- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2008

Family reunions bring far-flung relatives together to catch up and reminisce. For the descendants of Benjamin and Edith Spaulding, however, a family reunion is more like a convention, with hundreds of attendees, educational seminars, a business fair, stockholder meetings, banquets, devotional services, tours, golf outings and picnic events.

At the most recent of the biannual reunions, held July 31 through Aug. 3 at the District’s J.W. Marriott Hotel, more than 400 of the thousands of family members participated, including Stedman Graham, a close friend of Oprah Winfrey, and leaders of universities, doctors, lawyers and those in public service.

Benjamin and Edith Spaulding were born just as the United States was gaining independence from Britain in the late 1700s. Married soon after the turn of the century, the couple raised 10 children during the tumultuous years leading up to the Civil War. This black family was free during a time when slavery still held sway in North Carolina. Racially categorized as “mulatto” or mixed race, they were able to buy land, own businesses, and have other rights denied those labeled as “Negro.”

By the time he died in 1871, Benjamin Spaulding had amassed both land holdings and descendants of biblical proportions: From the 10 children came 83 grandchildren, which has now multiplied into some 20,000 “greats.” (Check the family Web site: www.spaulding family.com/family_ history/index.html).

This year, Bernardine Spaulding Evans, an adjunct professor at Montgomery College and mother of three children, initiated a children’s program for the reunion.

“The reunion tends to be geared more to the older generation, and other than the scholarship fund for the college-bound, most of the children and cousins didn’t interact. I felt it was a missed opportunity,” she said.

With the help of her home-schooling sister, Valerie Spaulding Parker, who educates her 10-year-old triplets in their Bowie, Md., home, and grandmother, Annette Spaulding - as well as cousins Arlene Ng, Carla Johnson, Angela Flowers and Marie Clemmons - Ms. Evans created a program that helped the children connect with each other and with their historical legacy.

“We asked the children to find which family member was an Air Force One pilot, which was a firefighter, businessman, current award winner. … In this way, they could connect to the family history, and learn their origins,” Ms. Evans said.

“We have a lot of celebrities in our family, so we had some time for them to come and speak to the kids, take photos.”

The Spaulding family has long championed entrepreneurship and education. The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. was founded by family members. Many descendants have made impressive achievements in the medical profession, academia, political leadership, finance, fire service, military and the arts. The family has organized for-profit and not-for-profit entities, and they sponsor scholarships, support professional networking, and modeling the values of education, diligence, stewardship and public service.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” Ms. Evans said. “And the more we can expand each child’s village - the more people who love them and they can depend on - the stronger that child can be in this world. We left that family reunion with each child having added a big portion to their village. And, after all, family is the biggest and best village we can have.”

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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