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50 Over 50 Award Celebrates Contributions of Residents Over 50

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As executive director of the Duluth Art Institute, Christina Woods, 53, chooses exhibitions with the help of a community panel of Black, Indigenous and other people of color.

“That lens affords us the opportunity to display their absent cultural narratives,” says Woods, a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Nation.

A recent gallery exhibition, “Tignon,” displayed Chesley Antoinette’s headdresses and photographs representing a 1700s  colonial Louisiana law requiring “Creole women of color” to cover their hair with a “tignon” wrap.

The display “demonstrates how long these types of laws have been subjugating people of color,” Woods says.

Her work at the institute and in the community, such as raising awareness of sex trafficking, earned her an AARP Minnesota 50 Over 50 award in the nonprofit category in 2019.

Since 2016, the annual awards have celebrated 250 often-unsung Minnesotans age 50-plus who have made significant contributions to their communities and the lives of others.

“We wanted to say that our possibilities shouldn’t be limited by age,” says AARP Minnesota Executive Council member Bev Bachel, 64, who  suggested that AARP work on the project with Pollen Midwest, a Minneapolis nonprofit focused on narrative storytelling.

“Instead, let’s look at aging as a gift, proof that it’s never too late to make a difference,” she says. 

In response to a poll of awardees, Woods recommended “for there to be a way for folks to find us and find out what we do.” 

AARP used the feedback to expand 50 Over 50 beyond a single celebratory event. Nominations will now be solicited every other year, to give honorees the extended attention they deserve, explains Julie Cohen, engagement and advancement director at Pollen Midwest. 

Six past awardees were chosen for in-depth profiles as part of the poll research. “The honorees were really interested in community building, social justice, leadership and intergenerational connections,” Cohen says.

Events Done Online

Although the COVID-19 pandemic precluded the 2020 awards ceremony, AARP and Pollen hope to hold in-person events when it’s safe to do so. 

In the meantime, AARP will fete past winners in virtual ceremonies, such as ones held in October and November. They will be available for viewing on demand at

The 50 Over 50 ranks have included Johara Mohammed, 65, a Muslim marriage and family therapist from Brooklyn Park, who delivers multilingual care to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence—often taboo topics in the Muslim community.

Another example is Harry Hartigan, 73, who helped AARP establish an area for older LGBTQ individuals, called Boomer Town, at the Twin Cities Pride festival, and who ministers to prisoners and older adults as a pastor for the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America.

“Minnesotans 50-plus are doing amazing things,” Bachel says. “They are caring for the homeless, feeding the hungry, starting new businesses, running nonprofits and creating award-
winning art.”

Find more at on honorees, events and nominating someone for the 2022 awards.

Mary Van Beusekom is a writer living in Excelsior, Minn.

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