Descendants of a Colonial slave convene in Philly

There will be a keynote speaker, presentations about developing small businesses, and exposition tables hawking products and services at the Hyatt Regency hotel at Penn’s Landing.

It feels like a convention, but this is a family reunion.

“We wanted to give people the opportunity to learn to be self-sufficient, how to go into business for yourself,” said Neil Campbell, co-chair of the reunion of the Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants Association. “It’s hard now, with companies closing. We wanted to give people the tools to do their own thing.”

Benjamin Spaulding was born a slave in North Carolina in 1773, later marrying a Native American, Edith, and raising 10 children, who went on to raise 83 grandchildren. Now there are 5,000 known descendants, one of the largest documented African-American family trees.

About 400 Spauldings are expected to attend the Powerpoint presentations and self-empowerment workshops this weekend, costing $10 – $20. They are also open to the public. There will be private, traditional reunion activities, like a Sunday cookout in Fairmount Park, open only to association members.

The Spauldings count several important figures on their tree: heads of industry, high-ranking judges, and U.S. Congressman George Henry White, who served from 1897 to 1901.

“Different cousins, most of them are successful. It’s been instilled in all the Spauldings,” said George Spaulding, 89, a Pittsburgh-based jazz pianist who has been playing professionally for more than 75 years. “We’re a family. So wherever something is going on, we’re going to try to be there.”

George Spaulding will be performing in an family jam session over the weekend with relatives he has never met, including 14-year-old saxophone player Jeff Trent and trumpeter William Spaulding.

“I’ve been in the corporate world for many years, and everybody’s stabbing everyone in the back — and the front,” said William Spaulding. “Last night I came in here, I walked in with my fiancee. It was like she knew everybody. She never met anyone. You didn’t have to watch your back, didn’t have to worry about anything. You were able to be with family.”

The highlight of the weekend entrepreneurial expo will be the keynote speech by Stedman Graham, an education entrepreneur, Spaulding descendant, and longtime companion of Oprah Winfrey.

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