Black Family Reunions: Professionals Tell How to Organize the Best Event Ever

Article excerpt

IF family is the root of our culture, then family reunions are what strengthen those roots. For Black families across America, the summer months are a time to reconnect and celebrate the past and to plan for the future. And there are signs that Black family reunions are on the rise.

"Our surveys indicate that all over this country, growing numbers of African-American families regularly hold gatherings ranging from 50 to upwards of 350 attendees, to share their common heritage, warm memories, good times and great food," says Gloria Herbert, associate publisher/editor of Black Meetings & Tourism, a convention and leisure travel magazine. "These numbers represent a very attractive market for visitors and tourism bureaus in U.S. destinations to court."

The attractiveness of this market has led to a renewed focus on family reunions by event planners and convention and meeting specialists. In Atlanta, the DeKalb (County) Convention & Visitors Bureau hired a reunion specialist in 1999, says Jon Manns, the bureau's president and CEO. This has led to an increase in reunions held in the county, from about 65 in 1999 to a projected 475 reunions this summer.

In Philadelphia, the Multicultural Affairs Congress was started to increase the city's share of African-American and minority tourism with staff members that specialize in helping reunion planners. The congress, an arm of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, offers--at no cost--everything from special packages, free parking, and discounted rates on transportation, special events and hotels, says executive director Tanya E. Hall. "We just really try to work with them based on what their needs are."

One sign of the growing importance of Black tourism and family reunions is the increasing number of Blacks in top positions at convention and tourism bureaus across the country. In cities such as Detroit, Charlotte, Memphis, Baltimore, Mobile, Tallahassee, San Diego, and in the state of Oregon, African-Americans are among the key players. And the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners was formed to highlight and support the increasing number of Black professionals who specialize in event and reunion planning.

Experienced specialists such as Robin Price of Chicago and Cynthia Tucker of Los Angeles, as well as other professionals, say they have at their fingertips the resources that you need to plan the best family reunion ever. Some experts say it may be worth your while to consider hiring or consulting reunion specialists and event planners for your family affair.

To help you plan your reunion and plan it well, here are 15 tips from some of the leading Black planning professionals:

1. Contact convention or tourism bureaus in the host city for free assistance in planning your reunion. They can put you in touch with hotels, dining, entertainment, parks for family outings and attractions that may cater to reunions.

2. Consider consulting or hiring an event planner to help you in your planning. Planners have a host of resources at their fingertips and are able to negotiate with local businesses.

3. Forming a committee is important, but having one person at the head of that committee is essential. Most businesses and organizations would prefer to deal with one family member.

4. Treat planning a family reunion as if it's a job--with deadlines to meet, time to work on the reunion and report back to your family about the progress.

5. Once you've come up with a wish list for your reunion, make a workable, reasonable budget. Price suggests making the budget per person, per day, because some family members may not be able to participate during the whole weekend.

6. Plan activities for adults as well as children. Getting the younger generation involved will help ensure the success of future family reunions and events. …