Black family reunions have been a staple in the African-American culture since the days of the Great Migration with relatives finding ways to stay in touch with those who moved up North. Today’s fast-paced and over-worked society often makes staying in touch with family more difficult, making family reunions even more important for staying connected. But the realities of planning an event where dozens of family members from far and wide come together can be daunting.
“Multiple reports suggest that majority of family reunions in the U.S. are held by African Americans,” said Andréa Richardson, Hilton Director of Resorts & Multicultural Marketing.
“Family reunions can attract up to 400 family members and offer an opportunity to reconnect with relatives from multiple generations. Summer is the most popular season for family reunions because it’s easier for the entire family to travel when students are on a break from school,” said Richardson.
Summer seemed like the perfect season for the Kirks family from Detroit, MI. When Janice Fitzhugh, a member of the Kirks family, set out with hopes of a Tucker family reunion after not having one for five years, she instantly became the head planner and came face-to-face with the realities of what it takes to throw an amazing shindig.
While planning a reunion is no wedding day extravaganza it still takes as much time, effort, location scouting and a host of events.
“We came up with activities by going to a reunion workshop at Cobo Hall (Detroit) and learned how to engage the family, plan and use social media to get the family involved,” said Fitzhugh.
After speaking to hotels and travel agencies, the good thing to note is while family may sometimes be a headache, planning your family reunion doesn’t have to be as stressful or expensive.
“African Americans (AA) spend an average of $48 billion on travel in the U.S. each year, according to Mandala Research. In addition, the U.S. Travel Association found that majority of AA leisure travel was for a family reunion and average trip spending was $485.80, with 32 percent of trips ranging from $250 to $999,” said Richardson.
And Fitzhugh can certainly attest to the spending. In order to plan the reunion Janice’s family committee set aside a $5,500 budget charging family members 11 and up $108 and kids five to 10 years old $54, while little ones four and younger attended for free.
“We really wanted to make sure it was affordable and everyone looked forward to coming. And even if a family was having financial hardship we did not make them feel slighted, but told them to come anyway and maybe they just went to the picnic or meet and greet but we wanted all the family there,” Fitzhugh emphasized.
Fitzhugh could probably teach a lesson on embedding creativity into your family reunion’s theme. Since the family would be traveling to the Motown capitol instead of staying south as they’d done in the past, she beefed up the invites. She shopped at secondhand stores to buy vinyl records and turned them into the family’s save-the-dates.
“Sure, it was a bit more expensive to send in the mail, but they really looked like Motown records and it got all the family really excited and wanting to see what else we had planned,” she says.
Today’s surge is family reunions is not the first of its kind. Dr. Ione Vargus, founder of the Family Reunion Institute at Temple University has been researching the activities of Black family reunions since 1986. In the late 1980s, she held a conference on family reunions as the Dean of Social Work at Temple University and received tons of inquiries. There was a surge in Black family reunions in the 1990s.
“People used to call me and wanted to know more about what to do and reunions were growing quite fast in the 1990s. I was intrigued by that. That’s when we founded the (Family Reunion) Institute,” said Dr. Vargus. The FRI provides families with help on planning reunions as well as necessary documents, such as bylaws (a favorite) on organizing the family.
“The idea of the family reunion, I say, comes from the African tradition,” she adds. “Tribes were basically extended family and it encompassed a whole lot of kinship. I believe that people who were born into slavery carried this notion of a big family with them once they were freed and migrating across the country.”