Category Archives: Love Me Well

Love Me Well: Tamm and Yalabe

December 13, 2016

Love Me Well is a limited edition multimedia series that aims to celebrate and elevate black love through the stories of 10 different couples. Each couple has showcased their love story through photography and either a written Q&A or podcast interview. This series was made possible thanks to photographer Jazzmin Awa-Williams, podcast producer Austin Weatherington, and 32 incredible crowdfunding campaign backers who invested in the production of the project.

I can’t think of a better couple to conclude Love Me Well with than Tamm and Yalabe. I have a special tie to each of the couples that have been featured in one way or another, but my connection to these two spans a good fraction of their relationship. From Yalabe pulling me aside back in February to tell me he was going to propose to sharing in their love by reading a poem at their wedding last month, it has been an honor to be their friend and watch them evolve. In the final installment of Love Me Well, Tamm and Yalabe bring us back to a core element of this series and its love stories – vulnerability.

Photo by Erika Layne

Photo by Erika Layne

 

When were you first truly vulnerable with one another? What did that feel like? What was most challenging about it and what was most freeing?

Yalabe: I was first vulnerable with her when I admitted that I was depressed and needed to seek professional help. For me it was very difficult to admit that being as I hadn’t even fully accepted it myself. I was very ashamed at first, but over time I believe our relationship has become a safe place to express such sentiments. Nobody wants to admit that they need help. For me it was getting past my ego and perhaps how I thought she may perceive me. All in all, it was more of a mental obstacle that I had to overcome.

Tamm: Early on in our relationship, I had to be vulnerable with him. I was already invested in him emotionally, but I needed him to know all of me. It was freeing in the moment, but when it came back up, that was where the challenge came. It’s challenging to let anyone into you in your truest rawest form for the first time, but it is even more challenging getting the feedback.

How has your perception of black masculinity changed because of your relationship?

Yalabe: My perception of black masculinity has changed because when you share such an intimate space with someone, you are forced to be vulnerable. You have to willingly show your scars, your hurt, your sorrow and even your insecurities. I grew up feeling like men in general had to always be strong. We always had to carry the world on our backs and no matter how heavy that burden was, we had to keep pushing through. So, to be in a relationship where you can be “weak” and those qualities are not accompanied with a negative stigma is refreshing. It allowed me as a black man to be me, in a holistic way.

Tamm: Honestly, I don’t think my perception of black masculinity has changed. I’ve always been around different types of black men – intellectuals, pastors, goons, hoteps, athletes, etc. They are not monolithic, and it would be a disservice to them for me to ever think they are. Because I’ve always had the mindset, I think my perception of black masculinity has been reinforced. There are different types of masculinity in our culture, even when the experience is shared because life molds all of us in varying ways.

Photo by Erika Layne

Photo by Erika Layne

What is one myth about black men you believed coming into your relationship that you no longer do? How has your love helped dismantle that myth?

Tamm: I can’t say this is a myth I believed, but it’s a common myth…they don’t know how to love in a healthy manner. I truly believe our love is healthy and balanced. Relationships are give and take; and, I realize and appreciate he’s done as much as I have to make our love, not just work, but flourish. I’ve seen men say they love you and dog you (not me, per se) over and over again, and then get passes for their behavior so much so that I understand some think this is normal. Fighting against this norm can be daunting, but you do not have to settle. Our relationship cemented the necessity of not settling because the love you want and deserve is out there. Maybe that’s more a myth about men than black men but in these situation sometimes the black version is more worldstarhiphop than others which adds another level of dramatics.

What’s one thing that’s special to you about black love?

Yalabe: Black Love is timeless. It is rooted and deeply seeded in a rich history. It shares so much culture and not just from the Americas. It can truly be the ultimate test of time, but for me it knows no end.

Tamm: Black people are regal, extraordinary and exceptional; therefore, our love is all of the above as well. We are people that have been put down and forced to struggle simply because of the color of our skin, but that has only made us resilient. As I said in the previous question, sometimes the black version of relationship discourse can be so dramatic, it seems like we cannot love without it. But, just like how we crush other stereotypes, we can do the same with our love. Our love is king, just like our people are royalty.

Tamm is an event planner by trade, still waiting on her “calling” (whatever that is). She loves to acquire new things, not necessarily shop, and eat, not necessarily cook – but she’s damn good at it. You can reach her on the twitterwebs, for now, @puregr8nesss, and Facebook, T S Fitzgerald. 

Yalabe is just a typical fun-loving nerdy bald black guy. A bit of an artist, a bit of a writer.

Love Me Well: Kelly and Andrés

December 9, 2016

Love Me Well is a limited edition multimedia series that aims to celebrate and elevate black love through the stories of 10 different couples. Each couple has showcased their love story through photography and either a written Q&A or podcast interview. This series was made possible thanks to photographer Jazzmin Awa-Williams, podcast producer Austin Weatherington, and 32 incredible crowdfunding campaign backers who invested in the production of the project.

As the idea for Love Me Well crystallized in late summer, I sat across from Kelly at the Digital Media in Social Justice Symposium where we were both slated to speak. We had met earlier in the year at a writing workshop and instantly clicked, so it was natural to spend the time before the conference catching up on what we were both working on. And, just like that, Kelly and Andrés joined Love Me Well.

Kelly and Andrés were wildly interesting to interview. They gave me a lot to think about and filled me with a-ha moments during the time we spent together. In this final episode of the Love Me Well podcast, Kelly and Andrés’ love story demonstrates the broad diversity of black love. Tune in to learn how they have traversed the challenges of intercultural love to stand as a united front.

kelly-and-andres-6

Love Me Well: Jazmyne and Wykee

December 1, 2016

Love Me Well is a limited edition multimedia series that aims to celebrate and elevate black love through the stories of 10 different couples. Each couple has showcased their love story through photography and either a written Q&A or podcast interview. This series was made possible thanks to photographer Jazzmin Awa-Williams, podcast producer Austin Weatherington, and 32 incredible crowdfunding campaign backers who invested in the production of the project.

Jazmyne and Wykee were the final couple we photographed and interviewed during the New York leg of Love Me Well, but that’s not what’s most special to me about their participation. Jazmyne is my big cousin and has always been someone I’ve loved and looked up to in my life. I first met Wykee last year at the baby shower for their now one-year-old daughter Mia, and I instantly felt the connection between the two. In today’s podcast episode, they tackle a subject that has been the subtext of many of the Love Me Well stories – the significance of black love in a time of turmoil and tumult for black people.

Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams (@jazzthenoise)

Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams (@jazzthenoise)

Love Me Well: Terria and Terrica

November 29, 2016

Love Me Well is a limited edition multimedia series that aims to celebrate and elevate black love through the stories of 10 different couples. Each couple has showcased their love story through photography and either a written Q&A or podcast interview. This series was made possible thanks to photographer Jazzmin Awa-Williams, podcast producer Austin Weatherington, and 32 incredible crowdfunding campaign backers who invested in the production of the project.

There is love you see and love you can feel. Terria (TB) and Terrica (TC) exuded that love you can feel. When we photographed them, it was nearly impossible to look away as Terrica’s soft demeanor balanced Terria’s playful nature. Over the course of the shoot, the two blossomed in front of the camera and they bring that efflorescence to life even more in their interview. In this Q&A, they discuss the value of true vulnerability in love and how their unique expressions of womanhood manifest in their relationship.

(L to R) Tea and Terrica photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams

(L to R) Tea and Terrica
photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams

How would you define your womanhood? Has how you define your womanhood changed in the context of your relationship?

TC: I think my womanhood is a work in progress. Everything about me is, at all times. To me, there is no “right” or wrong way to be a woman. Too often we hear about things women should and shouldn’t be doing, what it means to be a good and “respectable” woman, and the roles we’re expected to play. I reject all of that. I don’t subscribe to those notions of womanhood, and I don’t let others define my womanhood. Traditionally, the concept of womanhood is limiting. My womanhood is limitless and it belongs entirely to me. My relationship with Terria really just reinforces that for me. We bring to the table two completely different definitions of what it means to be a woman and both of those are valid and beautiful.

TB: I agree. The woman that I am now is not the woman that I was five or 10 years ago. Everyday my womanhood is growing and changing, and I can see the same in Terrica. Our similarities bring us comfort, but our differences help us grow.

What is the most challenging aspect of being vulnerable in a relationship?

TC: Vulnerability has always been a challenge for me. I’m a naturally guarded and private person – that’s what’s most comfortable to me. So the challenge for me is breaking down walls and barriers to allow another person to get intimately close to me. It’s scary. But when vulnerability is met with an open mind and understanding, it can be a beautiful thing.

TB: For me, the most challenging aspect of being vulnerable in a relationship is combating an internal feeling of being weak. I’m a nurturer. I like to be the one that is there for others, not the one who needs someone to be there for me. In a relationship, my partner is there to balance me and be strong for me when I am weak; I know this. Terrica always allows me to be vulnerable when I need to, and I love her for that. It’s just deciding on when to express that vulnerability that I find challenging.

What does it mean to be a woman in love?

TC: A woman in love is a woman who understands what it means to love and be loved. A woman in love is a woman who knows who she is and what she wants. It’s a woman who’s found, not the things she needs, but rather the things she wants and deserves in another person.

TB: Being woman in love means a lot of things to me. It means being strong, being the backbone that keeps everyone together. It means finding that delicate balance of being vulnerable without being seen as overly sensitive. It also means being treated like a queen and being taken care of in return for taking care of others. It means being cherished and cherishing someone else.

Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams

Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams

How does loving another person require black women to be vulnerable?

TC: For black women, the strength that we’re so lauded for (by some) is in a lot of ways a defense mechanism. And while strength and vulnerability aren’t mutually exclusive, the kind of strength we possess often requires a lack of vulnerability. So to be vulnerable means to let go of that defense mechanism and in a sense to be defense-less. And again, that’s fine when it’s met with love and understanding, but too often for black women, it isn’t.

TB: Loving another person requires black women to be vulnerable because it requires us to take down a wall that many of us have spent a lifetime putting up. Each time life knocks us down, we rebuild that wall stronger and more impenetrable…until the next person comes along that makes us want to take it down again. It’s a cycle. It’s a scary cycle. But it’s our ability to be vulnerable continuously, while still being whole on the inside that makes us strong and unbreakable people. Plus eventually, hopefully, you will meet someone who makes taking that wall down seem not so scary and that vulnerability will become a comfortable resting place.

What’s one thing that’s special to you about black love?

TC: We live in a world where we’re constantly taught to hate ourselves. Whether it’s our hair, the color of our skin, our bodies – we’re too this, and too that, but not enough of this. Black love is special because it flies in the face of all that. It’s choosing to love ourselves despite the world telling us we aren’t worthy of love. Black love is affirmation.

TB: One thing that’s special to me about black love is how transcendent it is. Our people are all different shades of brown and come from all over the world with every background imaginable, but our love, our black love, is nothing but beautiful.

Love Me Well: Kalani and Andre

November 22, 2016

Love Me Well is a limited edition multimedia series that aims to celebrate and elevate black love through the stories of 10 different couples. Each couple has showcased their love story through photography and either a written Q&A or podcast interview. This series was made possible thanks to photographer Jazzmin Awa-Williams, podcast producer Austin Weatherington, and 32 incredible crowdfunding campaign backers who invested in the production of the project.

There is an unspoken ease about Kalani and Andre that immediately came across when we shot the Love Me Well promo video. It was the way she naturally sank into him when they sat down. The way he casually threw his arm around the back of the couch next to her. The way they never tripped over each other’s sentences. They just fit, no explanation necessary.

And although these two are as sarcastic as any couple can come, they are also incredibly generous, loving, and thoughtful when it comes to their ever-evolving relationship. In this week’s installment of Love Me Well, learn how Kalani and Andre have pushed past communication challenges to grow as a couple.

kalani-and-dre

Kalani and Andre, photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams (@jazzthenoise)

Early on in your relationship, what was your biggest communication challenge and how did you overcome it?

Kalani: I don’t really like communicating at all when I’m upset. I get very introspective and prefer to consult with myself especially if outside opinions won’t actually help solve the problem; that’s just complaining. But sometimes that results in high stress and my emotions show in my expressions and actions. When you have a companion, you have to consider how that effects them too. I had to (and am still working on) sorting through negative emotions with Andre – he is so patient (moreso stubborn, but that’s another conversation) and lets me literally just think out loud even in times of conflict so I’m not walking around in raging b*tch mode all night.

Andre: I’m not a concise person and often I have to talk through things to eventually pack them into a singular idea. So I can be quite the talker, and Kalani often needs to sit with her emotions. I’ll ask a simple question, but I don’t want a simple answer and I can end up frustrated. This turns into me trying to lead her to the response I was looking for and she ultimately becomes frustrated too.

Luckily we’re both pretty patient and understanding people. We make it a point to learn who the other person is while being honest about who we are. Kalani will ask me “what’s my point” or point out when I’m asking leading questions, but she gives me the space to still be me and work on it. Conversely, I try to create safe spaces to talk and have hard conversations. Everyone needs to decompress and I believe that if you can’t do it anywhere else you should be able to do it at home. We talk for hours every single night about things you’d think you couldn’t tell your partner.

How would you define authentic communication?

Kalani: Authentic communication means having Interactions rooted in empathy. The less you think about yourself, the faster you can come to a compromise – you just have to put pride aside.

Andre: Authentic communication comes from knowing how you like to communicate and how your partner perceives it and vice versa, and being able to work within that and talk comfortably. That leads to honesty, so I think authentic communication is also very honest communication. As cliché as that is, it’s true.

Kalani and Andre with daughter, Nai

Kalani and Andre with daughter, Nai | photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams (@jazzthenoise)

What did you have to overcome or “unlearn” about communication from previous relationships in this relationship?

Kalani: I had to re-learn that it was OK to have a voice in our conversations at all – to have an opinion of my own and know that asserting myself would not result in a relationship-ending conflict. Part of that is self-confidence, but having a companion who is willing to listen and will not shut down an opinion different from his own makes it easier.

Andre:  We both had walls up to a certain extent. I think everyone wants to have open and honest communication, but they don’t know how to do that or they can’t get out of their own way. We also both came from relationships where trust was an issue, so there was a learning curve getting used to being able to really talk about everything because there are no secrets. I think I had an easier time with this than her though.

How does living together now help improve your communication? How does it present challenges to your communication?

Kalani: Problems get brought up and solved faster now, partially because we are in each other’s space at all times so there is little room physically and emotionally to hide. A lot of things HAVE to be out of the open when you live together (which for me can be a problem, see Q1) because even the smallest things affect your everyday life. The benefit is clear even though there are some growing pains.

Andre: You develop an intimate knowledge of someone when living with them. How they brush their teeth or comb their hair, how they like to hang up their clothes and how they wind down after a hard day. So a lot can go unsaid but is still understood. A lot of things don’t require explanation at this point. It can be dangerous though because you can get comfortable there and fall asleep on the job, so to speak.

Its also important to have a thick skin. You deal with each other’s mood swings and still need alone time. If you can’t handle being told to go somewhere then you can’t handle living with your partner.

What’s one thing that’s special to you about black love?

Kalani: It’s equal parts comforting and liberating – there’s a power in the way it feels like home but also in the way it makes you feel ready for anything that comes your way.

Sometimes for me, the personal, professional, social, popular, and political all get to be too much and our home has become a consistent source of joy and freedom from it all. The black love I’ve been shown knows that I am angry and knows that I am sad but just lets me cry, wipes my tears, and reminds me of its importance in the worst of times. Black love makes me feel like as long as I have that to come home to, the day might not be so bad.

Andre: I know you asked for one thing, but it’s too hard to choose. I grew up with angry black parents in the city watching Steve Harvey because we didn’t have cable, and I had a mini HBCU experience at a PWI. I like super fresh locs, trap music, GOOD baked macaroni and cheese, and cognacs. I will be late to my own funeral and saying “ni**a” keeps my teeth white. I needed a woman with a quick back hand who will go half with me on an app for some cheddar biscuits from Red Lobster, mules food in theaters in her bag, and knows the struggle of hot irons and the torture of getting braids. We inherited a rich culture from our ancestors and got the N-word instead of 40 acres, and Kalani gets that with every fiber in her bod,y and that is special to me.