healthy-marriage-forum2_fc.jpgThe black marriage is facing a debilitating spiral.

Over the past 40 years, the number of black married couples has decreased drastically.  In 1963, more than 70 percent of black families were headed by married couples. In 2006, that number had dropped to only 46 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The decline is accompanied by an increase in serious social problems, according to the Census Bureau.

Children and women in unmarried households experience higher levels of poverty, abuse, behavioral and emotional problems and lower academic achievement, according to the Census Bureau.

Members of South Florida’s black communities came together to talk about the state of black marriages on March 25 at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale.

The forum was part of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers of Broward County’s second annual event  titled, “The Power of 2: Living, Loving, Learning, Lasting — Sustaining Healthy Marriages in African-American Communities.’’ 

With support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, OIC has launched its newest initiative, the Healthy Marriage Project, which encourages marriage and promotes the well-being of children.

Arlene Connelly, the Healthy Marriage Project manager who also coordinated the forum, expressed the significance of teaching younger generations how healthy relationships lead to healthy marriages.

“It’s critical because our young people are making relationship decisions at a very young age,” Connelly said. “And it’s important that adults who are seasoned, who are knowledgeable, who are experienced share that knowledge so that our young people can be guided in the right direction.”

This year’s healthy marriage forum featured a distinguished panel of four married couples — Ben and Freddye Williams, married 36 years; Ed and Yvette Brinson, married 31 years;
Anthony and Margaret Davis, married 29 years; and former state Rep. Christopher Smith with his wife, Desorae, who have been married eight years.

The couples offered their advice and philosophies on marriage and the family.

Radio personality Tamara Gant, co-host of “Those 2 Girls in the Morning” on 97.3 The Coast, moderated the discussion. 

There were three topics of concentration: preservation of family structure; strengthening relationships and marriages; and the value of marriage.  

The significance of a solid family unit resonated throughout the topics.     

Yvette Brinson and her husband are pastors and founders of Redeeming Word Christian Center International in Fort Lauderdale.

The Davises are pastors and founders of Church of Brotherly Love in Pompano Beach and Brotherly Love King’s Table Corporation.

Brinson shared her upbringing in a “matriarchal family,” due to the consistent absence of fathers.

“The women were caught in a cycle: struggling to raise the family without fathers,” Brinson said.  “I decided at a young age that I would break that cycle.”

Yvette married her husband at 18 and “followed the Word of Christ,” submitting to His calling for marriage.

“In some marriages today we see the disorder, where the husband takes the back seat and women run things,” Brinson said. “But that’s not the way God intended.”

She emphasized that “we must preserve the family institution as God ordained it.”

Smith approached the matter in a less biblical way.

“It’s like football,” he said.  “You work as a team, but there has to be a captain.”

Freddye Williams initiated the conversation about finance — the monetary value of marriage. 

“Make sure your finances are in order,” she said.  “You need to have good life insurance protection; make sure you have money to educate your children; invest 10 percent of your funds, and make sure you have a good retirement plan.”

The panelists carried the remainder of the discussion with personal testimony on how they have managed to sustain their marriages and the lessons they have learned.

The healthy marriage forum followed the National Celebration of Black Marriage Day; which, now in its sixth year, is recognized on the fourth Sunday in March.

The African American Healthy Marriage Initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that single female-headed families are far more prevalent in the black community than in all other ethnic groups.

The OIC of Broward County has recognized these statistics and acknowledges the necessity for healthy family formation and sustainability.

“Power of 2” coincides with OIC’s Strengthening Families Initiative.  Based on the building blocks: healthy marriages, stronger families, stronger communities, the initiative’s goal is to provide youth, parents and adults with training on the essential skills needed to form and sustain healthy relationships.

Before concluding the evening on March 25, Connelly took a moment to “celebrate the marriage milestone” of Gerald and Vera Armbrister.

Married for more than 40 years, longer than any other couple at the event, the Armbristers were recognized for their ongoing commitment to each other and the union of marriage.

Photo by Sumner Hutcheson III. Radio personality Tamara Gant, left, who moderated the panel on black marriages. stands next to Opportunities Industrialization Centers of Broward County Executive Director Newton Sands, right.