Lyndon Burch’s job helped him connect the dots.
The Garrard Center director for Girls Inc., Burch is around many girls who come from single-parent homes -- and many of those whose parents never married.
“Out-of-wedlock children suffer when there’s no male figure in their life,” he said. “Property values suffer because (the parents) aren’t buying homes; the kids are more of a discipline problem; they’re not taught at home by a mother and father.
“In my daily work, I see that effect.”
What resulted: A local component of national Black Marriage Day on March 27. He’s been getting the word out to local churches, encouraging people to renew their vows in church that day. Then, on April 3, he will honor seven local couples in the Black Marriage Hall of Fame.
Starting last summer, he did some research about marriage in the African-American community. He came across the name Nisa Muhammad, who runs the Wedded Bliss Foundation in Washington, D.C. It’s a “community-based organization helping teens, singles and couples create healthy relationships and healthy marriages so more children grow up with the benefits of a two-parent family,” according to the Wedded Bliss Web site.
In 2002, Muhammad created Black Marriage Day, designated for every fourth Sunday in March. The first celebration in 2003 had 30 cities participating. Last year people in 300 communities participated.
“She saw the perils of the black community and she saw the marriage rate was lower, and the divorce rate was higher,” compared to the general population, Burch said.
Inspired by the foundation, Burch thought, “ ‘We should do this in Columbus.’ ”
He contacted Muhammad last summer to see if anything was being done in Columbus. It wasn’t, so he took the initiative.
“The cultural cues that once guided us to marriage like family values, literature and media now guide us toward sexual relationships without responsibility,” Muhammad writes on her blog. “We tend to be the losers in this, left with one child after another trying to do the best we can with only half of what’s required. It is not natural for a woman to have or even yearn to rear children by herself. ”
The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, statistics show. Today, blacks have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the U.S. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, compared to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African-American women are the least likely in the country to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent.
After age 5, Lyndon Burch was raised by his single mother, Sarah Burch, in South Carolina.
“She did her best,” he said. “She taught me the importance of family and instilled in me the idea that a man should be there for his family, even if the marriage doesn’t work out.
“A father needs to be there for the band concerts and the games, and if the child is having a hard time.”
Lyndon Burch married his first wife when he was 21 years old. They divorced after eight years. They didn’t have children.
He met his current wife, the former Sheba Thomas, about eight years ago when he was working for Verizon in Atlanta and she was living in Columbus. One day she called Verizon for help with her phone. She got Lyndon on the line, and they hit it off. Two weeks later, she invited him to Columbus to attend a vows renewal service for her pastor and his wife, the Rev. Joe Roberson and Beverly Roberson.
Sheba is a member of South Columbus United Methodist, and was close to the previous pastor. (Roberson died unexpectedly in 2009 while he was district superintendent in Statesboro.)
When the pastor first met Lyndon Burch, he said, “You know that’s my daughter,” Lyndon Burch recalled. Translation: Be nice to her.
The couple married Oct. 16, 2004 at South Columbus UMC where they remain members.
This summer, Sheba Burch is due to have the couple’s first biological child. Lyndon Burch is the step-father of 15-year-old Charles Thomas and 11-year-old Kerri Thomas, the children from Sheba Burch’s previous marriage.
Lyndon Burch is calling on all churches to avail themselves to re-dedicate couple’s vows on March 27.
“It can be as elaborate or as simple as they’d like,” Burch said.
The Black Marriage Hall of Fame celebration will be at the Liberty Theatre Cultural Centre. Burch is accepting nominations of couples through March 27. Six of the couples need to be married 20 years or more; the seventh can be married at least two years “and show great promise,” Burch said.
In addition, the couples may be interracial (with one spouse African-American); and the couples need to be heterosexual. The point of the hall of fame event is to highlight successful, healthy marriages, Burch said.
For more information, call Lyndon Burch at 706-575-0834 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allison Kennedy, 706-576-6237