By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Organizers of the city's largest African-American festival say they want to put "the family" back in the Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion this year.
They don't want a repeat of last year when hundreds of unsupervised youth went "wilding" through downtown, fighting and destroying property at the conclusion of the reunion.
Some residents angered by the display said the responsibility for the violence rested with the teens who committed it. Others blamed their absent parents.
"We are trying to stress families coming down and not just the children," said Gerald Glaspie, promotions coordinator for the event. "We are hoping that families will come as a unit and not just drop the children off like at an amusement park.
"I worked the gate last year and there were a record number of mothers just dropping their kids off ... leaving them for the Cincinnati Police Department to baby-sit," he said. "And as we all know, the police's methods of babysitting are not quite the same as day care."
The reunion, themed "Building Families Together," will be held Aug. 15-17 at Sawyer Point and Yeatman's Cove. The Midwestern celebration has been in Cincinnati for 15 years. It typically attracts thousands, including people from Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, and pumps an estimated $16 million into the local economy.
Cassandra Robinson, event coordinator, said she also wants to stress that the reunion is "inclusive and not exclusive." Translation: People of all races are welcome.
The 2002 Black Family Reunion was a memorable one for many Cincinnatians, but not for the reasons organizers would have liked.
Reunion organizers had to deal with repeated questions about holding the event downtown despite a looming economic boycott. Then heavy rain and winds forced them to close the event early on the festival's final day.
Two consecutive nights of disturbances as the reunion events ended also marred the traditionally trouble-free gathering. Hundreds of teenagers ran rampant through the central business district, overturning garbage cans, damaging Metro buses with rocks and bottles, and fighting with one another from Sawyer Point to Fountain Square.
About a dozen youths and one adult were arrested and charged with crimes ranging from assault and disorderly conduct to curfew violations.
The unrest received attention from news outlets ranging from the San Francisco Chronicle to CNN. Some referred to the disturbances as a "mini-riot."
"That was the first time our event had ever gotten any international exposure," Glaspie said. "And for it to be all about a 'riot,' which wasn't really a riot, was kind of a raw deal considering we've enjoyed 14 years of incident-free events."
Glaspie said organizers felt little responsibility for the disturbances, which they maintain took place away from the Black Family Reunion site. Nevertheless, he said organizers have made a few changes this year to try to safeguard against further disruptions.
The reunion's entertainment will shut down an hour earlier this year; at 8 p.m. rather than 9 p.m. Vendors will be allowed to continue selling goods until 8:30 p.m.
The reunion's "young adult pavilion" will stay open until 8 p.m. This pavilion, with games and entertainment for youth, traditionally closed at 6:30 p.m.
No national rap or hip-hop acts.
More adult-oriented and "old school" entertainment.
"We've never had a problem drawing the youth and teens, but we want our adult attendance to continue to increase," Robinson said. "That's why we've put an emphasis on activities that the adults will appreciate.
"I felt that last year the adult audience went home when it came time for the national artists to take the stage, because we had a number of younger acts," she said. "We want to make sure they stay this year."
But the biggest question is: Can guests expect to see more police?
Downtown will be buzzing with activity that weekend with both Reds and Bengals games and a major event at one of the city's arts venues. Combined, those events could cause the same traffic bottlenecks that contributed to last year's disturbance.
"Will there be a police presence that overshadows the event? No," said Lt. Anthony Carter, acting public information officer for the Cincinnati Police Department. "We are not going to have the entire department down there because we had a few kids who decided that they were going to be unruly and disorderly last year."
Carter said the number of officers assigned to the event would depend on the projected crowd, the size of the area and length of the event. He added there would be enough officers there to contain any disturbances, particularly around Fountain Square.
The Nation of Islam, Cincinnati Human Relations Commission monitors and the reunion's own security volunteers will be present. Those security measures are no different than in past years, Glaspie said.
"This has always been a safe event," he said. "Last year, you just had the right mix of the wrong things. But most of that mischief that went on wouldn't have gone on if the parents were there."
If you go
What: The Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration
When: Aug. 15-17
Where: Sawyer Point and Yeatman's Cove
Cost: Free to the public
Information: Call 742-9378 or (www.midwestbfrc.com)
Friday, Aug. 15
Heritage Breakfast and Opening Ceremony will be held at 8 a.m. at Vernon Manor Hotel in Avondale. Mom and Pop Winans, the matriarch and patriarch of the renowned gospel music family, will be the featured speakers and entertainers. The first 200 guests eat for free.
Diversity Job Fair will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cintas Center at Xavier University. The job fair, sponsored by The Cincinnati Enquirer, will feature more than 50 employers.
A Town Hall Meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the Legacy Banquet & Conference Center in Roselawn. The theme for the meeting is "Building Communities Together." Author Robert Lawson will be the keynote speaker. Panelists will include author Odessa Walker Hooker, Cincinnati Police Capt. Michael Cureton, Chief of Staff for the Mayor Bernadette Watson and Councilwoman Laketa Cole.
Saturday Aug. 16
The Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Parade will be held from 10 a.m. to noon. Staging will begin at Queensgate Park at the intersection of Linn and Court streets.
Concert on the Cove runs from 2-7 p.m. at the Serpentine Wall on Yeatman's Cove. The Big Fun Reggae Band will perform.
R&B Concert will be held from 4:30-8 p.m. Featured acts include Avant, Tamia and The Temptations featuring Dennis Edwards.
Themed pavilions will be open between 1-6 p.m. Pavilions will include: spirituality, young adults, children, health, speaking of women's health, cybervillage and housing.
Sunday Aug. 17
Concert on the Cove will take place between 2-7 p.m. The jazz group Pieces of a Dream will perform.
Gospel Concert will be held from 4:30-8 p.m. The Chicago Mass Choir will perform.
Themed Pavilions open from 1-6 p.m.
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