just needs a few things, but she can generally take care of herself. She’s adamant she wants to stay in her own home and hopes she’ll always have control of her mind. A sentiment shared by almost all seniors, thoughtfully expressed by Ms. McLaurin. Another video of her on the local news, sharing her story of volunteering 40 hours a week at a school for children with developmental disabilities in DC. She’s glowing with pride and love for her students.
But then, a sad, surprising post on her Facebook page. Just two years ago, in an apartment blocks from the White House, Ms. McLaurin was sleeping on an air mattress. Her apartment was infested with bed bugs, the building neglected by its property manager. She could not sleep in her bed.
At 103 years old, her property management company had the nerve to leave her sleeping on the floor, in an apartment overtaken by pests. This amazing, vivacious woman, who lived through more tumultuous moments in our country’s history than most people alive today, was ignored by the company responsible for maintaining her home. How many seniors, who push through adversity their whole lives, find themselves abandoned, and forgotten by the very people and systems entrusted to care for them?
As I scrolled further, my heart rose as I saw Ms. McLaurin is now back home, her home restored. A tenants’ rights advocacy group got involved and shared her story with the DC media. A local fumigation company donated their services to wipe out the infestation, and the tenant rights’ advocate stayed on top of the case to make sure Ms. McLaurin was safe and comfortable during the whole process.
It made me think of President Obama’s start as a community organizer and the power of community and advocates to look out for and lift up those who are neglected.
By the way, it was that same tenants’ rights advocate who pushed to make sure Ms. McLaurin had an opportunity to meet the first black, community organizing president, in the White House this weekend. Pretty cool.