Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Family reunions, a resource for strengthening families

Family cookout. Submitted by Antoinette Harrell.
Family reunions, a resource for strengthening families
By Anoinette Harrell, Genealogist

We have always had family reunions.  Every Sunday the family, aunts, uncles, and cousins, would come together for dinner.  They would talk about how to help family members who were sick, plan activities, or divide up work that needed to be done on the farm.  Lately, we are only getting together once or twice a year.

I remember every Sunday thirty or forty first cousins used to all get together.  Chicken were killed and prepared.  Pies and cakes were baked.  They would sit on the porch and visit with each other.  This is what I refer to when I say that it is the past that shapes the present and the present that shapes the future.  We come together to honor our ancestors, spend time with those who are here with us, and build a future for the rising generations.

Family members have moved away in search of jobs that have taken them all over the United States.  At one time receiving a long distance phone call was a big thing in the family.  Everyone would gather around the phone waiting to speak to the family member on the phone. Now  internet technology has brought us closer.

Those who passed away in our time become ancestors.  They were in their forties and fifties, and we thought they were old.  Now we are the elders, and our children are looking to us to guide them. Family reunions should have a council of elders to mandate family matters and family business.
Family Reunion. Submitted by Antoinette Harrell.

Family reunions could become a business.  A reunion is a perfect place where dues can be paid and funds generated for committees to carry out family business such as:

  • scholarship committee
  • cemetery committee
  • elderly care committee: Instead of putting family members in nursing homes, someone always took care of family.  Perhaps they need help paying for medicine or need a place to stay.
An education committee could assist family members with applying for grants, preparing for college, or resume writing.  They also could offer internships. When we work to empower our families, that's freedom.  We need to recreate the village. A lot can come from family reunions.  The family can plan community service activities, visit historical sites, restore a cemetery, set up a community resource center, support family members as they serve on a foreign mission.

The family was always the primary source of support for extended family members.  My mother, Isabel  Harrell Cook, had a cousin who had special needs.  Mandy Wheat's daughter took him in. That was just the way they did it.  It was not always about the money back then because they had so little.

They bartered, and they used money mostly for the things they could not barter.  For example my mother, Isabel Harrell Cook, allowed Henry Wheat to put his cows in the family pasture.  In return, he shared fresh vegetables, and when he slaughtered a cow, he shared portions of meat with her.

Each segment of the reunion is fun, but equally or more important are those things that would empower the family and build a stronger family community. When you empower a family, you can definitely build a stronger community.

Our families are rich with talented young people.  We have doctors, nurses, educators, business owners, farmers, and much more.  Having a family business directory makes available resources that will inspire family members to patronize each others services.  This is what economic freedom is all about.

One mistake we as genealogists make is that we do not live in the present in the family.  We are too busy researching the past and do not spend enough time with family members who are living in our time. We are looking for yesterday's information and not collecting enough of today's information right around us.  We pass up opportunities to connect and preserve today's information.

Children need to connect to their grandparents to learn more about the generation before them that in time they are connected to someone that they know.  When they become older, they will have greater interest to learn more about  family.  They will eventually desire to learn more about the people who were important to their grandparents.  They will then search out the generations that came before namely, great grandparents.

Map of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, United St...Image via Wikipedia
This year, I created the Facebook page, African Americans of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, to capture the attention of the younger family members.  I already have over 125 family members who have liked the page.  We are developing an online family community.  This is what the Nurturing Our Roots internet radio and television shows are all about.

FB page, African Americans of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana
More family history seminars and workshops should be planned for family reunions. We could incorporate activities such as:

  • Oral history stations
  • Family research and artifacts displays
  • Tours to historical family sites
I think a good family reunion should be planned two years in advance so that people can organize themselves.  "It is important to choose the homestead as the site for the family reunion.  If there is any land left, visiting the site can reinforce the emotional ties to the home and the land. Without an emotional tie to the land or home, the ties to the family weaken,"  said Robin Foster.

Its the ties that bind us.  The reunion is the opportunity to form a greater network.  We need to use more wisely the resources in that network. That network forms a larger and stronger community.  Tune in to our weekly broadcast of Nurturing Our Roots internet radio, Sundays at 7pm Central and 8pm Eastern, Tuesdays at 8pm Central and 9pm Eastern, Wednesdays at 8pm Central and 9pm Eastern.
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

One woman gathers other hearts to help Mississippi tornado victims

Man in Okolona, MS cooking out.  Walter C. Black, Photographer.
Tornadoes have completely devastated many areas in the South and Midwest in May.  People in Mississippi are among the hardest hit because they were already suffering due to the sluggish economy. Antoinette Harrell of Gathering of Hearts has been giving her all to helping to ease the burdens the folks in these communities face.

She has been an eyewitness to the devastation and has looked into the weary faces of the unfortunate victims and assessed their individual circumstances.  She has seen roads that were completely destroyed like the area in Okolona, Mississippi where 12 families were completely wiped out.
Antoinette doing an assessment. Walter C. Black, Sr., Photographer.  
Antoinette was taken on tours of Clay, Chickasaw, and Monroe Counties.  Al White, the Executive Administrator and Coordinator for Silent Heroes and Education Reform, contacted her and alerted her of the needs and made the needed contacts.  She also toured areas of Mississippi with Cherrae Oats, the Executive Director of the Fannie Lou Hamer Center for Change.  Ms. Oats is the niece of Fannie Lou Hamer.

Cherrae Oats and Antoinette Harrell.  Photographer, Walter C. Black, Sr. 
Of the 12 homes, eight were trailers.  Many did not have insurance because they could not afford it.  She saw one family with a tent set up outside where they were cooking food.

"It is sad to see families picking from the debris to save what they could.  Most of what they were trying to save were documents and photos.  Most secure documents in a secure place, but the winds of the tornadoes were strong.  Trees blew around and snapped like toothpicks. This was my first time seeing and assessing the effects of a tornado to see how Gathering of Hearts could help these people whose lives have been changed with little warning,"  said Antoinette Harrell.

"I saw people helping people.  Churches and neighbors came to their rescue providing food and clothing. What is not surprising is that the community pointed out how people sometimes take the time away from themselves to tell you about their neighbor who is also in need of help."

"Families who did not have insurance will have to stay with someone else or be on their own living in makeshift shelters until they can get their lives back in order.  "I saw two families clearing land to prepare to come back, taking photos, and fighting back the tears. They are trying to hold it all together and be strong for the children."

Tent for family.  Walter C. Black Sr., Photographer.

Antoinette also explained that since Katrina in 2005, some families are still displaced.  They are faced with applying for FEMA funding at a time where FEMA is seeking for those who were helped between 2007 and 2008 to repay.  Eighty-one year old, Phyllis Drake, who lives on a fixed income, is being asked to repay $10,000 from funds given after flooding in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.  See  Two flood victims in Gays Mills appeal FEMA’s request to give aid back.

 "I am not optimistic about the future of the families today who receive help. Some families living in flooded areas had insurance, but not flood insurance.  They may be caught in the same situation.  Most already been hit by the economy only had money for basic necessities.  They must rely on non-profit and private organizations to help rebuild and donate building materials and tools."

Antoinette Harrell is connecting with some amazing people with hearts greater than gold.  One such person, Nethanel Nasi, regular listener to Nurturing Our Roots, made his second trip to the Mississippi with a 24-foot U-Haul once again filled with clothes, water, food, baby items, shoes, water, barbecue grills, and other items needed to help victims donated by the good people of Cincinnati, Ohio.  The adverse weather conditions did not deter him from service even though he drove through the hazardous conditions.

These are a few photos from this week when Gathering of Hearts unloaded the truck:

Dr. Al Sampson, Antoinette Harrell, and Nethanel Nasi (Right) Walter C. Black, Sr, Photographer.
Unloading. Walter C. Black, Sr. Photographer.
Walter C. Black, Sr.
Special thanks to Jackie Howard, Bobbi Smith, First AME Zion Church and Pastor Tyler, along with special residents of of Columbus, Ohio for their generous contributions to the residents of Mississippi.
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