Family Reunions Now Big Business


Once upon a time, families gathered in Grandma’s backyard or at a park for reunions. They ate hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad and watermelon as the children played tag and the old folks reminisced about family reunions past.

Today’s reunions are likely to be fancier gatherings that take months to plan and cost tens of thousands of dollars—or more. Some families rent whole floors of hotels in their hometowns, book conference rooms and design extensive activities including sports events, dances and fancy dinners to catch up with family. Others rotate reunions around the country, moving from one vacation attraction to another. Some even hold fancy destination gatherings at exotic locales, letting reunion planners set up events ranging from golf tournaments to costume balls to provide families an opportunity to interact.

Next week, as many as 125 members of the Graham family are scheduled to converge on the Baltimore area from Georgia, Rhode Island and Virginia for their annual reunion. The event, slated for July 5-7, will be headquartered at the DoubleTree Hotel near BWI-Marshall Airport, said Sammy Graham, the organizer of the reunion.

The Grahams are descended from William and Mariah Graham, who were ex-enslaved people. They worked on a plantation in McColl, S.C. and made their home in the area after they were released from bondage, according to the Graham Family History book, a compilation of information about family members.

“This is the first year it will be held in Baltimore,” said Graham, the circulation director at the AFRO. “We look for people to sponsor it. This is the first year I've had enough help and found people to sponsor it, so we decided to have it in Baltimore."

The three-day reunion will give relatives an opportunity to mingle as they participate in a variety of fun activities. The family has been gathering annually since 1976.

“There's going to be a meet and greet at the hotel on Friday, and then a banquet and reception at the Forest Park Senior Center in Liberty Heights on Saturday,” Graham said.

Reunions are now big business. Manufacturers have jumped on board, offering everything from family reunion T-shirts to mugs to bags to toys. There are reunion planners, photographers and deejays, even caterers who special in the family gatherings.

As the reunions have become more complex, the cost has risen. Last year, the Powell family of Washington D.C., held fundraising events to offset costs, planned activities in Friday night meetings where dinner was served after business concluded. The four-day event, headquartered at a hotel in Northwest Washington, included a golf tournament, a party for the young people and a formal dinner with dancing. In August they will hold their reunion in Chicago.

“Our reunions are serious,” said R.J. Powell, of Southeast Washington, a consultant and father of three who serves as a member of the planning committee. “We start getting ready for the next reunion a week after the current year’s reunion ends.”

There are dozens of online sites dedicated to family reunions. Temple University has one, so does Better Home and Gardens magazine. There are dozens of websites that instruct families on how to search their ancestry, how to throw a party, how to find a suitable destination. One site offers advice on family reunion etiquette.

Radio personality Tom Joyner hosts an annual family reunion. This year, the event will take place over Labor Day weekend in Orlando, Fla., at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center. The cost ranges from $1,239 for one person to “$2700” for a family of four, according Blackamericaweb.com.

On July 4, the Essence Festival will feature a Family Reunion Day in New Orleans. The free event, at Woldenberg Park, will include prizes, a children’s petting zoo, games, fireworks and live entertainment featuring Doug E. Fresh, according to the Essence website.

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