A Grand Celebration of Love
Photos by Kennette Lamar
hey danced. They feasted. They fellowshipped.
For two days, couples from throughout metro Detroit came together to do that and more in celebration of a tradition some believe to be in danger of becoming more a relic than reality within the African-American community: marriage.
Gathering recently at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, they became part of a national grassroots movement. Like folks at city halls, community centers, houses of worship and elsewhere in some 300 other communities nationwide, these couples convened locally to observe the 10th annual Black Marriage Day.
In doing so, they had the opportunity to renew their vows, receive and share insight into strengthening their unions, compete for prizes, have professional portraits taken of them and end the festivities dancing. The weekend of events was in line with the Charles H. Wright Museum’s mission to provide learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events that allow people to explore African-American history and culture.
Marriage, once denied to African Americans during slavery, became one of the first and most cherished rights this community exercised in freedom. Yet contemporary statistics reveal that marriage rates have been declining among African Americans since 1960. Today, they are far less likely than any other cultural group in this country to get married or stay married. And, according to experts, they are far more likely to contend with poverty and other challenges as a result.
Nisa Muhammad, a wife and mother in Washington, D.C., heads the community-based Wedded Bliss Foundation and launched Black Marriage Day in 2002 to confront these trends. The event has since grown from the 30 or so communities that first participated, to one now observed every year, nationwide, on the fourth Sunday of March, with a weekend of events often leading up to that day.
Here, the Charles H. Wright Museum marked Black Marriage Day with such highlights as a choreographed dance by an ensemble of married couples, a screening of the documentary “Happily Ever After: A Positive Image of Black Marriage,” and seminars on topics such as communication and finances. Local radio personality, educator and motivational speaker, Dr. Kenya Ayers, moderated a weekend of discussion that included such special guests as Jamil Muhammad, the director of programs at Wedded Bliss (no relation to Nisa Muhammad) who was featured on CNN’s “Black in America 2.”
The weekend culminated with a contest that netted prizes to six couples in six categories:
Couple of the Year
Winston and Kathy West
WHAT THEY WON: A complimentary overnight stay, 50-minute massage and dinner at MGM Grand Detroit’s IMMERSE Spa
Celebrating their 33rd wedding anniversary in July, they are the proud parents of two Cass Technical High School graduates, Kelly, now a 29-year-old guidance counselor in the Jackson, Miss., school district, and 25-year-old Aaron, a clerk for 36th District Court. “One of the reasons we have stayed together is because of the role models we have had-our parents,” says one of the spouses. “Both sets of parents have been married for more than 40 years. Now, both sides of the family are like one.”
Against All Odds
Al-Von and Debra Stoudemire
WHAT THEY WON: A $500 Meijer gift card
In 2002, Al-Von Stoudemire suffered a severe head injury and broke his hip in 12 places in a terrible accident. “His friends thought he would die. I disagreed,” says Debra. “His recovery was long but, together, we worked through those times.” Since then, Al-Von lost his job and his mother has become ill with, among other things, dementia. Debra says, “We have worked together to overcome many obstacles. We have been friends for 25 years, and married for 17 years and counting.”
Elbert and Odie King
WHAT THEY WON: A gift certificate to Andiamo Restaurant
Married for nearly 47 years, they met on the campus of Grambling State University in Grambling, La. “My wife and I came from humble backgrounds so we began our lives together not with great wealth, but with the love of one another and the values instilled in us by our parents,” says Elbert. “In my wife, I found a woman who could cook real meals, care for our children and still find time for me, her husband. I consider myself blessed and I still see that young bride I loved and adored years ago.”
Richard and Marisa Youngblood
WHAT THEY WON: A gift certificate to Forté Restaurant
Married 25 years, they have endured family conflict, parenthood, long work hours, community and church obligations, and, at times, even talk of divorce. Now grandparents, “through faith and prayer the Lord has kept us together and continues to show us favor. To God be the glory,” says one of the Youngbloods.
Most Bountiful (For a couple that has four or more children)
Tayo and Folakemi Bello
WHAT THEY WON: A $50 Oakland Mall gift certificate
“It was like yesterday,” Tayo says of when he and his wife first met in their homeland of Nigeria 19 years ago. “I was attracted to her not only for her beauty, but for her character and perseverance.” Shortly after marrying, the couple moved to the United States so he could work as a physical therapist. “My wife was pregnant with our second child. Now we are blessed with four beautiful children,” says Tayo.
Most Romantic Proposal
Michael and Lanie Dixon
WHAT THEY WON: A complimentary 50-minute massage at Woodhouse Day Spa
“Lanie was a college student and I, a recently divorced professional with a young son,” says Michael about meeting his wife in an Internet chat room in 1995. “We struck up an instant friendship, even though we were, and remain, total opposites. After hearing a song called “Future Love” by Frank McComb, I knew that’s what she was to me. In 2000, I flew her to Philadelphia and proposed to her on stage at a small, intimate jazz club during a Frank McComb show. Now approaching our 10th year of marriage this year, our love is deep and abiding. Our family is beautiful and strong. We believe the best is yet to come.”