Family of the year
Whitfield couple on a mission to save marriages
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
Before Danny and Rhoda Whitfield became husband and wife, they had a lot to talk about when they were students attending FAMU in the late 1970’s.
One of their popular topics was the relationships they were in and the challenges they faced just trying to make them work. Their conversations led to a liking for each other.
But before they took their friendship up a notch, Danny had a suggestion about how to handle the relationships that tormented them.
“We kicked them to the curb” is what Rhoda recalled hearing him say. “Why are we messing with them; we need to hook up.”
Rhoda wanted to be sure that Danny would bring loyalty into their relationship, though.
“Everybody wants somebody that they can say this is my boyfriend or this is my husband and you don’t have to worry about sharing him or her,” she said, making her point. “I think what attracted us was we had bad relationships prior.”
Rhoda and Danny Whitfield have been married for 42 years now. Six years ago they began sharing their insight through a ministry they call “marriage takes work.”
Rhoda has since written a book titled “I’m Simply Saying Marriage Takes Work.” They also host a marriage advice talk show each Thursday on Hallelujah 95.3.
Along the way, they’ve also influenced many young people at Tabernacle Church.
Their efforts have saved more than a few marriages as they continue to let others peek into their life. The work they’ve been doing was the impetus for their selection as Family of the Year by the Capital Outlook.
“It was shocking to hear,” is the way that Rhoda responded to the honor.
Danny added: “It was a surprise to us; to think that we would be chosen for that.”
Their marriage produced a son, Jarred, who succumbed to cancer in 2015. They’re also parents to Danny’s daughter, Danielle, and grandparents to four.
The loss of Jarred and seeing how his two children cope with his death was the inspiration for a children’s book that Rhoda wrote. She penned “Where Did you Go” to provide answers for children who lose a parent.
Through their years of growing together, Danny became an ordained minister.
Admittedly, a lot of what the Whitfields preach about comes from the Bible or their personal experiences. One of their observations is that too many people get married with the option that they can walk away.
“You have to take your flaws and my flaws and accept them,” Rhoda said. “In the process of working it, things evolve (and) eventually you get to where you start thinking the same way.”
Those who know the couple say they are worthy of the Outlook’s honor if for no reason other than what they are doing to save marriages.
Kimi Johnson, a married mother of four children, has been around the Whitfield’s since she was 13 years old. She spent some of her younger years living with the couple and saw what it was like to have “a solid family,” she said.
When she needed advice on qualities she should look for in a man that she wanted to start a family with, she turned to Rhoda. What she didn’t hear from the woman she calls her “second mother,” she saw it unfold up close.
“They showed me the meaning of family and spending that quality time together is really priceless,” Johnson said. “That’s when you really get to keep up with one another and truly get to know what’s going on. When I think back, those are the types of things I’m intentionally instilling in my family because of the great difference it made for me.”
When the Whitfields met at FAMU, Rhoda was already living in Tallahassee. She moved from Philadelphia at age 3 when her mother decided to return home.
Danny moved to Tallahassee from South Florida with a concentration on music, focusing on vocals. Leaving home was supposed to be his reprieve from attending church every Sunday, but that lasted only three months before he found himself running music ministries. His first stop was Philadelphia Primitive Baptist Church before he moved to Tabernacle.
Meanwhile, Rhoda was in charge of a dance and drama ministry at Tabernacle, while holding down a day job teaching at FAMU High. She eventually left to work with Leon County Schools for more than a decade before retiring.
These days she is a reading instructor for three hours four days each week at Riley Elementary. In addition to being in-charge of the music ministry at Tabernacle, Danny is the fulltime chaplain at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare.
The Whitfields’ life is a busy one. They’ve written an earlier book titled “A Well-rounded Love Affair: More Than Between the Sheets.” Their other platforms for offering marriage advice are on Facebook, a prayer line and hosting workshops and seminars.
One of the topics that the Whitfields might find themselves responding to could be who to confide in when a marriage is shaken.
“You have to be very careful how you respond to that; giving them Godly advice and not just saying ‘if I were you …’ ” Rhoda said. “No. You don’t give that kind of advice because of something you may have experienced. It shouldn’t be that way.
“What you should be imparting to them is something to help them work through their marriage, work through the situation and not give up.”
Rev. Darrick McGhee, pastor at Bible Based Church, also had a close-up look at the Whitfields’ life when he was a college student. He was a close friend to Jarred and would spend days and nights at their home.
Being there gave him “a public and private front row seat to the Whitfields’ marriage,” McGhee said. “I can say unapologetically what they displayed publically they were doing privately. They were loving on each other and enjoying life together and everything that came with that.”
McGhee, who also got advice from the Whitfields before starting a family, said the work they do will always be relevant.
“I believe that ‘marriage takes work’ is necessary; not because it’s the Whitfields running it but because of the mindset of microwave marriages,” he said. “People are entering into marriage very loosely and the first thing they want to do is vacate.”
The Whitfields are clearly on a mission to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“We are in it to win it,” Danny said. “We have to go all the way with it.”