By Kitty Oliver, Author/Oral Historian
Over the last 100 years Greater Fort Lauderdale has mushroomed from a sparsely-inhabited farming community to a center of international tourism, and history has always co-existed comfortably with transformation and change. As anthropologist Dr. Niara Sudarkasa, retired president of Lincoln University and Fort Lauderdale native, reflected: "The area has such a proud and diverse cultural heritage with people from the African Diaspora and settlers have come now from all over the Americas, and elsewhere." Greater Fort Lauderdale charmed early arrivals as a place of transition and discovery just as it continues to lure residents and visitors today.
Broward County celebrates Black History Month
The African American Research Library and Cultural Center provides educational tours and genealogical resources for visitors. The library is also nationally noted for programs that preserve and share history in innovative ways. A Disney World quality animatronics display, unveiled in 2015, has become a major attraction for multicultural travelers, including family reunions. They are greeted by a lifelike robotic simulation of the library’s founder, Samuel Morrison, who narrates the ever-evolving story of the library and the surrounding historic Sistrunk community.
The library’s gallery features revolving exhibits year-round. Some showcase talented international artists from throughout the African Diaspora. Others put a creative spotlight on contributions of sometimes overlooked historical organizations such as the Negro Baseball League and the history of Blacks in the sport of tennis.
“The Research Library plays a valuable role in our tourism initiatives and the cultural life of the African American community and we see this tennis exhibit as further expanding our commitment and support,” said Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Broward County is fast becoming the most diverse area in the country. The Westfield Mall in Central Broward,has become a popular gathering place for diverse cultures capitalizing on the richness of heritages in the African Diaspora and the homelands of Caribbean and Hispanic residents. The area offers affordable family-friendly vacation fun and an array of artistic and cultural activities around the theme, “Where Community Celebrates Culture.”
Caribbean Heritage Month celebrations are staged each June and a year-round art gallery features revolving exhibits by promising local artists. The mall was transformed by a $40 million facelift creating a 12-screen Regal movie theater and amenities such as an updated dining court, a stylish café-style family lounge, a play space for youngsters and five new dine-in restaurants.
Nearby, the Central Regional Park features a new performing arts theater, a myriad of recreational activities including rugby, soccer, and Australian Rules football, and the only world-class cricket stadium in the U.S. that is now home for the Jamaica Tallawahs cricket team.
Miramar is a family-oriented community with an upscale Caribbean flavor - a cultural heartbeat of Greater Fort Lauderdale tucked away in Southwestern Broward County. The Miramar Cultural Center bustles with a year-round array of multicultural offerings in professional theater, music, classical and contemporary arts, and international cultural presentations as well as special events.
Miramar will also become home for the American Tennis Association, the oldest Black sports organization in the country, founded in 1916. The organization is building a training facility that will have youth development programs and a Tennis Hall of Fame for historical preservation based in Southwestern Broward.
Miramar is considered one of the up and coming cities for multicultural tourism in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, says Stacy Ritter, President of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. The ArtsPark hosts the international UniverSoul Circus in February and the city is a central venue for housing visitors to the three-day Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival in March, Performances at a new 5,000-seat amphitheater will bring more tourism to the community. “It’s one of our leading cities, one of the most highlighted and integral boroughs in the area,” said Tucker.
Relationships make Greater Fort Lauderdale a leader in attracting socially-conscious African American and Caribbean travelers to the area. Tourism aligns with cultural and economic development to offer memorable experiences for visitors who come for conferences.
Fort Lauderdale has hosted some of the country’s most prominent African American organizations including 100 Black Men of America, the National Association of Black Accountants, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the National Urban League, and the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, while also forging alliances between those groups and local communities.
Throughout its 100-year history the American Tennis Association has been closely aligned with prominent African American Greek organizations. Pioneer Althea Gibson, who broke racial barriers in the sport, was a Soror of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Arthur Ashe, Grand Slam winner and Wimbledon and U.S. Open Champion, was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau and the ATA have engaged the National Pan-Hellenic Council in a tennis tourism initiative supported by local chapters to support the efforts of the American Tennis Education Foundation, the organization leading the fundraising effort to build a permanent home for the ATA in Greater Fort Lauderdale. The facility will be a center for training, youth development programs, and preservation of the history of Blacks in tennis and also showcase Black Greek involvement in and support of the sport.
“Greeks see the ATA project as an opportunity to gain exposure and fundraise for scholarships and mentorships while promoting the CVB’s economic development and tourism initiative which continues to draw the meetings of nationally-prominent, influential Black groups to the area,” said Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development for the CVB.
In Greater Fort Lauderdale, the past is always a present day experience.
(Kitty Oliver is an educator, television producer, author, and founder of the Race and Change Oral History Collection; visit kittyoliveronline.com).