Rarely has an event grown big enough that it has outgrown Walt Disney World.
But in its 14th year, the Allstate Tom Joyner Family Reunion has taken up practically the entire Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, drawing tens of thousands to Kissimmee for what it calls a “party with a purpose.”
“In the black community, families get together and have family reunions every year,” said spokesman Jason Gregory. “What’s better than families getting together with other families, and mingling and having a good time, and talking about issues going on within the black community.”
The massive four-day event featured events ranging from ancestry seminars to a NASA robotics camp to comedy routines and sports clinics.
Guests could choose from gospel performances, spoken word and jazz, a “beats camp” and an Afrofunk dance fit class, all while making time for a tag relay, a comics course, a teen summit, and a whist tournament.
In addition, NBA great Dominique Wilkins, “Good Times” star Bern Nadette Stanis and gospel singer Kirk Franklin all made appearances, and the next generation was represented by the child stars of the ABC show “Black-ish”.
“(It’s) the magnitude of the event,” said Oscar Joyner, president of Reach Media and son of radio host Tom Joyner. “Think of the thousands of people coming to Orlando for this, and going home and spreading the message.”
On Sunday morning, the last day of the event, the main convention center ballroom was almost packed to capacity with hundreds of guests attending “The Gospel Explosion” show, featuring gospel singers Deitrick Haddon and Yolanda Adams.
The show also featured comedy, including Adams’ morning radio show co-host Marcus D. Wiley.
“I pray in my own voice,” Wiley said jokingly. “(People) who get up here and pray in another voice scare me.” He imitated the deep cadences of a preacher — “Our father, who art in heaven …” — and imagined God saying ” ‘Who is this?’ That’s why God’s not answering; he doesn’t know who’s praying.”
Dee Davis, who came all the way from Little Rock, Ark., said she took in a little bit of everything: “The concerts, the seminars, the comedy — I’m a big music person, so I love it.”
Among the thousands attending were some locals, including Destiny Michael of Orlando.
“I love the concerts, and the college expo,” said Michael. High-school students from across the region came out for College Day, featuring representatives from more than 40 historically black colleges and universities. “All the information helps add value to your life.”
For Monty and Bernadette Franklin, of Rockledge, “This is our first time coming. Today’s our anniversary. … We love the concert, and we’re here to enjoy Jesus.”
The hashtag on social media for the event was “#blackfamilyproud, which Reach Media Community Manager Kelly Harrington said was embodied by events that could entertain parents and grandparents, while their children stayed on property for events such as the Teen Club Joyner White Party, with dancegoers dressed all in white.
“We really don’t think there’s anything like this in the rest of the country that brings the African American community together,” said Marty Raab of Reach Media. “And Orlando is the benefit of it.” ___
By Steven Lemongello from The Orlando Sentinel
(c)2015 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.