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THE FUTURE OF FAMILY REUNIONS:
Mentoring Young Black Males and Preparing the Young Folk to Take Over
By Billy Vargus
When it comes to mentoring young black males, a lot of families do it informally, with uncles and cousins taking it on themselves to talk privately with their younger relatives. (We discussed this in detail in an earlier article here: https://www.familyreunioninstitute.net/w-l-h-reunion-recap.html
However the Curry Family, who have been having annual reunions for 51 years, have specific programs geared toward mentoring the younger generations. At their annual gatherings in Alabama, “Uncle Charlie always has a workshop, message, or program that he wants to deliver,” says family organizer Barbara A. Thompson. “It’s usually about saving your money or thinking about your future.” Do the young people willingly attend these workshops? “A lot of times, you may go to family reunions and everybody says, ‘I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to stop by, I come to the family reunion to gather and now they’re having a meeting about saving your money,” observes Mike Anderson, another member of the Curry family. “But at our last reunion, one of the young cousins stood up and was talking about graduating from high school. He mentioned one of Uncle Charlie’s formal lectures about finance and how he had been very impressed and that it had been an influence in his life. This young man was really affected by it. And he became the President of the Student Government at his school, and you could see Uncle Charlie in him.“
Of course, the informal associations are important to the Curry family, too. “You will also see the younger males identify with the older males,” says Barbara Thompson’s husband, Dr. Sterling S. Thompson. “You see how they are attracted to them and want to know what they’re doing.“ In fact, he says that some of the younger men start asking for their older cousins or uncles as soon as they arrive at the reunion. “It’s like bees around honey”, he says.
His wife points out that “mentoring comes in many ways. I don’t have to say to you, I’m going to be your mentor. Or you have to ask me to be your mentor. If I’m there for you, if my image conveys something to you, that’s part of the process as well.““I just think seeing positive people that are in your family that you can pick up a phone and call, is very exciting,” Mike Anderson adds. “That kind of thing definitely helps move the reunion forward.” And when you add in the formal programs for the younger folks, it really all comes together, Anderson observes. “In the formalized program that we do, it’s really cool to see the young males, as well as females, get up and speak about their college and their high schools and what they’re going through.”
Uncle Charlie’s formal workshops are one of several programs geared for the younger members of the Curry family. This year, they had a family history play, in which the younger folks portrayed their elders as they re-enacted their achievements. And then, there’s the family basketball game.
“But this is not just a pickup game,” Barbara Thompson explains. “This is an organized basketball game.” “There are referees and everything,” Mike Anderson elaborates. “They have a special T-shirt for it. The Curry Family Reunion jersey.“ And, they even have cheerleaders.
“We have one young man who talks about the basketball game, thinks about it all year,” says Dr. Sterling Thompson. “That basketball game is for the young people. We don’t need the old heads going out there and hurting themselves,” adds Anderson. “But we do other activities that incorporate the young folks, too. When I was growing up, it was great for me to come back home and run around with my cousins that I don’t see. But nowadays, they want more activities, so we look to encourage and do more activities that benefit the youth.”
Of course, the family reunion might not have been so successful at figuring out how to accommodate the young people if not for the fact that they make sure to include them in the planning. “In our (family) corporation, we have Directors. And so we’ve made an effort to bring younger ones onto that board. So that they understand the importance and the value of what we’re passing on to them,“ says Barbara Thompson. “We are working right now, through the corporation, with helping the younger ones understand that being the last of our legacy, they are part of that.“
Mike Anderson says, “My generation stepped up and is doing a bigger part in the family reunion than what we did 20 years ago. So now they are really being more a part of the reunion committees and conducting the actual reunion itself. And I do feel that the younger generation will step into that role as well, cause we’re all trying to leave that legacy and teach our kids the importance of that. So I believe it will continue.”
At the same time, it’s possible that some of the elders in the family might be resistant to efforts to bring younger people into the planning process. “You can bring a younger person in as a Junior President or something like that to give them a seat at the table,” suggests Anderson. “In my job with a TV station in Dade County, (Florida), we actually have a seat on the Dade County School Board for a student. And he is so sharply dressed, so attentive, he is a real part of it. And I think that same thing can happen for reunions. If the older generation doesn’t want to step aside, at least they need to be more open to making more seats at the table.”
“And as they participate in the programs, they start to develop an affinity for what we’re doing,“ Barbara Thompson adds. “And as they participate in the programs, they start to develop an affinity for what we’re doing,“ Barbara Thompson adds. “And then we (say), ‘okay, as you get older and get out of school, then you need to start helping with the planning and bring your ideas in’. Of course, that means you have to be willing to consider those ideas, even though they may not appeal much to the older folks.
“For example, they wanted a new (family) t-shirt. Most of us did not want the t-shirt,” Thompson relates. “But that’s what pleases them, and that’s what’s going to keep them interested. If you want them involved, you’re going to have to do some of the things (they suggest.)”
And that approach is working. Plenty of younger folks showed up at the latest Curry Family Reunion, which was attended by a total of 110 people. And the future looks bright.
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