Independence Day or the Fourth of July is a celebration of American heritage, so by definition it is a celebration of African American heritage and our contributions to the building of the nation. The holiday is also peak summer travel time and an ideal opportunity for families to gather and celebrate their own legacies and recognize the accomplishments of their members and their ancestors. This year, thousands of reunions are taking place around the country in big cities, small towns and just about any place where more than a few can gather and hold a barbecue.
Families are our most essential source of profound love, aka “agape love,” and the members of a family are the beneficiaries of that all-encompassing nurturing. I always have been awed by the love I feel when I am in the company of my immediate and extended family. It is the thing that has kept me through the years and the legacy that I pass on to my child. Those cousins, aunts and uncles who genuinely have wished only the best for me. The joy in their eyes when a child is born. The comfort we offer each other when we lose one of our loved ones. These are the bonds that sustain us for lifetimes, and the reasons that we celebrate them with a reunion.
Over the past few decades, African American families have experienced a surge in the number and frequency of reunions. According to Joyce Rose with the Howard University Department of Afro American Studies, family reunions gained mass appeal following the 1976 television hit series “Roots,” based upon the book penned by the late historian, Alex Haley.
Black families, like so many others, also are experiencing another dynamic — the need to convene to support each other during times of hardship. After all, it’s often during tough times that we learn that family and our personal relationships with others are our most important possessions. “Sometimes, we have to make adjustments and take into consideration the financial situations of individuals and families. These relationships are priceless, so we shorten the length of the reunion to decrease costs. But even when you can’t physically make it, send a message or make a call. We just want to connect with one another,” says Trellis Lewis, Vardaman-Smith family organizer in Hazlehurst, Miss.
Families are encouraged to take advantage of technical enhancements and create digital and video albums to preserve their memories and share with family members who were unable to meet up at the reunion. It’s also a great way to develop family trees and trace your genealogy.
The bottom line: Enjoy the ribs and blueberry pie, share fascinating stories about remarkable relatives and talk with your children about your own childhood. Reunions are great celebrations that can provide the support we need when we return home and to work, and strengthen bonds that will sustain us until the next time we meet. –roz edward