Victor Brown, Vice President of Business Development at the Birmingham Business Alliance, is proud of his family and it shows.
Last month, he invited me to meet all his uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and cousins at the DoubleTree by Hilton Birmingham Perimeter Park located off Highway 280, for the 68th annual Lewis – Lowry Family Reunion.
Importance of Reunions
In addition to meeting 40 to 50 members of his family, Victor and I paused to look at his family crest. The motto originated from his uncle, Mansel Philip McCleave. It declares – “Living Diverse but not Divided.”
Victor reminisced, “As a little boy growing up in the black community, I learned that every year, all the people we knew were having a family reunion. At the Lewis-Lowry reunion, when I looked around, I’d see a lot of people–most of whom I didn’t know very well, if at all. Maybe 100 or more in attendance. As a kid, it was a bit overwhelming. Over the years, I came to realize the importance of this history. Our history. Reunions are a very important part of African American life and culture. It unites us.”
Reunions Make Up 25 percent of Summer Tourism in Birmingham
According to Sara Hamlin Vice President of Tourism at the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors, 25 percent of Birmingham’s hotel and attraction bookings in the summer primarily come from family reunions.
“Culturally, particularly in the African American community; people want to get together every year or two years because families are scattered all over the country,” said Sara.
“Traditionally, it dates back to our ancestors who were pulled apart during slavery. They didn’t know where family members were or if they would ever see them again. It is an opportunity now to keep the family legacy going, bringing everyone together, sharing the family history – re-uniting with love ones.”
Because of Birmingham’s Civil Rights history, the Magic City has also become a destination for African American family reunions, even though relatives may not live in the area, added Sara.
More Than an Annual Gathering
Along with the annual reunion, families like the Lewis -Lowry clan formed organizations that have family members serving on a council.
“We have a cousins council,” Brown said. That council meets once a year, and they do the business of the reunion. We have a scholarship fund. Each year we Identify who is going to host the reunion and plan all the activities. There are bylaws and rules. Fees are taken up by the treasurer. A budget is put together.”
The Lewis-Lowry family is a family of educators, business leaders and entrepreneurs. They take great pride in education. In fact, when relatives went around the room introducing themselves during their “Meet and Greet” time, the majority of the family members over the age of 25 had either a masters or a doctorate degree.
This year’s Lewis-Lowry Family Reunion theme in Birmingham was appropriately called “History, Legacy, Future.” The family toured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Southern Negro League Museum, and the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument area .
Why it Matters
Roberta Clay, who serves as the matriarch of the Lewis-Lowry family summed up why the Lewis-Lowry reunion matters.
“We have held this reunion uninterrupted for 68 years. More than 68 years ago our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins decided they would like to have a family reunion.
Over the years as we were growing up was family, it was of extreme importance that everybody was taken care of, looked after, well fed and well educated. It is a lifetime journey. We all care about each other. We all love each other. We can have knock down drag out arguments about anything – and then in a few minutes you will see us loving each other and kissing each other. It is a wonderful, wonderful story.”
Each year, the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau hosts a reunion expo that attracts 200-300 people interested in holding a reunion in the birthplace of Civil Rights. According to the Convention Bureau, Birmingham is fast becoming a reunion destination in the African-American community.
Victor Brown said it best. “It unites us.”