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Retired Registered Nurse, Advocate, and Poll Worker, Adele Butler

Adele Butler, a retired registered nurse from Pennsylvania, is the type of lady who still does a little bit of everything – a veritable jill of all trades.

“I like to knit and crochet; I make my own greeting cards; I play a little organ music; I read; and I like to travel a little bit, go to different places,” she explains.

And now, Butler is busy packing for her next great getaway – a trip to Barbados to celebrate her milestone 90th birthday. Her eyes light up as she describes the Caribbean island, her favorite tropical destination. “I don’t like cold places,” she laughs.

But Butler’s zest for travel is matched by a strong and palpable zeal for her own community, a quest to make a difference in the world directly around her. Indeed, Butler is a pillar of civic engagement in the Philadelphia area: Even since she retired from nursing about 24 years ago, she has remained fervently civically involved, from advocacy and phone banking with her local unions to volunteering as a poll worker during election season.

Butler draws her civic-minded inspiration from a mentor she once had, the president of a nursing union where she was a devoted member. “Throughout all of our meetings and encouragement, he was always one who would say, ‘Vote, get out there and vote, help other people and love one another,” Butler recalls. “So I just push it along that line and try to follow in his footsteps. He was a go-getter, a fighter. He was a gentleman who climbed the ladder and let nothing stop him from doing what he thought was right.”

Now, Butler is the unstoppable one. Her decision to stay civically engaged – as a nonagenarian and beyond – is a no-brainer, as it helps her fight for the causes she has long believed in. “One of the biggest issues that I talk about right now is social security and Medicare, because I am an advocate for protecting [these institutions],” Butler explains. “Also…healthcare for all!” she adds emphatically.

“I just heard of somebody who needs a medication and it’s costing them $21,000,” Butler recounts. “Of course, they financially don’t have that kind of money, so it was a matter of obtaining a grant. Someone needs a medication? Just give it to them or get it! You’re sick and now you have to worry about getting $21,000 to pay for a medication? I think that is utterly ridiculous.”

Butler’s vision for a healthy democracy also includes one that is not so fraught with discrimination, an experience she has openly endured as a Black woman, both in her profession and more generally. She recalls one particularly damning instance from nursing school, an episode in which her instructor publicly berated her for having to use the bathroom, when no such derision was directed at her classmates. “I’ll never forget that episode,” Butler says.

Instead, Butler let this incident and others light a fire within her heart, and now she actively advocates for equity and fairness. “I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against in any fashion,” she expresses firmly. “There’s so much resentment in this world and it shouldn’t be that way. I think there should be fairness in all people, all of us, regardless of race, color, or creed.”

To that end, Butler says she’ll “keep hoping, praying, and advocating for as much as I can,” though she admits the path forward is daunting, perhaps even a bit quixotic. That’s why she implores her fellow citizens to stand similarly behind causes that promote empathy and kindness – whether that takes the form of advocacy, volunteerism, or simply earning a coveted “I Voted” sticker on Election Day.

“Get involved in your community and your neighborhood,” Butler recommends. “I mean, that is something I hear every Sunday in church – be involved in the community.”

But even more resonant to Butler is another powerful message she hears at church every week: to truly love thy neighbor. “As my priest says, what is wrong with love? We don’t have enough love in this world,” Butler points out. “We should say ‘I love you,’ and mean it.”

Ultimately, it’s that little bit of extra love that could pave the way for Butler’s brighter future: “to finally see peace, democracy, fairness, and equality in the world,” she dreams.

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