The mission of the Family Reunion Institute is to build on the strengths of families by providing resources and support that encourage healthy extended family relationships, using reunions as the tool. It is the reunification of the African American family in particular, that inspires and propels our work, although our outreach embraces families of all races, cultures and ethnicities.
Photo by Shawnee D on Unsplash
The Family Reunion Institute is the only organization of its kind in the United States with a mission to serve as a resource to families having reunions. In a program designed to strengthen and preserve the extended family, the Institute supports and enhances family reunions. We see the family reunion as a catalyst for carrying out critical extended family functions, such as providing a sense of belonging and concern, transmitting a sense of identity and direction, and strengthening family values.
The Family Reunion Institute emerged in 1990 because of many requests for information after two previous African American Family Reunion Conferences. The conference planning committee recognized from the response and requests for services and information, that it could begin to work with families outside of traditional family agency structures. However, it would need to have a more organized and permanent conceptual and contextual framework. Thus, the Institute was formally established.
The conference planning committee became the Family Reunion Institute Advisory Board, comprised of volunteers who helped guide the Institute in implementing its vision to strengthen and preserve the extended Black family. Board members were from diverse walks of life and knowledgeable about the many aspects of family reunions. Dr. Ione D. Vargus serves as the volunteer administrator.
The Institute’s major activity was to convene a recurring national symposium, the African American Family Reunion Conference, which began in 1988. In addition, the Institute has held conferences for children, entitled Family Reunions: The Next Generation, for 350 public school children. Using research by Dr. Vargus on the benefits and purposes of family reunions, the conference has become a vehicle for empowering and strengthening families. Workshops have gone beyond the focus of organizing a reunion picnic to include such broad based subjects as tracing one’s genealogy, family empowerment, family leadership, family secrets, family conflicts, healing family wounds, health and genetic counseling, family philanthropy, and reconnecting with “disenfranchised” family members. Keynote speakers have been well known and have contributed to the dialogue regarding responsibilities of families.
The Institute also provides speakers for family reunions, churches, and other groups. As an example of the wide range of interest, Institute volunteers have given presentations about African American family reunions to the Black Family Summit in South Carolina, the Maternal and Child Care Conference in Philadelphia, the National Association of Social Worker’s National Conference, the Multicultural Tourism Summit and Trade Show in New Orleans and the Second and Fourth National Black Philanthropy Conferences. The activities of the Institute have generated a great amount of media attention, resulting in print, broadcast and internet coverage. Many published articles featuring reunion information mention the Family Reunion Institute as a resource for further information.
The Family Reunion Institute Conference was held from 1988 to 2007. It was geared to family members who plan their own reunions. Attendees may come from all walks of life and professions, but when they attend the conference they come as family members wanting to know more about planning reunions—or how to hand over the reigns. The increasing number of hospitality professionals attending our conferences as partners, sponsors and/or vendors reflected the importance of the reunion market to that industry.
VARIETY OF TOPICS
Our last conference included twenty-two different workshops:
- Tracing your Roots :Basic ideas for families to start researching their history, including oral histories
and using a variety of records.
-Does It Run in the Family? Health Genealogy: A new tool to get medical histories so family
members are not embarrassed to talk, and, in have fun sharing the information.
- Spirituality and the Family Reunion.
- Family Empowerment: Establishing economic development and investing programs in the family.
- Establishing by-laws and structure.
- Pros and cons of a Family Investment Club, and a family non-profit 501(c) 3organization.
- Measuring Return on Your Family Event.
- How to advance negotiating power with hotels, etc.
- Preserving Memories: A Stitch In Time. Making your family quilt.
- Preserving Memories: Traditional and electronic Scrapbooking from which CDs, etc.
can be made.
- Preserving Memories: Saving family stories - Family. Internet. Web. -Computers,
software and websites. Making your own website, and Podcasting (using the iPod).
- DNA and your Roots: How to find ancestors through DNA.
- Organizing and Funding Your Reunion: Basic how-to’s. (Our most popular workshop)
- Involving Young People:How to involve younger people in planning.
- Telling the Story:Different ways of telling family history. Panelists describe how to develop family
crests and family newsletters.
- Finding the Rest of Me: Genealogical research
- Guess Who’s Coming to the Reunion? Embracing diversity in the family, including discussion
about differences in religious traditions, sexual orientation, and disabilities.
- The Multicultural Family:Raising “ISM” Proof Children.
- Preserving our individual cultural heritage: Respecting and appreciating the cultures of others,
and seeking opportunities for positive relationships to build cultural and family strength.
- From and Back to China.
- Latino Family Reunions.
Our last conference included approximately 30 exhibitors and vendors. Many represented convention and visitor bureaus, hotels, and other destination venues. Several vendors promoted a variety of reunion items, such as tee shirts, mugs, pens, etc.
Featured speakers at our last conference were Kenneth Gamble, who was celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Philly Sound and spoke about his Urban Plan, and Angel Ortiz, a former Philadelphia City Councilperson. Our roster of presenters has been outstanding—not only in terms of what they do for a living, but their focus on family roots. Speakers at previous conferences have included poet Sonia Sanchez; Chris Haley, nephew of Alex Haley; Dr. Robert Hill who researched and wrote the book entitled Strengths of Black Families; and Dr. Raymond Dobard, a professor of art at Howard University known for his book, Hidden From Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad (1999). Speakers have included politicians and scholars, including Dr. Mark Auslander, then a professor at Brandeis University, who helped collate the African Voices Art exhibit at the African Museum in Washington, DC.