Black meetings making history in Greater Fort Lauderdale
By Kitty Oliver
Broward County turns 100 years old in 2015, marking a century of dramatic racial and economic change for African Americans. In that time the area has evolved from a rustic, almost uninhabitable frontier into the most diverse multi-ethnic urban area in the country, rivaling Queens County, NY.
Milestones of local progress include the planned transformation of the Sistrunk Corridor in Fort Lauderdale’s historic Black community into an emerging business and arts district; the prominence of African American political leadership; and the rise of Black tourism in Greater Fort Lauderdale to national significance.
Each January, for the past 10 years, the national urban agenda on education, employment, housing and health has been mapped out in Fort Lauderdale during the mid-winter program development conference of the National Urban League’s Association of Executives, a think tank of CEOs from around the country. In 2015, the 103-year-old organization will bring its high-profile annual conference to Greater Fort Lauderdale for the first time.
The area won out over nine other competitors, including Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., due to the successful programs of the Broward County Urban League affiliate and to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau’s (GFLCVB) multi-cultural tourism economic development initiatives. The agency aggressively pursues the African American travel market – one of the fastest growing segments of the industry – offering opportunities for community involvement.
“I can think of no better setting for a conference that is focused on affecting community change,” said Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial who made his first visit to the area in January to tour the Urban League Empowerment Center and highlight the upcoming national conference. Over 10,000 attendees are expected, in addition to their families. “The conference is a chance for the community to showcase itself and it will act as a catalyst for even more of an effort to build up Broward as a place for multicultural meetings,” he said.
The 100 Black Men of America will return to the area in June for its 28th annual conference. The group’s last visit, in 2010, was a successful blend of beachfront meetings and fun-in-the-sun activities as well as community projects in Fort Lauderdale’s historic African American community.
“We’re looking forward to continuing the relationship and the opportunities offered. It’s one of the areas our people love to come back to, again and again, and we want to learn a-bout the new initiatives,” said chairman Curley Dossman, Jr.
The plan to make Fort Lauderdale the headquarters for the American Tennis Association (ATA), the country’s oldest Black tennis organization, and create a training center to develop young players, has attracted the support of Greeks at the national level along with the organization of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and those groups are also benefiting from other types of unique experiences provided for them by the GFLCVB.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., for example, culminated a year of centennial celebrations in Fort Lauderdale in December as Dr. Paulette Walker, the national president, and board members made history as the largest and most prominent Black organization to participate in the annual Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade, one of the top 10 parades in the world, televised internationally. The Deltas will convene a major conference in Fort Lauderdale within the next few years.
“Everything we do is about community partnerships and relationship building. We are able to create events to make them special for groups and do events that the CVB supports economically, as well,” said Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development, who directs the innovative tourism and economic development initiatives throughout Broward County.
African American travel makes up 15 percent of the group and leisure market and is expected to increase by 40-50 percent over the next three years, boosting the local economy.
High-profile crowd-pleasing events add to the attraction of the area, Tucker pointed out. The GFLCVB partners again with the 9th annual Jazz in the Gardens March 14-16 at the Sun Life Stadium in Miramar. A Friday pre-party concert has been added this year at Calder Race Course. The talent lineup includes Frankie Beverly and Maze, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, and D. L. Hughley and over 60,000 people are expected.
The National Urban League’s conference next year will draw major news and policy makers and celebrities – in previous years the President, Vice President, First Lady and Cabinet members and business leaders like Bill Gates have shown up. Activities will range from health and college fairs, job connections, and small business entrepreneur forums to workshops, cultural events, and performances by nationally-known entertainers. A Youth Summit will run concurrently with the conference and 500 participants from around the country will be housed at local university campuses.
An advisory board of community and business leaders is planning activities to make this a landmark conference. Sunshine Health and TD Bank have already stepped forward as major sponsors to kick off Broward County’s second century of Black history with a local flavor and flair.
For interviews with leaders of top African American organizations and high-lights of the area’s fastest-growing travel market visit the GFLCVB’s new multi-cultural video site www.sunny.org/multicultural/playlist.