The Black Marriage Movement

“Something For Everyone”

Heidi Henderson-Lewis
Photo Cred: The Black Marriage Movement

According to a study conducted by Pew Research Institute, over a third of black people twenty-five and older have never married. This number is four times higher than in 1960. Some of the reasons for this drastic drop in our marriage rates are mass incarceration, a disparity in education between black women and black men, economic hardship, and ineffective communication. Nearly half that do get married eventually end up divorced. Terrence Lewis and Heidi Henderson-Lewis are on a mission to change that.

Over a decade ago, Terrence was working for the Fatherhood Program in conjunction with the African American Healthy Marriage Initiative. The focus was on building healthy relationships between fathers and their children and strengthening the institution of marriage in the African American Community. Heidi was working as a Marriage and Family Therapist and as Executive Director at the Boys and Girls Club in Seattle.

Terrence first created the Seattle Fall Ball as a special night for men and women raising families together to celebrate and connect with others. The evening left Terrence and Heidi believing there was much more they could do. As the Lewis’ reflected on the success of the ball that evening, The Black Marriage Movement was born. Both Terrence and Heidi had been supporting families and couples in the Seattle community for years, so the progression was a no-brainer. The realization that more inner-city children had seen funerals than successful, healthy marriages reinforced the need to push forward. In deciding what they wanted to accomplish with this movement, the couple came up with three tenets: celebration, recreation, and education.

Since its inception, The Annual Seattle Fall Ball has grown from just a few couples to over 350 couples. The elegant affair features a talented emcee who provides continuous laughs throughout the evening, a live band whose harmonious melodies keep the mood light and energetic, and a delectable dinner of salmon, steak, or chicken coupled with sautéed vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes. Dessert is a romantic adventure as couples share cheesecake topped with strawberry sauce and a chocolate cream pie.

As the couples that have been married the longest are presented with gift baskets you get the feeling that if they can make it, so can you. After eating, everyone heads over to the ballroom for dancing, drinks, and good music. If you have a sweet tooth, there is even a bar filled with candy to satisfy your needs. So whether you came to dine, be entertained, reconnect with old friends, meet new friends, step in the name of love, or just sip on apple cider, there is something for everyone.

Throughout the year, The Black Marriage Movement holds workshops and facilitates meetups where they provide educational materials that address the unique challenges faced in our community. In addition, they bring in speakers, plan group outings and give couples Marriage Maintenance Activities to build connections, solve common relationship problems and strengthen communication. Because of their openness and authenticity, Terrence and Heidi help overcome the stigma associated with letting others in on marital issues. They assure us that we are not alone in this and that there is no reason to be perfect in public while falling apart privately.

You don’t need statistics to tell you that The Black Marriage Movement is working. It’s evident in the newlyweds that show up for the first time every year and in the attendance of mature ‘ride or die’ couples that amaze us with their longevity and inspire us to do better. But most of all, the success can be measured by the husbands and wives that have come back from the brink of divorce and dysfunction and are now helping others to do the same. With a will to give back and the experience to lead by example, it’s no wonder that under the guidance of Terrence and Heidi, black marriages in Seattle are standing strong.

My husband and I are looking forward to the world getting back to normal and attending the next Seattle Fall Ball.