Is the Black Family Reunion Tradition a Thing of the Past?
Since I was a little girl, summer meant two things: my parents were on vacation (they were both teachers) and we were going to a family reunion. Like countless other Black families, our reunions are weekend-long affairs filled with tours, food, excursions, scholarship presentations, community service projects and matching t-shirts to boot. My dad's side of the family started hosting reunions in the 1950s, maybe even sooner, just not officially. Over time, they've gone from yearly events to every two years and rotate locations, so family members share the hosting responsibilities rather than returning to the same place each time. That's always been the best part of the reunions because this Georgia girl got to visit cousins in Chicago, Birmingham, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Selma, Tampa and more. Traveling, staying in hotels and playing with cousins I don't see often was a highlight.
I thought weekend-long family reunions were standard for all families. It wasn't until my first job at age 16, that I learned differently. When asked what I had planned for my vacation, my white coworkers were fascinated by the reunion itinerary and my excitement to spend time with family. Many shared that they had one-day reunions, often a potluck dinner or lunch one day in the summer. No t-shirts, tour buses, blocks of hotel rooms or fanfare. They were amazed until I shared the historical perspective that my mom and dad taught me.
Family reunions date back to the Emancipation when formerly enslaved family members searched for the family they were separated from when enslaved. The tradition continues for many families today, but some of us are struggling to keep the fellowship and kinship alive, especially with younger generations who are a Snapchat or WhatsApp message away from people around the globe. I'm a child of the 1970s and we didn't have cell phones, FaceTime and other quick connections. Cousins in my generation are trying to get our children excited about the true meaning of reunions and how important it is to know the family. We now live in a world where family extends beyond familial relationships. Your family may be your neighbors, online communities and more. With their definition of family different from our parents and grandparents, the value they place on reunions is left to us.
The generation before us passed the reunion hosting and planning on to us. Now we have the task of igniting that family spirit not only in our children but in our generation as well. Life keeps lifing and attendance has dwindled even in our age group. Throw in a panoramic in 2020, and we're now launching a campaign to revive the reunion. Anyone else out there in the same situation? Get in the comments and share what you're doing to keep the reunions strong and something your children's children will look forward to attending?
Sidenote: My Baton Rouge cousins did an awesome job planning a weekend filled with love, history, fun, food and more love. Our family motto, "Love Endures" was in full-effect.
Here's a list of the awesome places we visited while in Baton Rouge.
River Road African American Museum
Odum's Kitchen (we enjoyed a fabulous catered lunch of gumbo, seafood etouffee, fried fish, baked chicken, vegan pasta, red beans and rice, bread pudding and more)