Let's Uplift Black Marriage for a Change

We might be least likely to wed, but plenty of us who have tied the knot would do it all over again, says author Lori Jones Gibbs. In time for Black Marriage Day, here's what she learned when she asked black wives for their stories.

Lori Jones Gibbs with her husband, Kenneth Demire Gibbs Sr.

Lori Jones Gibbs has always known that she had a "do right" man in her husband of 30 years, Kenneth Demire Gibbs Sr. He tempers her excitement with calm, her radical impulses with cool practicality. He is the father of her three children, and has never hesitated to extend his hospitality and support to her friends and relatives who needed a place to stay.

Amid all the complaints one hears about the state of black marriage, where is the literature that uplifts the "do-right brothers" like Kenneth? Jones Gibbs wondered. The 54-year-old financial-services executive decided to set the record straight and show another side of the black love story.

Her book, Yes, I Would Marry Him Again: Wives Salute Their African American Husbands, is a compilation of essays written by black women who said "I do" to the men they loved, and would affirm those two words again and again. Not only can sisters be rough on the brothers, but even more aggravating is the media's often lopsided portrayal of black men, Jones Gibbs told The Root. "I was tired of all the bashing of black men. We as black women, why do we allow others to project [their biases] on our men? I want to create a national dialogue on this issue.

"It's time to focus on what's working instead of what's not working," added Jones Gibbs, who says that is the gist of what Sunday's national Black Marriage Day is all about.

Originally she planned to write her own story to tell the world why she would again marry 54-year-old Kenneth, whom she's known since they were both growing up in Bridgeport, Conn. (They now live in Durham, N.C.) But Jones Gibbs realized that she wasn't the only one who would want to give her hubby props, so she sought out other women to share their stories.

She reached out to her Delta sorority sisters and others she knew, as well as women via the Internet. Responses came from women from various professions and ages who had been married anywhere between eight and 65 years, including those who survived the pain of broken relationships, those who had to look more than once to find "Mr. Right" and those who found love later in life. Pastor and gospel singer Shirley Caesar contributed an essay ("I know where I've been with this man -- only God knows where we're going," she says about husband Harold Ivory Williams.). Jones Gibbs pulled their feedback together into a series of salutes, with photos of each couple on their wedding day and in more recent times.

She said she came away from the project realizing that sometimes, in order to get the kind of commitment enjoyed by the book's contributors, a woman must be willing to walk away and risk losing the man she loves. Some of the women took that risk. "The book is about real marriages, real life," she added. "None of the men in the book are perfect, but they are there for their families."

And the truth is, as wonderful as marriage is, it can be far from glamorous, and downright hard work. That shouldn't stop us from rolling up our sleeves. "Black people still have the lowest marriage rates in the country. Something has to be done. Too many of our children are denied the gift of a two-parent family," says Nisa Muhammad, founder of the Wedded Bliss Foundation and creator of Black Marriage Day.

Since 2003, community and faith-based groups have celebrated the day in unique ways, such as film festivals, workshops, vow renewals, dinners, dancing lessons and churches inducting couples into their Black Marriage Day Hall of Fame. Last year some 300 communities enjoyed celebrations, Muhammad says. "I want to create cultural change where marriage becomes the norm in the black community, rather than the exception. We want to remind couples all the time that wedded bliss can be theirs, and we can show them how," she adds.

Jones Gibbs wants to change perception, too. "I want single women to know that good men are out there. Be clear about what you want and do away with so many stipulations -- he must make six figures, have a Ph.D. What happened to growing together?" She offered this advice: "Marry a man who is your friend, whom you can depend on. Reinforce his masculinity. Learn to leave your work armor at work. Don't bring your work persona home; that's not what he's looking for, or what he needs."