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Marry Your Baby Daddy Day: Activist marries unwed parents

Maryann Reid holds mass weddings for black couples who have children.

By Andrea AppletonContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / February 14, 2008

Wedding bells: These are what novelist and family activist Maryann Reid (not shown) hopes to hear more of in the African-American community. As the organizer of ‘Marry Your Baby Daddy Day,’ she has married off 20 black couples with children, including Shawn and Patrice Lindsey, who have two daughters Nia, 1, and Lenasia, 12.

Mary Knox Merrill - staff

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New York

Maryann Reid's "dream board" is propped on a plastic lawn chair in her living room in Brooklyn. Magazine clippings cover the entire poster board: a drawing of a pile of books, a photo of a Range Rover, the phrase "Gucci shoes click-clacking."

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"These are all the things I want in my life," says Ms. Reid, who writes romance novels of the single-girl-in-the-city variety for black women. "I believe you attract what you focus on."

Prominent among the clippings are an engagement ring, a wedding dress. and a happy couple (rapper Jay-Z and singer Beyoncé).

Reid, 31 and single, dreams of wedding bells. But not just for herself. She wishes they jangled more for her peers in the African-American community, where the marriage rate is 36 percent and 70 percent of children are born out of wedlock.

Statistics like these are what convinced Reid to take matters into her own hands: She has christened Sept. 27 "Marry Your Baby Daddy Day." An act of grass-roots social engineering, her effort to wed unmarried black couples who have children echoes efforts – by government, churches, and social welfare groups – to strengthen the institution of marriage.

The first Marry Your Baby Daddy Day, in 2005, was marked by an all-expenses-paid wedding at the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn for 10 black couples with children. Ten more walked down the aisle at Manhattan's Riverside Church last September .

For each ceremony, Reid convinced dozens of local businesses to donate goods and services – such as designer dresses, bouquets, wedding cakes – $90,000 worth for the first mass wedding, and $125,000 for the second.

Reid hasn't earned a dime from the enterprise, but she claims she seeks something more intangible. "I want to go back to what African-Americans were known as," she says, citing the decline of marriage among blacks, a trend that scholars attribute to factors ranging from the legacy of slavery to rising incarceration rates among black men. "They have historically been a married people. But now we don't have any family structure in our community at all."

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Reid herself grew up in a fractured family. Her parents broke up before she was born, and her mother, alone and pregnant, emigrated from Jamaica to Brooklyn. She raised Reid and her younger sister – by a different father – by herself, working from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. as a hotel reservation manager, and from 4 p.m. to midnight as a telephone operator.

"I saw how hard she worked to make two incomes," says Reid. "I think it's partly because of that that I'm so interested in marriage."

As a journalism student at Fordham University Reid briefly converted to Islam, wearing the hijab and jelaba of the orthodox Muslim woman. The appeal was more cultural than religious, she says now: "I just fell in love with the family life of being a Muslim. The men are very much held accountable for being fathers. I liked the value placed on the family bond."

When Reid went to work – as a news desk assistant at CNN and in public relations for publisher Penguin Putnam – she put aside the outer trappings of her religion, and eventually left the faith itself. In 2001, she published her first book, a collection of novellas called "Sex and the Single Sister," followed by "Use Me or Lose Me."

In 2003, while pondering the topic of her next book, she says, the phrase "Marry Your Baby Daddy Day" popped fully formed into her head. "I can't tell you how," she says. "It just dropped in." Her next book – about three sisters who must marry the fathers of their children in order to inherit $3 million – was called "Marry Your Baby Daddy."

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