Getting Black Men & Women In Sync

A Discussion To Help Heal The Rifts In Our Relationships

October 08, 2006|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,[Sun Staff]

It's Friday night and a group of professionals begins to drift into an attractively renovated townhouse in Reservoir Hill. The lights are dimmed, the refreshments are tasty, music by R&B jazz vocalists Kem and Liz Wright is setting the mood. The anticipation is building, like a party beginning to crackle.

However, there's a twist: These folks have gathered -- as they have for the past few months -- to talk about male-female relationships rather than simply socialize.

Participants in the Black Love Forum -- women and men, single and married -- want to find solutions to reverse the statistics that show marriage rates plummeting and divorces increasing among African-Americans.

Each meeting explores a provocative theme such as sex and intimacy, money and finance, religion and spirituality, and children and their impact on relationships.

Tonight's topic -- forgiveness.

Omitunde Slack, a financial-aid specialist at Morgan State University, suggests that black men and women need to learn how to resolve grievances in their relationships.

"When you have resentments building up, it can lead to creating a battleground about everything," she says. "If you just layer things and ball them up together, it becomes a laundry list. You lambaste someone with all these things and they don't know which to address."

"Is forgiveness different for men?" one woman asks Alex James, an assistant director in the film industry who's sitting next to Angela, his wife of 11 years.

"Yeah, because to a great extent, women hold on to stuff as opposed to what men do," James says.

"You don't think men hold on to stuff?" another woman in the group asks.

"To me, it just depends on what it is," James says.

A lively discussion follows. But its purpose is less about assigning blame than deciphering how couples can move past the finger-pointing.

"In the times we're living in, it behooves people to work on the relationship they have," says Slack, a single woman with three grown children. "It's just not easy to find a good mate. When you have someone special, and they're not being abusive or putting you in a really bad situation, it's important to work hard to get that relationship to last."

This is exactly the kind of discussion that Mischa Green envisioned when she created the free forum last year as an extension of her educational-consulting company, In the Name of Love Character Development Institution. Held once a month at different homes, the Black Love Forum has attracted as many as 40 participants at a time ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s.

"I want to see black men and women communicate better and understand one another," says Green, a divorced mother of two. "The goal is to get them to look at the obstacles we face in forming those healthier relationships that can, in turn, lead to healthier home environments and marriages."

At the moment, the numbers are pretty discouraging. Although the marriage rate has declined in recent decades for all Americans, it's fallen most sharply for African-Americans.

Last year, 46 percent of blacks over the age of 15 living in Baltimore had never been married, compared to 28 percent of all Americans of the same age, according to an analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of a U.S. Census Bureau survey.

Nearly seven out of every 10 black children are now born outside of marriage -- a statistic linked to single parenthood and poverty. Children in single-parent families are five times as likely to be poor as those from married-couple families, says demographer and senior fellow William O'Hare of the Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based organization dedicated to bettering the lives of disadvantaged children.

Studies also link absentee fathers to higher rates of delinquency, dropping out of high school and drug use among youths.

"We don't have a children's problem, we have an adult problem," Green says, quoting Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman.

Green is among an emerging group of advocates who in recent years have made saving the black family a mission. Comedian Bill Cosby has traveled the country -- and was in Baltimore this summer -- to remind parents, particularly fathers, of their obligations toward their children.

Other grass-roots efforts include National Black Marriage Day, an event started in 2004 to highlight the importance and rewards of marriage. It was begun by reporter Nisa Islam Muhammad of The Final Call, a newspaper founded by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Last year, novelist Maryann Reid, author of Marry Your Baby Daddy, organized "Marry Your Baby Daddy Day," an all-expenses-paid wedding extravaganza in New York for 10 selected couples with children. She brought her book tour to Baltimore's Morgan State University last year.

A professor at Indiana University, Lorraine Blackman, has developed the "The African-American Marriage Enrichment Program: How to Make Your Good Thing Better," an eight-week curriculum for instructors to teach couples how to strengthen their relationships.

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