BE Modern Man is an integrative program that honors the essence, image, and accomplishments of today’s man of color. With features of today’s leaders, executives, creatives, students, politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, and agents of change—these men share the common thread of creating a new normal while setting the bar in tech, art, philanthropy, business, and beyond. The BE Modern Man is making a positive impact, his way, and has a story to tell.
BE MODERN MAN JEAN ACCIUS
Name: Jean Accius, Ph.D.
Profession: Vice President at AARP and Adjunct Professor
One Word That Describes You: Determined
Social Media: Twitter: @JeanAccius
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
I am surprised and deeply humbled. Black Enterprise has played and continues to play a critical role in elevating our collective consciousness. It reminds us of our history while empowering us to move forward and not be discounted or marginalized in the public discourse. It is with tremendous humility and deep gratitude to be recognized as a BE Modern Man of Distinction along with so many accomplished men who are transformative in their communities and game-changers in society.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
Failure is our greatest teacher. It’s important to learn from every experience, positive and negative, and find a path forward. Whether it’s been a professional setback, a disagreement with a friend or family member, or something that seemed exciting but ended up being a total flop, I’ve learned how important it is to be present, listen, learn from failure, get back up, and keep it moving.
You must be empathetic and do the deep work to pivot from struggle to success. Otherwise, you’re in a never-ending spin cycle where you’ll make the same mistakes over and over again at every stage in life. I grow and learn more about myself in times of challenge than I ever have in times of success. And I’ve done that by taking a moment to center myself, listen to what’s going on, take in feedback and guidance, and ask for help to move forward. Having a “cabinet of advisers” who can provide you with insights and hard truths is one of the most valuable things a man can do.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
None of us achieves success or feels fulfilled on our own. We need human connection at every stage of life, particularly as we get older. That looks different for everyone, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. I look for people who understand or are on the journey to understanding their life’s purpose, have a strong orientation toward social justice, and are willing to invest in themselves so their “why” has greater impact. I want people in my life who want to better our world, drive change, and have meaningful impact.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
I am leading a major effort to spotlight the experiences and challenges facing male family caregivers. When you think of a family caregiver, you tend to think of a woman taking care of her aging parents or her children. What most people don’t know is that close to half of the 40 million family caregivers in this country are men. Men taking care of their spouses, partners, parents, or other family members or friends. However, in most cases, they are invisible because our society and systems of care don’t see them since caregiving has traditionally been viewed as predominately a woman’s role.
Men typically don’t want to talk about the emotional, financial, and physical aspects of their caregiving experience. This is even truer when it comes to black men. Women are more natural communicators. Men need a little help in this area. Because of my work, AARP and the Ad Council released their first-ever PSA campaign to help male family caregivers get the support they need to care for themselves and their loved ones. This has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my professional life—the ability to empower and help other men talk about their experiences and fears, and get the help they need.
What is the best advice you ever received?
The best advice I ever received was from one of my mentors: start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can. It’s advice I share with young people starting out in their careers, and it’s a good touchstone throughout the course of all our lives.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
We all have the capacity to make a difference. Dr. Martin Luther King said it best, “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Where we live, eat, work, play and pray can benefit from our willingness to roll up our sleeves and serve the needs of others. Having opinions and ideas is good. But serving others? This is how real, positive change comes about.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
For me, it’s all about outcome and impact. I like to work backward: what’s the outcome or goal this meeting or event needs to achieve, and what do I need to do ahead of time to make sure my team can get there. I need time to read and process and do the deep thinking work that will allow me to show up as a leader who can guide others toward making smart, strategic decisions to achieve our maximum impact. I remind myself that the people AARP serves are more important than the people in the meeting room. We are there to serve them—they are our most important stakeholders. So, as an executive, it’s up to me to make sure my team keeps that focus.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.
Is it bad if I tell you my first priority on vacation is sleep? I do love family time, being away from Washington, D.C., and I enjoy drinking wine and eating good food. But having some downtime with no plans other than to dive into a good book and take lots of naps is the best vacation, no matter where it happens.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I am fortunate to travel a lot for work, so it’s more of a joy for me to be able to stay home and be with my family. That said, if given the opportunity, I would like to spend some time in my home country, Haiti, helping impoverished communities find a way forward. Donating money is helpful to the organizations doing good work, but I would like to play a more active, hands-on role in helping my people.
What is your “Extraordinary Impact”?
Many of debates in Washington, D.C. involve people who talk a lot and do very little. When it comes to public policy, my passion and profession, I prefer to talk a little but achieve extraordinary results for people in our society who are often overlooked.
Aging, in my opinion, is a social justice issue. People, especially people of color, are easily marginalized, devalued, and discriminated just because of their age. My extraordinary impact has been, and will continue to be, making sure all voices are heard, all needs are met, and that our public policy systems and programs support those who need it most. At AARP, we focus on how people age across a spectrum of time, experiences, and needs. We’re all going to age … so let’s embrace and get better at it.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Great movements happen because somewhere, somehow, someone decides it’s time to pivot from resistance to action. We are in the midst of unprecedented change and disruption in our country. This pace, for better or for worse, is literally changing lives and communities and reshaping industries. What we need right now are strategic risk takers—risk takers with the courage to hear a diversity of thought, and harness a strong entrepreneurial spirit to convene and engage with nontraditional partners.
We need more young men and women of color to join us and pursue careers in public policy. We need more people of color to run for office, to become lobbyists, to be the ones in Washington writing and passing laws. The more inclusive Washington’s halls of power become, the better off our nation will be. As a black man, I know how powerful the black community is. Our history is a constant reminder of our strength, ingenuity, and destiny. It’s time for each one of us to step into and fully embrace our power and do it in a city where laws change lives.