Full schedule, funding fuel hopes for Black College Reunion's success

$8 million hotel settlement, corporate contributions help offset skepticism

March 27, 2000|By ORLANDO SENTINEL

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Nearly lost in the news about racial discrimination, gridlocked traffic and outbursts of violence is this fact: Black College Reunion is supposed to be fun.

As Daytona Beach prepares for the arrival this weekend of 100,000 mostly young black visitors, the usual skepticism that BCR's problems can be remedied has surfaced. But a measure of hope exists, mostly among city officials and business leaders, that the 16-year-old event can be a success.

The optimists point to some encouraging signs:

As BCR neared, government officials announced last week an $8 million settlement in the lawsuit against the Adam's Mark hotel chain. The hotel was accused of discriminating against blacks at last year's BCR.

The city's traffic plan won't eliminate gridlock, but it also hasn't drawn the threat of a lawsuit, such as the one last year that forced the city to scrap plans that restricted visitor traffic on its bridges.

Planning for this year's event is more ambitious than ever and has received corporate support from the likes of Walt Disney Co. and General Motors Corp.

"People are going to say, `We heard that before,' " said Dean O'Brien, president of the Halifax Event Management Group, a nonprofit organization appointed by Mayor Bud Asher to oversee BCR planning.

"But this year we've got an organizer from the area," O'Brien added, speaking of his group. "I'm proud to say all the promoters and concert people all seem to be working toward producing the best event ever."

Recent reunions haven't provided much competition for that title. The event has been troubled over the years by late cancellations, conflicts among promoters, and a lack of support from residents or the business community.

This year, corporate contributions -- beginning with a $50,000 check from the Adam's Mark -- made it possible to make more concrete plans.

The lineup for next weekend includes concerts, sports tournaments, dance parties and a gospel festival. A conference for representatives from historically black colleges kicks off the program Thursday night.

The conference represents an effort to return the 16-year-old event to its college roots -- a social gathering of students from Bethune-Cookman College and Florida A&M University -- and put a more mature face on what has become known as a wild street party.

Complaints about the treatment of visitors by local businesses came to a climax last year with the Adam's Mark lawsuit, which alleged that the hotel overcharged black guests, subjected them to stricter security measures than whites and provided them with inferior services.

To settle the suit, the Adam's Mark agreed last week to pay $8 million and initiate policies to safeguard against discrimination at the chain's 21 hotels.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.