RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The questions Richmond activist Adia Blackmon posed to a group of 13 girls were basic.
How many wanted to be mothers?
Blackmon, charged with mentoring the girls, counted 13 arms in the air.
How many wanted to be wives?
Their response shed light on a community that leads the nation in levels of single-parent homes.
"Only one hand went up," said Blackmon, who was floored by the response from Black girls as young as 11.
"They said they wanted the fathers to be involved and wouldn't mind them coming around," she said. "But they did not want to be married to them."
Blackmon will join churches and community groups in some 200 cities nationwide taking a moment Sunday to celebrate -- and they hope, encourage -- lasting unions as part of Black Marriage Day.
Through vow renewal ceremonies and relationship seminars, photo exhibits and awards dinners, they're tackling an epidemic of broken homes community leaders blame for everything from crime to poverty in Black America.
Mayors in heavily Black Southern cities such as Durham, N.C. and Chattanooga, Tenn. -- as well as the governor of Nebraska -- have recognized the day; community groups in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Detroit also have organized celebrations.
In Dallas, a "Black Marriage Hall of Fame" photo exhibit is set for display at a city museum and later, at Love Field airport.
Holiday founder Nisa Muhammad hopes to see 5,000 couples renew their vows across 37 states. She launched the marriage initiative in 2003 with 30 cities.
"I just got tired of hearing all the negative things about Black marriage -- 'Somebody's done me wrong,' 'We're breaking up,'" said Muhammad, head of the Wedded Bliss Foundation, in Washington D.C.
"One of the goals of Black Marriage Day is to create cultural change so that the Black community begins to look at marriage differently."
While experts say American marriage overall has declined for decades, the retreat is especially severe among Blacks.
U.S. Census statistics showed that in 2002, 48 percent of all Black families were headed by married couples, compared with 82 percent of non-Hispanic White families.
Social changes that began eroding marriage in the 1960s had an especially harsh effect on Black families already stressed by outside discrimination, said Brad Wilcox, who studies marriage at the University of Virginia.
Wage decreases made it harder for Black men to support wives. Policy changes, meanwhile, made it easier for unmarried women to gain welfare benefits, he said.
"It sort of unwittingly made it less necessary for women across the board, and for Black women in particular, to get married," Wilcox said.
Years later, leaders blame the shift for a checklist of community ills.
"Look around at the jails and prisons," Muhammad said. "They're full of Black men from single-parent households."
Atlanta event planner Teresa Lassiter believes today's career-minded Black women are foregoing marriage for lack of equally accomplished companions.
In 2004, 26.5 percent of Black males ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college versus 36.5 percent of Black women that age, according to the American Council on Education.
"If I'm a woman with a Ph.D, I don't want to marry a brother who works at the car wash," said Lassiter, who organized a weekend of relationship workshops, a vow renewal ceremony and even on-the-spot weddings in metro Atlanta.
Some also blame media portrayals for discouraging Blacks from walking down the aisle.
"When is the last time you have seen a healthy African American marriage portrayed on television? It's probably been since the Cosbys," said the Rev. Mark Edwards, whose 8,000-member Friendship-West Baptist Church, in Dallas, will present gifts to married couples and host discussions on topics like intimacy.
"We see images where the Black male is no longer part of a healthy home," Edwards said. "When the Black male isn't part of the home, something or someone else will be."
Back in Virginia, community leaders are trying to change attitudes toward marriage in grade school.
Through their "For You I Will" relationship training program, Stafford and Nichole Armstead teach urban Richmond youth how to make smart decisions about sex and relationships. The program culminates in a mock wedding at which children exchange vows of sexual abstinence; Saturday, they'll "marry" an 11-year-old bride and a 10-year-old groom to mark the group's anniversary.
A few blocks away, Blackmon and Kindu Shabazz will chat with teens about subjects like dealing with a crush, as part of their own Black Marriage Day workshops.
They're partners in the push to get more Blacks to the altar. They're also be sweethearts planning their own fall wedding.
With strong communication, Blackmon, 30, and Shabazz, 38, are certain they can make a Black marriage work.
"I've been in and out of relationships and I can honestly say they weren't love -- that was confusion," Shabazz said, his arm cradling Blackmon. "With Adia, there was no confusion."