National Mall Hosts 'Black Family Reunion'

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WASHINGTON -- This summer, the White House announced an initiative to promote "responsible fatherhood" and "healthy families."
It is a message President Barack Obama often directed to African Americans during the presidential campaign.
This past weekend, thousands of black families met on the Washington Mall to show their strength, and it all started with prayer.
It was billed a prayer breakfast, but the start of this year's Black Family Reunion had all the trappings of a Sunday morning church service complete with gospel music.

The Howard University gospel choir sang the lyrics, "Don't be discouraged. Joy comes in the morning." Songs to honor the country also declared, "From every mountainside, let freedom ring."

A prayer for the nation's first black president sought God, "to order his steps. That every step that he takes, every move that he makes is orchestrated and destined by you."
But this cultural celebration offered much more with seminars on education, personal finance, and even health care services.

"There are a lot of people who are unable to get health screening or treatment and they wait until this event comes," participant Shiba Haley said.

Civil rights pioneer Dorothy Height created the annual celebration to challenge a PBS documentary titled "The Vanishing Black Family."

Twenty-four years later, the event aimed to bring the community together to show that black families are still going strong.

"Especially families that don't have a mother or a father with children living in one roof," said Rev. Raymond Gerard East, Pastor of St. Avila in Washington, D.C. "We gather everyone. And where people feel that they have no family, we gather them into the family. As was said today, all are welcome."

However, the Black Family Reunion was not the only gathering on the mall this weekend.

While Tea Party protesters rallied against President Obama's health care plan and big government spending, the people at the Black Family Reunion event said they supported the president, including his efforts to reform health care.

Sharing space with people from different political ideologies gave this year's attendees another lesson they were not expecting.

"The black family, if anything, has to be intent on breaking down barriers, tearing down walls, and building bridges so we can live peaceably together in this country," Rev. East said.
This lesson, they say, they will gladly embrace.

*Originally published September 14, 2009

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John Jessup

John Jessup

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