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Industry Briefs
WHY THE REUNION, THE BUSINESS OF REUNIONS By Ione Vargus

In this day and age when social media and pursuit of the almighty selfie ((i)see me, like me, follow me(ei)), seems to be all the rage, there's another social movement bringing all the "me's" together in celebration of "us". It's the family reunion. More popular among African-Americans, folks often ask "Why the Reunion."

For meeting and tourism organizations it brings big bucks to the table...year after year after year. And while everybody understands how family reunions can be profitable for business, the following excerpt from Chapter 1 of my unpublished book, Finding the Rest of Me: African American Family Reunions , explains the personal side of Why the Reunion.


A major importance of the family reunion is it brings together the extended family, not simply the immediate and/or nuclear family. Year after year, thousands of African-Americans pile into cars, file onto trains, hop on planes, or climb on busses and travel hundreds, or even thousands of miles to attend their family reunion. They will gather for a weekend at a hotel or other accommodation. Why do they come together?

"Maybe it can help us learn who we are and how we can help ourselves better," says  Reverend Albert Gaither, one of many people I spoke with at the family reunions I attended in my search to discover why reunions are  such a popular phenomenon that it has the characteristics of a movement. Warren Gaither says , "From the very young to the very old, they come from far and wide. The reunion gives them a chance to get together and feed one another both physically and emotionally."

For most Black people, slavery disrupted the essential role of families because it allowed no legal marriage, no legal family, and no legal control over children. At the first opportunity after slavery, Black people reconstituted a legal family structure and roles. The extended family remained crucial. One very elderly interviewee said "We all came up North together…stuck together all through life. Sent for our parents, brothers and sisters."

Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and unrelated neighbors who were considered part of the family gave moral, psychological and financial support. When families had to separate due to hardship and financial problems, children were often scattered among other relatives and close friends. Caring for others within the family structure and community was not only a value carried over from the African legacy but also a reaction to discrimination and the fact that many social and human services were not offered to the Black community.

And that, more than anything is the reason why the reunion. It's a time for families to come together, reunite, support one another, reinforce legacy, and be whole and well again.

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