"Black Love" Creator Codie Elaine Oliver Says Black Families Need Authentic Stories

The creator of the Black Love docu-series says her family has grown along with her vision for showcasing honest, authentic depictions of Black relationships.  

Codie and Tommy Oliver sit on the couch with their three kids
Photo: Monkeys and Peas Photography

When Codie Oliver and her husband started their Black Love docuseries which is entering its sixth season this summer, they didn't know how it would evolve. But Oliver knew she was seeking answers to questions about what makes relationships work. And many of them grew from being blindsided by her parent's divorce when she was 11 years old.

"I had no idea that anything was wrong, and it left me feeling like, 'Well, how do you know what works?'" she said in an interview with Kindred by Parents. Other messages—like those suggesting children of divorced parents had higher divorce rates and that Black women had trouble finding partners—made the questions more urgent. "It really made me want to create a place where Black love stories live so that no one can say it wasn't possible," she said. "At the same time, all those media messages were saying, 'it's not possible—give up.'"

Oliver wanted there to be more examples of Black love beyond popular ones like Michelle and Barack Obama. She knew about Mara and Salim Akil and Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood, couples who weren't as visible but had successful long-term marriages that lasted decades, even if they weren't perfect.

She also knew that sharing authentic stories of Black relationships, from Black people in the full context of their lives, was crucial. She said this made it important to move away from judgment toward understanding.

"It was important to me to understand the nuance to the decisions that people make, good and bad, what they saw in their childhood and in relationships around them or didn't see," she said. "I could ask a lot of questions about what was real and what was not. And what did you learn? And what do you think of that? And how did you get through that?"

They launched five seasons of Black Love— and had three children— within five years. Oliver says being a mom of three—including two twin boys—has prompted her to lean into asking tough questions and inspired some unexpected questions from her sons in the process.

"My evolution is very much around those stages and my ability to show up and do this work that I love," she says. The challenges look different through the different ages and stages. Being a Black parent adds layers to this. Even things that she anticipated—like the challenges that could accompany sending her son to a school where he might be the only Black child—can impact parents in unanticipated ways.

"So my question is always, how much do I say? And how do I explain this in a way that a three-year-old or a five-year-old will understand? Another thing that's really important to me is raising boys who are understanding of and sensitive to women," she says the latest additions to the Black Love Podcast Network began in an effort to answer their boys' questions.

"We created The Mamas Den so I could get three other women together who are moms with kids ranging from newborn to 13, and we talk about how we answer these questions and what we are comfortable saying and not saying," says Oliver. Parenting for the Culture, which is hosted by Charisse Sims, an educator, PBS Early Learning Champion, and mama of six, is an effort to spread the knowledge, understanding, and patience Sim has developed and share the things she's learned.

Oliver says these spaces, where Black parents can witness stories from other Black parents and share their concerns, continue the generational shift among many millennial parents toward visible, intentional parenting. But she also says the way we love our children can make the challenges blurry—and even lonely. This makes community crucial.

"When everybody's a parent, or a lot of people are parents, it shouldn't feel lonely, it shouldn't feel isolating, because so many people are experiencing the difficult parts," she says. "But we're not necessarily talking about it or hearing other people talk about it."

Oliver says having the conversations in public allows parents to feel seen and give themselves grace and permission to talk. "We as Black people, Black families, Black mothers, want to have straightforward, transparent conversations so that we feel seen, so that we don't feel alone, and so that we have resources to implement in our lives," says Oliver.

But like her parenting style, The Black Love Network continues to evolve. The docuseries expand to a website, the Black Love + App where families can watch more web series, the Black Love Podcast Network, and annual in-person events like the Black Love Summit and the Women's Wellness Retreat. Each effort works to expand the space Black families have to see themselves and engage in authentic conversations around relationships and parenting.

"We try to make sure we're constantly pushing the boundaries of conversation and the way we're thinking and make it fun," she says. "I joke that we give people their medicine with their sugar because we make it fun. But you gon' come away thinking a little differently or asking yourself new questions."

As the Black Love Network grows, Oliver encourages families to tap into the resources that provide community. "Please don't ever say you don't have one," says Oliver. "Find your tribe."

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