Sept. 29, 2005 it's wedding day! Grooms dance down the aisle, one after the other. They're followed by their brides elegantly walking to the altar. Everything looks pretty much like a traditional wedding, albeit a mass one, but it's far from typical.
This isn't just a group wedding. It's a group wedding specifically for unmarried couples with children. This day is called "Marry Your Baby Daddy Day," and it's the brainchild of 31-year-old Maryann Reid. Reid came up with the idea about three years ago when her wedding got called off.
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"I was left at the altar, actually that experience was dramatic, and I felt that somehow I had to get out [of] a funk," said Reid. She figured that instead of dwelling on her own problems, she should take action. "Why don't I help other people get married?" she said.
Although Reid had no children, she'd noticed that many of her neighbors with kids weren't married. Of course, there have always been babies born out of wedlock. And in America, there's been a steady increase in single motherhood over the past 60 years. But among blacks, those rates are higher -- in America today, nearly 70 percent of black children are born to single moms.
This was not the historical norm. Most black kids were born to married parents until the time when President Johnson promised to end poverty. Perhaps because poor people were offered more government aid, moms had less need for a husband. Some mothers could lose a welfare check if their husband made money. People respond to such incentives, and the out-of-wedlock birthrate has continued to grow across the board, but especially among blacks.
"There is no stigma anymore in the black community about having a child out of wedlock," said Reid, which led to the creation of Marry Your Baby Daddy Day. For those who don't know, Reid explains that "a Baby Daddy is simply an unmarried father. But they've become caricatures in the ghetto."
Reid said, "Enough of that! Enough of upholding this 'baby daddy' and 'baby momma' as the norm. I am really just fed up with the decline of marriage in the black community It's about bring black love back in style. And that's what I want to do."
But can't you have love without marriage?
Reid said, "I just think that marriage is the ultimate way to express a love between two people." So she started a one-woman crusade, going to cake bakers, dress designers and other people who work on weddings, and persuaded them to donate their services to give a wedding to 10 couples on Marry Your Baby Daddy Day. "We want to turn baby mommas into wives," Reid said.
It's now been a year and a half since the first 10 couples got married -- are they still together? Reid is pleased to say that they are. And some of them say they are thrilled about their experience and very grateful for the opportunity. One woman said, "The commitment to one another, it really kinda strengthens the bond and the family and lets you know that, you know what, he's my pillar of strength and I'm his."
Another bride from the 2005 ceremony said, "I love it when [my husband] calls me his wife. I love hearing that."
When will Reid think she's succeeded? If she can get Sean "P. Diddy" Combs to marry his girlfriend, she said. "I like to put it this way: It's a pity to be a Diddy."
She's referring to a December Essence magazine cover story where Combs talks about not getting married to the mother of his children. Combs is quoted in the article as saying, "It's not a reflection of how much I love Kim. It's just that I'm learning how to be a good boyfriend." But Reid doesn't buy it. "I have to crack up. Because, all right, haven't they been together for like 13 years already? I'd love to invite him to get married with us on Marry Your Baby Daddy Day."
Making Dreams Come True
So far, more than a thousand couples with kids have applied to be part of the next wedding. Reid has culled the list to 50 couples, all of whom she is currently interviewing. To be selected, you must have children, be responsible and convince Reid that you love each other and stand a good chance at staying together for life.
"I'm looking for couples that are close -- where you can see the bond without them having to verbally explain it," said Reid.
But the couples getting married aren't the only winners. Reid gets a strong sense of personal satisfaction from Marry Your Baby Daddy Day. She feels she is helping to bring her community together and strengthen family bonds. Reid said that some couples she meets have thought about marrying but don't have the money to throw the wedding they'd always hoped for.
"It is an event that makes people's dreams come true I can't tell you how much, how fantasy-like it is And we do a stylish, fantastic, top-of-the-line wedding."
One day this September, if Reid pulls it off like she did the last time, another 10 couples with kids will be able to call each other husband and wife.