Sunday, August 19, 2001

Festivity reigns despite rain

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With hair frizzed and feet wet, more than 1,000 whites and African-Americans ignored the rain Saturday to participate in the Midwest Black Family Reunion parade.

        Later in the afternoon, hundreds more formed crowds at the annual event's numerous entertainment, family and educational booths and stages at Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point.

        The Black Family Reunion continues today beginning with an 11 a.m. church service and culminating in the 5:30 p.m. GospelFest concert.

        John Brewer of Mason attended for the third time.

        He said he values reunion “because it shows that African-Americans have an entrepreneurial spirit, and we can get along with each other. It is family-oriented and that's important. Finally, it's fun.”

        Saturday's parade involved hundreds of participants. Led by Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken, they left the Museum Center shortly after 10 a.m. The procession ended at Porter Hayes School in the West End more than an hour later, when the last marchers, a dozen girls of the Hattie Jackson Guild of Bethel Baptist Church in Walnut Hills, stepped out.

        Political candidates ignored the drizzle to shake hands. Beauty queens rode in open cars protected by umbrellas.

        Parade coordinator Gwen Armstrong said more than 70 groups were represented.

        No matter when they arrived, they were hit by drizzle and downpours and Ms. Armstrong's drill-sergeant-like instructions, keeping the parade in line and on time.

        Some of the girls with tightly braided her shook off the rain; others complained.

        Damp locks didn't bother Jovan Evans, 16, a junior and flag twirler from Aiken High School. She had a bigger problem: her pink banner bled on her sparkling white T-shirt.

        Though there was no place to hide from the downpour, “we continued to do our routines,” she said cheerfully.

        The march had been in Avondale and in the West End before, but Ms. Armstrong said April's riots had nothing to do with its new route.

        By midafternoon, the weather had improved and the sparse crowds grew at the riverfront reunion events. More than 200 vendors selling carvings, paintings and prints, wall-hangings and T-shirts, perfume and incense, lined the walk from Yeatman's Cove to the roller rink.

        Social agencies, the Hamilton County Democratic Party, hospitals and real estate agents all had stands, as did the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and recruiters from the Cincinnati Police Division and various fire departments.

        One of the few lines formed at the Cincinnati Fire Division's house trailer, where firefighters taught children what to do when they're caught in a smoky fire.

        The Brewer family of Mason made it their third Black Family Reunion. John and Danita came for food, cultural activities and black art and there was plenty from which to choose. Daughters Bianca, 11, and Cierra, 5, opted for funnel cakes near where their parents bought Jamaican jerked chicken and rice.

        Most food booths offered fried chicken, grilled sausages, broiled shrimp and french fries, and deep-fried fish of all kinds.

        The food selection caused consternation for Lauren Niemes, executive director of the local Nutrition Council. Her booth displayed vats of body fats and decried such high-fat, high-salt foods.

        Those options are “a nightmare,” she said

        “Unfortunately food is such a central part of African-American culture,” she said.

Schedule of events

Unity key at Black Family Reunion
- Festivity reigns despite rain
Principals an endangered species
Districts adopt principal-training programs
Diverse women build unity, houses
Faith-based groups are skeptical
PULFER: Are kids collateral damage?
WILKINSON: Independent candidates show unusual strength
BRONSON: Angels in lab coats
Two men seriously injured in shootings
Finding cross is family's quest
Sailors reunited after 56 years
Northwest seeks comments
School leader to step down
City cable rejects political ads
Ohio 63 extension sidelined
Aquatic center gets OK
Campbell residents just want to have fun
Priciest homes
Africa-born mayor hits streets
Cyclist celebrates Hoosier byways
Local Digest
Shipwreck preservation urged