Sunday, August 17, 2003

'Family' members travel long way

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Bianca Beckley of Fairfield gives her 8-month-old daughter Rakiah Beckley a kiss Saturday at the Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
Some people can find family among strangers.

That happened to 19-year-old Michael Brown of Clifton this weekend on Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point. He attended the 15th annual Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration to be among a crowd he feels comfortable with, he said.

"Everyone that's here right now is family," Brown said Saturday. "No matter what race, color, culture."

The Black Family Reunion was started by the National Council of Negro Women to challenge reports of the demise of the black family. It has since grown into one of the nation's largest family-oriented events.

The Midwestern facet kicked off in Cincinnati Friday. Festivities continue today.

The event typically attracts about 200,000 people and more than 100 volunteers.

It also pumps an estimated $16 million into the local economy.

Many attendees and helpers alike go to great lengths to support the idea of a more united African-American community. That includes people like Derek Winn, 29.

What: The 15th annual Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration

When: Today. Entertainment begins at 2 p.m. and lasts until 7 p.m. Pavilions are open from 1-6 p.m.

Where: Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point and Yeatman's Cove

Cost: Free

The Middletown native has been a volunteer for seven years. This year, he drove 14 straight hours from his new home in the Bronx, N.Y. .

"So many people are coming together here for family and unity," he said. "That's important to me."

First-time volunteer Charlynn Rachell, 33, traveled a long distance as well. On Thursday, she flew to Cincinnati from Cerritos, Calif. Her cousin, who lives in Lima, Ohio, told her about the event.

"It just sounded like something I want to be a part of," she said.

Crowd favorites include eight themed pavilions, which present information on such topics as education, housing and spirituality.

"Black families have issues that are germane to all families. But we found in African-American communities certain aspects that seemed to be more critical," said Gerald Glaspie, 45, of Roselawn, the promotions coordinator for the event.

As Marlene Moller of Bond Hill fanned her face in the sweltering heat, she noted the reunion is also good for Cincinnati's image.

"Our city needs all the positive events they can get," she said.

Organizers were hoping there wouldn't be a repeat of last year's small but violent outburst following a Saturday night concert.

In 2002, a crowd of teens leaving the concert became disorderly, tipping over garbage cans, tables and chairs. The throng later moved to downtown, where some blocked intersections, damaged Metro buses and knocked over newspaper stands.

Organizers beefed up security and adopted shorter hours to prevent problems this time around.

"It's a shame that a few people want to ruin things for everyone," Glaspie said. "What people like about this is the community. The togetherness. The good, friendly spirit."


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