Did you know that the black community has the distinction of the lowest marriage rate in America? Sixty-one percent of Black people were married in 1960, compared with the rate of thirty percent today. This is one reason that Black Marriage Day (BMD) was founded by Nisa Islam Muhammad, and is headquartered in the nation’s capital, Washington, DC. BMD is a national initiative started in 2002 to create a cultural shift in the way marriage is viewed and celebrated in the Black community. So it was a pleasure to chat with Mrs. Muhammad on BMD, the celebrations surrounding it and why it’s so important.
How was the concept of Black Marriage Day (BMD) Founded?
Nisa: I was speaking at Smart Marriages conference and I was talking about needing a day where Black people could celebrate marriage in our community. Usually, when you hear about marriage in our community, someone is breaking up and it’s usually all negative. So at the conference, I talked about needing a Black Marriage Day. But I didn’t think any more about it. What I didn’t know at the time was that there was an Essence reporter in the audience. About a month later, she called me and told me she was in my workshop and proceeded to ask me when BMD was? I said, ‘When is what?’ And she replied again, ‘Black Marriage Day.’ So I told her I would call her right back. I immediately went to look at a calendar and thought to myself, ‘Ok, not January the beginning of the year, not February black history month, April is Easter, May is Mother’s Day…’ I just decided it would be the fourth Sunday of March. I went ahead and put the website up really quickly, called her back and said ‘Black Marriage Day is going to be the fourth Sunday of March 2003, and then gave her the website. The November issue of Essence in 2002 had a small article in there about the start of Black Marriage Day. That kicked it off! In 2003, the first year it was celebrated, there were about thirty cities that did something. They heard about it in Essence and just wanted to celebrate. And we’ve been growing ever since.
How has this day grown over the last ten years?
Nisa: We are now in over 300 different communities. I say communities over cities because some cities have three different Black Marriage Day celebrations. People do different things and people celebrate it in a variety of ways. We have been featured on CNN, been on BET, in the Washington Post, the LA Times, the NY Times; so we’ve had a lot of media coverage about this. We’ve really grown and people are excited about taking a day to celebrate marriage in the black community because it doesn’t generally happen.
What are some ways that people are celebrating BMD in the community?
Nisa: People induct couples into what I call the BMD Hall of Fame. For example, Union Temple Baptist Church here in the DC area, inducts couples into their BMD Hall of Fame that have been married for forty years or more. That’s remarkable. In Dallas, there’s an organization called Anthem, and they induct couples into BMD Hall of Fame by getting beautiful portraits of the couples done. At the bottom, the couples tell their secrets to success in staying happily married. They then take those pictures and put them on display at City Hall. So anyone going to City Hall gets to see these portraits of these wonderful couples who have been inducted. Then they take the exhibit and place it at the Dallas Love airport. Now everyone coming in and out of the airport get to see all of these beautiful portraits. This gives people a visual of some wonderful things to do.
The Mocha Moms organization encourages all of their chapters nationwide to do BMD events. I’ve done Twitter parties, and a lot of other wonderful things. This Saturday I’ll be speaking at a conference called Black Love Lives at the University of Pennsylvania. I give people incredible creativity. I give suggestions on the BMD website with tips and ideas. But people come up with all types of stuff that just wows me! A couple of years ago, there was a church in Cleveland that had the men put together a CD called ‘Why I Love Her So.’ About ten of the men made a CD about why they love their wives, then played and spoke about the CD — not a dry eye by the end of it. It was an incredible, incredible experience. I’m so encouraged about what people are doing because this is what we need. Even the wonderful things that Lamar and Ronnie have done on the movies they are producing and showing around BMD has been amazing. That has just changed the whole thought process of BMD. People have really been doing some wonderful things.
What is the legacy you want to leave behind when people hear about BMD 30 years from now?
When people are still celebrating in thirty years, I want there to be such an outpour of information that marriage does matter in the black community. Right now, marriage is almost a curse word in some communities. I want that to be changed. I want BMD to become a cultural que that guides young people towards marriage.
I was speaking at Morehouse College a couple of years ago about marriage. I asked them to name a song where a black man was (preferably) singing to a black woman telling her I love you. They couldn’t think of one song. They started looking around and scratching their heads. So it goes to show that the music that our young people nurse on has nothing to do with love and marriage. All those songs deal with is sex without responsibility. So I really want us to begin to change that culture, so that there are some cultural ques that exist in our world to help understand the value of marriage. And I really want BMD to be one of those things that people can look back on and say, ‘You know, I wasn’t thinking about marriage but I heard about BMD at an event and have really reconsidered it.’
How can more people get involved in their own communities?
If you go to the newly established website, BlackMarriageDay.com we have ideas and information on there. People can contact me through the website or through TheWedded Bliss Foundation, which is the mother organization of BMD. If people need guidance or technical assistance, we are more than happy to help. People can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
BMWK — How will you be celebrating Black Marriage Day in your community?