Wendi and nine of her 11 siblings during their family reunion in May 2021 in Arlington, TX.
For many African Americans, summer is all about the family reunion! Relatives – usually multiple generations of them – gather from all corners of the globe, wearing matching T-shirts that display the names of their ancestors. These ancestors are the foundation – responsible for all these beautiful offspring. This year will likely have more meaning than ever, as African American families suffered more significant loss and illness during the COVID-19 pandemic than any other population in the United States.
The family reunion acts as a healing balm and comfort food for the family’s soul after long stretches of separation. Though the menu may not include the healthiest “secondary food” options, it serves its purpose by integrating primary food – the IIN core concept that things in our life other than the food on our plate nourish us and impact our emotional and spiritual well-being, such as relationships, environment, joy, etc.
It’s the perfect time for that one beloved uncle to break out the grill, tie an apron over his ample belly, and declare himself the “King of All Chefs.” The full menu consists of ribs, chicken, cornbread, mac and cheese, crabs, green beans, and collard greens. Many of the recipes are family heirlooms that have been passed down through generations. And many jokes have been told about that inedible bowl of potato salad and the poor cook who was never allowed to live it down.
Adults play dominoes and spades, the little ones excitedly play tag with their cousins, and the teens kick off a dance contest, the elders joining in with their different variations on popular dances.
Over the past century, this much-anticipated reunion has been a sacred gathering, amplifying the strength of the African American family. The food, hugs, kisses, laughter, and sharing of memories of a time gone by create a long-lasting ripple effect of heart-healing and enhanced connections. The elders share stories with the younger generation of how the family has survived and thrived in the often hostile atmosphere of the United States.
African American family reunions date back to emancipation. Formerly enslaved people would place advertisements in newspapers in search of missing family members. Between 1915 and 1940, the Great Migration saw nearly four million African Americans move from the South to the North; this shift greatly inspired the family reunions we hold today. During these gatherings, extended family was significant as families had been separated and formed new kinship ties in bondage.
Family reunions are the perfect time to gather resources, including capturing and disseminating information regarding family health histories. It also allows families to piece together lost parts of their identity. Usually, one family member holds all the essential documents, including the heirloom bible containing the meticulous research of the family genealogy.
Thankfully, the latest genetic DNA technology from africanancestry.com, explicitly created for African Americans, can pinpoint not only country of origin but ethnic group. Access to this information has been game-changing for families of African descent, the original victims of identity theft after being kidnapped from Africa more than 400 years ago.
These reunions offer community and a heaping helping of primary food after the long separation of families due to COVID-19. Ensuring you’re getting enough primary food – as safely as possible – has been shown to improve both mental and physical well-being.
Are you planning your family’s next gathering? Try some time-tested recipes from The Black Family Reunion Cookbook organized by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). NCNW is the creator of the three-day Black Family Reunion Celebration, a cultural event bringing consumers, corporations, and communities together to focus on the historic strengths and values of the Black family.
And what’s a family reunion without a summer soundscape? Check out some of my favorite songs of summer from this Family Reunion Playlist.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, “Summertime”
The O’Jays, “Family Reunion”
Jill Scott, “Family Reunion”
Sister Sledge, “We Are Family”
Nina Simone, “Feeling Good”