A Summer Tradition
by Anita R. Paul, Contributing Writer
(left to right) Tara Jean Fagan, Golden Fagan Jr, Jean B. Fagan, Gertrude Fagan Williams
Summertime often conjures up thoughts of fun in the sun, outdoors activities, vacations, barbecues, or relaxation. Summer is also a time for reunions. What better time of year for families or classmates to reunite and reignite the bonds that keep family and friends at the core of our existence.
Years ago, when families lived nearby, every day was a family reunion. There were dinners at grandma’s house, sleepovers at an auntie’s house, football at the cousin’s place, or perhaps yard work to be done at the home of an elderly relative. Nowadays, families are scattered across the country. Members have moved to different towns, faraway cities, distant states, and foreign countries. So, family reunions are a special occasion to catch up on what has happened over the years.
In the midst of a family reunion, where old and young gather to strengthen kinship ties, one would be hard-pressed to accept or even understand the incessant debate about the deterioration of the black family. By their very nature, reunions promote progress and hope. This coming together is the perfect chance to share the good news – new jobs, the birth of children, new homes, marriages, anniversaries, graduations, trips taken, and the like.
(left to right) Violet Fagan Hood, Audrey Fagan Brown, Eloise Fagan Boykins, and Ernestine Fagan Field
More Than a Picnic
In his 2002 research paper, “More Than a Picnic: African American Family Reunions,” Ione D. Vargus, chair of the Family Reunion Institute at Temple University, shares some of the important life aspects that reunions transmit:
- Love, concern, and belonging
- Role models
- Passing on traditions
In the same paper written for the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life, Vargus describes how African American family reunions have become structured and somewhat institutionalized. Through this research of 14 three-day reunions between South Carolina and Massachusetts, he noted the structural growth and sophistication of family reunions, as well as the positive economic outcomes that sometimes result from the gatherings. These include family clubs that meet regularly throughout the year; bylaws that set the date of the reunion, as well as certain requirements and prohibitions, such as political rallying; scholarship funds designed to assist family members who cannot afford to travel to the reunions or for elders living on a fixed income; family investment clubs to assist with reunion planning expenses; fundraising to help with funerals, births, and the like; networking to share the talents and skills of family members; and philanthropic efforts to support common interests such as historically black colleges.
(standing left to right) Gertrure Fagan Williams, Golden Fagan JR; Emmaline Washinton (seated)
The National Black Family Reunion, organized 25 years ago by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), has become a nationwide institution. This two-day cultural event celebrates the strengths and traditional values of the African American family. Held in Washington, DC in September, the event attracted upwards of 250,000 people in 2010. Similar large-scale reunions have cropped up across the country under the NCNW’s guidance, including the Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration in Cincinnati, Ohio which attracts an audience of 100,000 and in Los Angeles, attracting upwards of 500,000.
Without a doubt, reunions will continue to be a part of the heritage of African Americans. As Vargus notes, African American family reunions are controlled by the family, and as such represent an institution independent of government or other outside financial influences. Vargus notes, “The participants are willing; the goals are meaningful.”
( left to right) Jerry Fagan, Gertrude Fagan Williams, Eliouse Fagan Boykins, and Violet Fagan Hood