Keisha and I will have been married for 11 years in December. It’s been over a decade, but in no way do we feel like we’re wise or experienced enough to be considered professionals at being married. We experience the same ebb and flow of many families in America. We have two kids, and our waking hours typically involve us getting our kids to and from school, making sure baths are taken and night time prayers are said, and everything that happens in-between. We’re managing jobs and bills, participating in our varied ministry expressions and social gatherings, and, of course, church on Sunday. Pretty typical, right?
When my eldest child was still an infant, one of the things I did to bond with him was to take him everywhere with me. Going to the grocery store? Packed him up in his car seat, and whisked him away with me, giving Keisha a well-deserved break. Once, I took him to Boston Market, ‘cause, you know, we get tired of cooking every day. After completing my order, my very fair complexioned newborn in hand, the Boston Market server asked a question I realized had been burning in her brain from the moment my son and I entered. She said, “He’s SO CUTE! Is he yours?” What a strange question, I thought. It wasn’t necessarily strange to engage a person about a baby snuggled in their arms. But in the moment, I pondered the outright questioning of MY paternity, as if this beautiful child wasn’t mine, or rather, the peculiarity of a black father being seen in public, caring for his newborn son. In reply I said, “Of course, he is my son…” She responded, “Are you sure?” confirming my thoughts. Has the sighting of a good, young black father in our communities become so rare and infrequent that the occurrence has to be questioned?
The stereotype of the young black woman is that of a strong but struggling single mom. Not that this is a bad thing. But you’d think people wouldn’t be so surprised that I’m married. As the Director of the ministry Created, I am always speaking to groups of people, some groups big, and others small. I tell stories of my boys quite often. However when I mention my husband Ryan, I can see the questions forming in my audience’s heads. “You’re married?” Perhaps the wedding band on my finger didn’t immediately give it away, I mean, people don’t just wear these for nothing, right? And yet, this question is asked more often than it should. Is it because I’m too young to be a married woman, or is it just strange for a black woman with kids to be also be married. Occasionally, someone’s intrigue leads them to dig deeper, like asking how old my oldest kid is (8 years), perhaps trying to see if we were married before or after we started having kids. Whether in Christian circles or secular ones, why are folks always shocked to hear that I’ve been married to Ryan for over 10 years?
Whether we realize it or not we are being watched. Are we a typical family, probably not? But we are a black family. Our marriage is being watched, and how we raise our kids is being watched. But it’s not for criticism, really. As an example of a black family, we are being watched by our community, and we hope it is to provide inspiration, and to provide hope. Don’t get us wrong, we’d rather you watch the Cosby’s for inspiration; they’re much, much better at it than we are, and are exponentially funnier. However, the Cosby’s aren’t real, and their idyllic family feels more like a distant and unattainable fairy tale.
The truth is, I feel like as a society, we’ve been duped into believing that the black family is a fairy tale, a myth, a hoax, as if finding a healthy black family is as monumental as finding bigfoot (which, depending on who you talk to, doesn’t exist). We know the Cosby’s aren’t real, and are at best, a dusty old show from the 80’s relegated to syndication on TV Land or some other channel I don’t get on cable. We’ve been fooled into thinking that the black husband abuses or cheats on his wife and that black father is absent or uninvolved. The image of a strong black woman is one who is driven and successful, doing what she can for her kids, but always as single parent. Keisha and I, however, choose both spiritually and socially to ascribe to a higher standard. We wish for the strong black family to be present, visible and influential. We want it to be the norm, and not the exception.
When we step out of our house, and we look around at the diverse community we live in VM Ybor, we see both crime and affluence, from hipsters that love historical houses and balk at the homeless and prostitution in our community, to the dope boys a few houses down, that sell drugs to a revolving clientele, day and night. We see the dichotomy of good and bad, and feel the weight of the assumption that the good has white face and the bad has a black one. Others blacks, like us, that have the ability to live elsewhere, question our desire to live here, to face daily the judgment and the danger. We stay because we feel called to do so, but equally important, we stay because our presence matters. And we are not alone, there are others that have done the same. Everyone needs to see this, and hopefully, in the way we live our lives, they are watching and are impacted.
There are not enough positive models in our community of what a healthy, thriving black family should look like. There aren’t enough examples of good black fathers, and not enough examples of strong black marriages. We feel blessed by God to be able to do life together, to live in and to love the community around us, and to raise our kids to be exemplary young black men. We feel blessed to have both joy and laughter in our lives. We feel blessed to be together through the many trials and tribulations, both past and present. We aren’t perfect, but we’re a strong, blessed, faithful and happy black family; it’s okay to watch.
As Ryan and I reflect on the upcoming Voice of Legacy conference, we realized that we all have a part to play in the creation of actual legacy, that is, what will be left behind when we’re gone. For us, we see that played out in many ways, from the influence Ryan and I have on younger couples, to the legacy we hope to leave for our sons. Because although those outside our house are watching, our sons have a front row seat. How will the way we live our lives impact the way they live theirs? This conference, in a way, isn’t for them. They’ll be with Ryan’s parents while we attend the conference, and they’d much rather be playing video games anyway. But this conference, Voice of Legacy, is EXACTLY for them. We get to cast the vision for the black leaders in our community, and we get to live those dreams out, but they are the ones who we’re truly investing in, and they’ll get to reap what we’ll sow. We hope that in watching us, they will also reject our society’s definition of them and of the black family, and instead they’ll continue the legacy they’ve received from us, and ultimately, that we’ve received from Jesus.