Here’s the story of a lovely lady… and a man named Blevins of Carson, California. Married in 1996, they had two years of couple time before their oldest daughter was born. From 1998 to 2005, Sharnell and her husband have had a child every couple of years: Three girls: Jasmine (14), Olivia (11) and Sydney (9, a twin). Three boys: Clifton III (13), William (9, Sydney’s twin) and Michael (7). Friends call them the Black Brady Bunch.
Clifton Blevins II met his future wife during their college years as fellow interns in Los Angeles, at one of the largest African-American insurance companies at the time. After getting to know each other, they bonded in many areas—both loved Christianity and talking politics, specifically about the state of African-Americans culturally. “Sharnell was extremely intelligent and she could talk about anything,” Clifton remembers.
When the couple first started dating, he gave her a litmus test to see if she wanted a big family. “I would say ‘I want nine kids.’ Sharnell would respond, ‘I will have as many kids as we can take care of.’ ” Happy he didn’t scare her away, that worked for Clifton.
The San Diego native wanted a big family because that was his comfort zone, plus he just thought it would be great. “My father had seven brothers and sisters. When we’d have holidays together, it seemed like I had a 100 cousins! So I wanted our children and our children’s children to have plenty of cousins to grow up with and hang out with.”
“Did I think he was serious about wanting nine kids?” Sharnell bursts into laughter at the question. “No. Not at all.” Clifton and Sharnell dated six years before they married, so they did have the discussion. “He wanted three, I said maybe two or four. Clifton’s sense of humor is that he will keep a joke running forever. I’m kinda like the Gracie Allen to his George Burns.”
But this wasn’t merely light banter; more like an impending prophecy. After two years of marriage, “It seemed like every one-and-a-half years, we were having another one!” says Clifton. Parenthood has taught him how to make the dream work.
“It has made me more aware of the fact that one person can’t do it all,” he says. “As you go from bachelorhood, when it’s all about yourself, you go into a family setting and learn how to become unselfish. Learn how to work with your wife to get things done. That means I participate in all of the chores. If I get home from work before Sharnell, I start dinner. Get dinner on the table, get the kids started in the bath. If something needs to be done, I just jump in and do it. It’s about teamwork here.” He adds, “Sharnell is the perfect partner.”
Even with all the running around—sports practice, dance rehearsals, martial arts—the most important family tradition is eating dinner together. The marketing manager offers, “We sit as family, we catch up with the kids’ activities, and they can tell us about their day.” The Blevins also use this time as a literal teachable moment. “We can instill values at that time, lessons we want to impart as a unit.”
As a husband, Clifton thinks his wife would describe him as “cooperative, productive, loving, and a neat freak—which sometimes drives her crazy.” Sharnell attended Howard University and graduated from Pepperdine University. Mrs. Blevins says that her attraction for husband is all because “I like the way his mind thinks.”
“What I have with Clifton, yes, I envisioned this. Having six kids, no.” She continues, “He’s exactly what I needed and want. I was telling someone today: I would give up everything else, but not him. He would be the hardest thing to give up… If I have him, I’m fine.
“It’s always a reminder when [he and I] go on vacation. I’m like, yeah, this is what it’s all about! Because you get so caught up in the mundane, you forget. But if I had to do it all over again, I would. He’s wonderful. I think we’re going to stop at six,” she admits, quickly adding, “but I would have more kids if he wanted more.”
With the six children, balance is Sharnell’s main concern. “I want my children to be individuals, passionate about what they want to do and to be a success with it. The most challenging thing for me is being able to assure they’re getting what they need to accomplish that.”
Sharnell’s response to how Clifton would describe her as a wife: “Excellent! You know I think he describe me as his perfect match. Do I challenge him? Do I give him headaches sometimes? I’m sure. But I think he’d say I was his perfect wife. I know he doesn’t want another one, unfortunately.” She cleans that up quickly with, “That’s a joke.”
Sharnell and Clifton are the heads of the Marriage Works ministry at their church, where they’ve been teaching the premarital ministry for 15 years. “We talk about the biblical basis for marriage,” she says. “If God says you’re supposed to submit to your husband, what does that look like in real life 2014? Our faith is very important to us. We knew that we wanted to share with other couples what we’ve learned. Also, it holds you accountable to your own marriage and reinforces what you know. As a Christian, you realize you don’t always meet the mark. But you’re always striving for the mark.”
The Blevins Bunch puts God first and family a very close second. Sharnell says, “My family is triumphant as my husband’s relationship with God gets deeper. My children understand and have a relationship with God. We’re all striving for the betterment of each other. And we’re showing that with love and patience.” Clifton adds that being mindful equates to respect: “Despite all the activities and distractions, we never fail to take one another into consideration. Teaching our kids to always take care of each other before they take care of anything or anyone else. I think that’s a successful family.”
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.