Sun., July 18, 2010 12:26pm (EDT)

One Black Couple Who's Beaten The Odds, So Far
By Katia Riddle
Updated: 4 years ago

Brian and Kendra Cosom want to make their marriage last.
Statistically speaking, Kendra and Brian Cosom of Baltimore were unlikely candidates for marriage. The 2000 census reports nearly double the number of unmarried African-Americans as compared to whites. Marriage rates are even lower in low-income, black neighborhoods like theirs.

Married a year, the couple is learning that staying together takes much more than love.

The day Kendra and Brian met, they were working concessions at the Ravens NFL stadium. Kendra was training Brian on the cash register. She was 16, a high school student, and he was 19 and had already graduated.

"I wasn't being bossy," Kendra says. "It was just that all of the girls were falling all over him, and I wasn't. And I guess I was the only different one. But somehow, at the end of the night, he ended up having my phone number. And I had his."

They dated for the next three years. Kendra found out she was pregnant when she was 19, after she had graduated from high school.

"I was very scared," Kendra says, "because, like, when I first met him, I just thought he was one of the guys that just wanted to talk, or do whatever, and then leave."

Her fears are understandable. Marriages are so rare in neighborhoods like theirs that one expert described them as "marriage deserts." And according to the 2000 census, seven out of 10 black mothers are unmarried. To combat these trends, a non-profit organization called the Center for Urban Families offers free classes in Baltimore that focus on relationship skills. Kendra and Brian did the program before they were married.

The Ideal Marriage And The Reality

On this night at the center, mediator Matthew Baucus stands in the middle of a classroom. About a half-dozen couples sit around Baucus in a semi-circle. He asks everyone to write down one thing they'd like their partner to change, and Curtis Richardson says that he'd like a pet.

His girlfriend, Candice Blackwell, says it's not going to happen. "If I see that he can hold down the kids every day and just make sure that everything that needs to be done is done without me having to say anything, then I'll trust that he'll be able to do the same thing with an animal," she says.

They compromise and decide to get a fish.

Baucus says these couples don't have many examples of healthy partnerships in their lives. Another program facilitator, Jocelyn Gainers, adds that the only examples are often on TV.

"They look at the Huxtables from the Cosby Show and they see a successful relationship, but it was a doctor and a lawyer. And they're not doctors and lawyers," Gainers says. "So for whatever reason, they feel that that's not possible for them."

She says couples like Kendra and Brian -- who make it work despite obstacles -- are a rare breed.

A Newlywed Dream Falls Short

Even so, four months after their wedding, Kendra and Brian struggled. They had moved to Austin, Texas, and were sharing a two-bedroom apartment with Brian's parents.

They went to Austin because they wanted to get away from the crime in Baltimore, but Kendra couldn't find a job. She was bored and depressed. Brian didn't get the well-paying job he thought he would. Instead, he was working in a warehouse. They were stuck.

"I mean, we are newlyweds," Kendra said. "I always thought newlyweds would have their own place, and be ready to start their new life. I thought that's how it's supposed to be"

So they made a new plan. Kendra would take the baby and go back to Baltimore to live with her family. Brian would stay in Austin and work. They would both save money, and when Kendra could get them an apartment, Brian would join them.

"I think positive," Brian said. "If the plan don't work, then we gotta make a u-turn. But I always think my plan's gonna work. I always think the plan's going to work."

The next morning, Brian packed Kendra and their son, Brion, into the car to take them to the airport. Outside the security gate, they were stoic as they said goodbye. They were confident it would only take a few more months for Brian to save up enough money and move back to Baltimore.

The First Year; How Many More?

They were right. Six months later, Kendra and Brian reunited. Just a few weeks before their one-year anniversary, they're back exactly where they started, living with Kendra's mom in Baltimore. This time, there's one very big change: Kendra has given birth to their second son, Brayden.

"When we left, it was just us three," Kendra says. "We come back, now there was four of us. So yeah, we definitely need our own space."

Kendra, Brian and the kids are living in a four-bedroom house with Kendra's two brothers and sister as well as her mother. Brian is driving a bus. Kendra takes care of the kids. Brian says the hardest part of the last year, for him, is accepting all the responsibility he's come to shoulder.

"You gotta take care of everything -- the family, the household, all that -- you gotta take care of everything. Everything is in your hands," Brian says. "Sometimes you get frustrated."

In the meantime, they continue trying to save money. Kendra combs the Internet for apartment listings. Brian says when he has doubts, he repeats the following to himself: "Compromise and stay healthy. You know, stay positive."

Three simple vows that are holding their marriage together. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]