GUY RAZ, host:
Now, for the past three weeks, we've been featuring a series on this program called Newly Wed in America. It's a look at how marriage has changed over the last half-century. And today we wrap up our series at a place where marriage is becoming increasingly rare - inside the African-American community.
According to the last census, around 42 percent of black men and women in America had never been married. For whites, the rate is closer to around 20 percent. And among lower income African-Americans, the rate of marriage plummets even further.
Reporter Katia Riddle has been working on this project. Today, she brings us the story of one Baltimore couple who, statistically speaking, were unlikely candidates for marriage. She followed them through their first year.
KATIA RIDDLE: The first time I met Kendra and Brian Cosom, it was just a few days before their wedding in June of last year. They are giddy as they sit on the couch with their 2-year-old son Brion. They tell me about the day they met. They were both working concessions at the Ravens NFL stadium in Baltimore, where they live. Kendra was training Brian on the cash register. She was 16, a high school student; he was 19 and had already graduated.
Mr. BRIAN COSOM: She would be, like, just saying things (unintelligible): You press this button right here to do this and you do this this way.
Ms. KENDRA COSOM: I wasn't being bossy. It was just that, like, all the girls was falling all over him, and it just well, 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.
RIDDLE: They dated for the next three years. After she graduated, when she was 19, Kendra found out she was pregnant.
Ms. COSOM: I was very scared because, like, when I first met him, I just thought that he was just one of the guys that just wanted to talk or whatever, or do whatever and then leave.
RIDDLE: Her fears are understandable. Marriages are so rare in neighborhoods like this one. One expert described them as marriage deserts.
In Baltimore, to combat these marriage deserts, a nonprofit organization called the Center for Urban Families offers free classes that focus on relationship skills. Kendra and Brian did the program before they were married.
On this night at the center, mediator Matthew Baucus stands in the middle of a classroom.
Mr. MATTHEW BAUCUS (Mediator, Center for Urban Families): So encourage the ideas you want passed, basically.
RIDDLE: About a half-dozen couples sit around Baucus in a semi-circle. He's asked everyone to write down one thing they'd like their partner to change.
Curtis Richardson is saying he'd like a pet. His girlfriend, Candice Blackwell, says it's not going to happen.
Ms. CANDICE BLACKWELL: You know, 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.
RIDDLE: They compromise and decide to get a fish.
Baucus says these couples often don't have examples in their lives of healthy partnerships.
Ms. JOCELYN GAINERS (Program Facilitator, Center for Urban Families): Because they sometimes have TV images of marriage.
RIDDLE: Jocelyn Gainers also works at the center.
Ms. GAINERS: 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. So for whatever reason, they feel that that's not possible for them.
RIDDLE: She says couples like Kendra and Brian, who make it work despite obstacles, are a rare breed.
Even so, the next time I see them, four months after the wedding, Kendra and Brian are struggling. They moved to Texas. She opens the door to the two-bedroom apartment they're sharing with his parents.
Ms. COSOM: Hi.
RIDDLE: How are you?
They went to Austin to get away from the crime in Baltimore. But Kendra couldn't find a job there. On the day I visited, she and her son are sitting in the apartment watching music videos. Kendra says she's bored and depressed. Brian didn't get the well-paying job he thought he would. Instead, he's working in a warehouse. They're stuck living with Brian's parents and Kendra without a job.
Ms. COSOM: I mean, we are newlyweds. And I always thought newlyweds have their own place and be ready to start their new life. I thought that's how it's supposed to be. It's just them.
(Soundbite of song, "Fallin")
Ms. ALICIA KEYS, (Singer): (Singing) The way that I love you.
RIDDLE: So they make a new plan. Kendra will take the baby and go back to Baltimore to live with her family. Brian will stay in Austin and work. They'll both save money, and when Kendra can get them an apartment, Brian will join them.
Mr. COSOM: Always think positive. If the plan don't work, then we're going to make a U-turn. But I always think my plan's going to work. I always think the plan's going to work.
RIDDLE: The next morning, Brian packs Kendra and his son into the car to take them to the airport.
Unidentified Woman #1: And it's one adult and one child?
Ms. COSOM: Yes, ma'am.
Unidentified Woman #1: And how many bags are you taking?
Ms. COSOM: Two.
RIDDLE: Kendra and Brian are stoic as they say goodbye outside the security gate. They say they're sure it will only take a few months for Brian to save up the money so he can move back to Baltimore.
Ms. COSOM: Say, see you later, Dada.
(Soundbite of baby talk)
Mr. COSOM: Bye-bye.
RIDDLE: In fact, six months later, Kendra and Brian are back together. I met them in May, just a few weeks before their one-year anniversary. They're living with Kendra's mom in Baltimore, back exactly where they started, except for one very big change.
(Soundbite of baby crying)
RIDDLE: Kendra gave birth to their second son, Brayden, two months ago.
Ms. COSOM: When we left, it was just us three. We come back, now it's four of us. So yeah, we definitely need our own space.
RIDDLE: Kendra, Brian and the boys are living in a four-bedroom house with her two brothers, sister and mother. Kendra takes care of the kids; Brian is driving a bus. He says the hardest part of the last year is all the responsibility he's come to shoulder.
Mr. COSOM: Because you've got to take care of everything. You've got to take care of everything: the family, the household, all of that. You have to take care of everything. Everything is in your hands. So sometimes you get frustrated.
RIDDLE: In the meantime, they continue to try to save money. Kendra combs the Internet for apartment listings. When he has doubts, here's what Brian says to himself.
Ms. COSOM: Compromise and stay healthy. You know, stay positive, is all I could say.
RIDDLE: Three simple vows that are holding this marriage together.
Katia Riddle, NPR News.
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