Sistrunk Corridor Cultural Tourism Mecca

Over 50 years ago a small band of adults and college students gathered at the home of Eula Johnson, the first female head of the local chapter of the NAACP, in what is now considered Fort Lauderdale's historic Black Sistrunk community corridor. Crossing racial barriers, they waded into history as they desegregated Fort Lauderdale beach under the glare of national media attention.

Today, the Sistrunk corridor is a center of economic development and cultural tourism for Greater Fort Lauderdale and Ms. Johnson's home has been restored as the headquarters of the local NAACP and a budding civil rights museum. And Fort Lauderdale continues to command national attention as the destination of choice for the country's most prestigious Black organizations.

Within the last year alone a wide range of meeting planners and groups have visited, including the Iota Phi Theta fraternity Bi-Annual Conclave, the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, the National Association of Black Accountants, and the National Association of Newspaper Publishers, as well as major faith-based conventions and conferences on social justice issues.

The National Urban League announced earlier this year that its prestigious annual conference would come to the area for the first time in 2015. Meanwhile, the national office of the NAACP convenes its Civil Rights Advocacy Training Institute in Greater Fort Lauderdale this spring.

As attendees take breaks to relax and enjoy the sunshine and ocean, they may pause during a stroll along the beach at Las Olas Boulevard, the area's trendy shopping and dining street, to view the memorial to a landmark civil rights event that changed history as a part of their multicultural tourism experience.

Historical sidelights like this one add spice to the appeal of the area, and the easy lifestyle and resort feel are big draws. But, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau's multicultural travel team, who work as persistently as waves brushing the shore, groups are lured most by accessibility and service.

Fort Lauderdale has lots of low cost carriers that link to most major cities. A wide range of hotels, including charming and affordable Superior Small Lodgings properties and the Broward County Convention Center are within 20 minutes of the airport and you don't need a rental car to get around. Groups receive assistance from the CVB tailored to their specific needs when it comes to budget concerns and ways to offset expenses, fundraising or educational projects, and links with local sponsors.

"The multicultural market wants good value and great service and our job is to make that happen," says Angela Lopez, National Convention Sales Manager for the CVB. "We're there from initial contact, to selecting hotels, serving groups while they're here and making sure all goes well, and doing follow up to see if things went as planned. The most challenging part of the job is letting go."

Greater Fort Lauderdale is a center for family reunion groups as well, especially during the summer months, which bring together relatives from around the country and the Caribbean. And, events such as the national championships of the American Tennis Association in August, and a Black Tennis Hall of Fame planned by the ATA, the country's oldest Black amateur tennis organization, promise to add even more spice in the future.