Thursday, August 14, 2003

Black Family Reunion needs parents to stick around

Denise Amos

Cassandra Robinson hopes she won't relive those moments a year ago when, about 6 a.m., she was awakened by phone calls from the news media.

Reporters were asking the still-sleepy organizer of the Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration about violence at the event.

Robinson, who for 10 years had run the mostly peaceful three-day festival, wasn't sure what they meant.

What violence?

She thought about some minor misbehavior by a few kids the day before, and she said something to the effect that kids will be kids.

Not a good response, she learned later.

Unsupervised teenagers the night before had left the Black Family Reunion at Sawyer Point and roamed through downtown, damaging property and buses, fighting and threatening people.

Police arrested one adult and a dozen kids.

Robinson admits now that she and other event planners made a critical mistake. They underestimated the impact of dozens of bored, unsupervised and apparently uninhibited teenagers.

Some of us African-Americans have a shorthand, borrowed from a national comic, to describe such unruly kids whose parents aren't around: We call them Bebe's kids.

Well, Bebe's kids aren't invited to this year's Black Family Reunion, not unless Bebe shows up, too.

The Black Family Reunion - which begins Friday at 8 a.m. and ends Sunday at 8 p.m. - won't survive as an uplifting, end-of-summer tradition if more parents don't get involved.

It's a recurring theme in the black community - our schools, neighborhood initiatives, jobs programs and churches would all do better with more parental input.

But the Black Family Reunion melee crystallized that issue.

Last year the reunion was too successful for its own good at attracting young people, with its nationally known rap and hip-hop acts.

Many of us old heads aren't thrilled by that sound; so some parents headed home, or stayed home, rather than hear it.

This year, Robinson says, mostly jazz, blues and old school R&B will reign on the reunion's main stage. It's not cutting edge, but it may keep adults on hand.

To keep teenagers involved, 70 local acts - including rap and hip-hop performers - will take the stage near the Young Adults pavilion.

Last year, that pavilion closed early, at 6:30 p.m. This year it'll go as long as the reunion goes.

The entire event will end at 8 p.m. each of the three days, an hour earlier than last year.

Will all that be enough to prevent a repeat of the violence?

"I'm a praying woman," Robinson says.

So am I. I want to have faith in the Black Family Reunion.

It's good to see Robinson and her staff and volunteers back on the horse. And, miraculously, dozens of corporate and nonprofit sponsors have returned, too.

There will be more community monitors, 30 instead of the 13 last year.

But more than organizers, sponsors and monitors, the Black Family Reunion needs parents and more young adults, sharing a sense of responsibility and self-respect.

E-mail or phone 768-8395

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