MADELEINE BRAND, host:

For many black women, finding love is a serious issue. Census data show that roughly 40 percent of black women have never been married. That's nearly twice the percentage for white women. One entrepreneur in Los Angeles is fighting those odds, as Jenee Darden reports.

(Soundbite of restaurant)

JENEE DARDEN: More than 100 black women pack a small Italian restaurant near West Los Angeles. It's standing-room only. They're not here for the good food. These ladies are looking for something different.

Ms. FLEACE WEAVER (Entrepreneur): I am now the international lover. All right, I am an equal opportunity lover.

DARDEN: Meet entrepreneur and L.A. socialite Fleace Weaver.

Ms. WEAVER: That means I love who is good to me, all right? I don't want anybody just because they're a certain color…

DARDEN: Weaver is African-American. She dates men of all colors: black, white, brown — and wants more black women to do the same. Weaver is kicking off her seminar Free Your Mind: The Black Girl's Guide to Interracial Dating. The idea came to her after noticing many of her black friends had it all: a career, house, independence, but no man. Some black professional women say it's harder to find a black man on their level.

You can see the trend on college campuses. According to the Department of Education, in the fall of 2007, 36 percent of black students enrolled in college were men, 64 percent were black women. But Weaver argues Mr. Right doesn't have to be Mr. Black.

Ms. WEAVER: Okay, there is no reason for us to believe that we have to be alone, okay? The only thing that's keeping us from finding someone is that we limit ourselves.

DARDEN: Interracial dating is a sensitive issue in the black community. And African-Americans have a brutal history with race relations. And some black people see dating outside the race as betraying the culture. Still, more black men are thinking outside the box. According to research from Stanford, black men are nearly three times more likely than black women to marry interracially. If we're set on black love only, Weaver says black women may be passing up good men.

Ms. WEAVER: Some of you all out here have gotten some signals and (unintelligible) blew him off because he wasn't chocolate, okay? But we've got to get over that unless you want to be home with chocolate cats.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DARDEN: Forget the cats, let's talk men. A dozen nonblack men spoke on a panel, all date or are married to black women. They answered questions about crossing the color line. For instance: How do you know if a nonblack guy likes black women? Francisco Dao and Mark Heller(ph) answered.

Mr. FRANCISCO DAO: If a white guy, or Asian guy or Mexican guy — whatever race irrelevant likes you, then he's going to ask you out just like a black man would.

Mr. MARK HELLER: Well, if you're in a social setting and a man comes up to you, he's interested. That's it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DARDEN: Of course they touched on that other sensitive topic for black women: hair. Are other men okay with the various textures and style of black women's hair? The entire panel agreed short, long, straight or kinky, it doesn't matter. Christopher Rawley is white and is married to a black woman. After his wife burned herself with a curling iron, he told her…

Mr. CHRISTOPHER RAWLEY: Don't do this because of what you think I want you to be like. Be you. And you're beautiful natural.

DARDEN: They also heard from a few black men. Weaver says she invited them to send a message that some black men support this cause, and the program is not to bash them. Ryeal Simms was one of the black male speakers. He's a relationship coach. Simms encourages his black female clients to expand their options, but do it for the right reasons.

Mr. RYEAL SIMMS (Relationship Coach): Because if you're going in it thinking that, well, if he's not African-American, he's going to treat me better and I'm going to be really happy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIMMS: Because regardless, we're all still men.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DARDEN: A lot was covered in three hours. Some ladies say they're sticking with black men only. Others like Star Dickson(ph) plan to open their dating pool to nonblack men.

Ms. STAR DICKSON: They are actually a viable option. So I'm excited and look forward to my future date.

DARDEN: Regardless of who the women choose to date, Weaver hopes they left the seminar with at least one idea.

Ms. WEAVER: Dating is just dating. Men are just men. You know, it's all the same at the end of the day.

DARDEN: Weaver is taking the Free Your Mind seminar to Chicago, Atlanta and New York this fall.

For NPR News, I'm Jenee Darden.

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