Ronnie and her two children had just moved from Atlanta to the D.C. area. Lamar had just sold his D.C.-area condo and was Atlanta-bound. Their paths crossed when a friend introduced them. Though they lived two hours apart near D.C., late-night phone calls and weekend visits led to an engagement 11 months later.
In 2007, the Grayson couple had an idea. If they were black and married with kids, there must be other people out there just like them — people who believed in marriage and were dealing with the challenges in a positive way.
“We knew there was a void and a lack of exposure for successful couples in love and relationships in the African-American community,” said Lamar, 35.
“We wanted to change the perception and put more positive images out there,” said Ronnie, 39.
The blog led to the creation of Tyler New Media, the umbrella company for the website, documentary films and speaking engagements on everything from relationships to social media. The six-figure company is fueled by fans — hundreds of thousands of fans — who buy the DVDs and attend screenings nationwide in search of information to improve their marriages and relationships.
In May, the Tylers screened their newest documentary, “Still Standing” at Midtown Art Cinema to two sold-out theaters. They typically use proceeds from DVD sales to rent theaters for screenings across the country, but this month, they had their first extended theater run at ICE Theaters in Chicago. Cable networks including GMT, TV One and BET have also expressed interest in the films.
“This isn’t a movie, its a movement,” Lamar said. “It is a movement that is pushed by the people.”
From the start, “the people” supported the blog at blackandmarriedwithkids.com where the Tylers posted tales from their daily lives. Early subjects included why Ronnie never wanted to drive (she was exhausted from getting four children ready to leave the house), roles and responsibilities in the household, and how long was too long to date before marriage — a question Lamar noted was of interest primarily to women.
“Even though I am not married, I think they have some excellent articles,” said Atlanta-based writer, Angela Moore-Tharpe. “It shows you a positive image of marriage and the black family.”
Moore-Tharpe, like the Tylers, had tired of media coverage detailing the hopeless state of black marriage. “I hope to be married again one day,” Moore-Tharpe said. “[The site] gives you the sense that there is hope.”
With a growing fan base craving fresh, relevant content, the Tylers added guest writers to expand the site beyond their own thirty-something blended family point of view. They networked with other bloggers and eventually hired a managing editor and five writers.
Working full-time, raising children and running a growing blog might have put a strain on any marriage, but the Tylers discovered their relationship was benefiting from the work they were doing.
“It showed us that we could work together and balance things and support each other,” Ronnie said. “If you are having conversations about things that build relationships and marriage, you have no option but for them to soak in.”
In 2009, they expanded into films. The first, “Happily Ever After,” explored issues in black marriage through the eyes of eight couples discussing everything from the Cosby Show — everyone’s reference point for a successful black marriage — to the impact the Obamas may have on black relationships.
The movie premiered in D.C. to a sold-out crowd while the Facebook page dedicated to the film, gained 6,000 followers in a month [it now boasts more than 100,000 fans]. It wasn’t a bad showing for a film that was shot in one month with a $5,000 budget. Lamar did the editing on software purchased from Best Buy.
Two more films followed, including “You Saved Me,” which featured couples discussing the many ways in which their marriages have served as a haven, and “Men Ain’t Boys,” which “offers a blueprint for black manhood.”
The audience, the Tylers learned, responded most to stories about other couples — how they were making marriages work and the struggles they were going through. Their followers wanted to be inspired with strategies they could apply to their own marriages.
Whenever the Tylers talked to fans nationwide, the same core issues came up: finances, infidelity, chronic illness, blended families and lack of support. In “Still Standing,” five couples, including several Atlanta-based personalities, detail how their marriages survived one of those issues.
“When Speech and Yolanda talk about overcoming infidelity, it wasn’t good enough to say, ‘We got past it.’ They had to go point-by-point,” said Lamar, referring to the segment in which Speech Thomas, of musical group Arrested Development, and his wife discuss their strategy for coping with his infidelity. It involved calling his former lovers as his wife listened in and destroying pictures of the women.
“The people in our movies care about marriage so much they are going to air their dirty laundry or problems because they want to share,” Ronnie said. “There are so many people out there in the black community that are rooting for marriage.”
To read the rest of Nedra Rhone’s story, go to AJC