Love Me Well: Kelly and Andrés

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: Terria and Terrica

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

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.

 

Love Me Well: Sarah and Mark

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.

Poised, polished, and put together. Those are the first three words that come to mind when I think of Sarah and Mark. They were the final couple we photographed as part of Love Me Well, and their witty rapport throughout our interview made me laugh and kept me on my toes.

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But it was Sarah who kept Mark on his toes when they first met. Their story is a whirlwind romance that shows what happens when we relinquish our assumptions about what we think we want and give people space to surprise us. Check out the third episode of Love Me Well where Sarah and Mark share their love story and how they bridged gaps in age and background to become the couple they are today.

 

Love Me Well: Brittany and Kevin

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.

Brittany and Kevin, who are set to the tie the knot next year, were the first couple we photographed for Love Me Well. They strolled into Central Park that day looking stylish and sophisticated. I have a special place in my heart for these two considering they met as freshmen at my alma mater, the University of Maryland. But, it’s clear now that after nearly a decade as a couple, they have grown up as they have grown together.

But, their love isn’t the only thing they’re passionate about. Brittany and Kevin are both ambitious, career-oriented people balancing their dreams with their commitment to one another. So, how do they do it? Learn more about how these two build their careers while still prioritizing their relationship.

Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams @jazzthenoise
Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams @jazzthenoise

What do you both do for a living?

Brittany: I am a Project Manager at a national nonprofit health organization that provides hospitals and health system with tools and training (online and in-person) for health professionals. I work in the Education Department and we create tools to help develop, sustain and expand palliative care programs in the United States. Palliative Care is specialized medical specialty for people living with serious illnesses (ex. cancer, heart failure, kidney failure, etc.)

Kevin: I work in commercial real estate for a private equity company. Our team buys/sells, as well as provides debt for commercial real estate assets throughout the U.S.

 

Living in a high-powered city like New York, how are you able to make time for one another while still fulfilling your career goals?

Brittany: Having date night has been crucial in making sure we don’t lose sight of making time for one another. When we first moved in together about two years ago, we took it for granted that we would see each other all the time but between work, hobbies, and hanging with friends, we realized that we weren’t carving out enough “us” time. So now we make sure that date night happens weekly – no exceptions.

Kevin: First, we respect each other’s personal career goals and the hard work and full out effort it takes to succeed in our respective fields. We also understand that in order to maintain our relationship, we have to ensure that we find the right balance between our personal lives and career aspirations. Even though we are grinding at work for most of the week we make it a high priority to take time out of the week to spend quality time. We aim to have a date night at least once a week. To keep it interesting, we attempt to mix it up between dinners, comedy shows, happy hours etc.  We also are in constant communication with one another throughout the day to just ask simple questions such as: how is your day going?

How do you serve as a support system to one another when it comes to achieving career success?

Brittany: When we see the other person getting stagnant, we aren’t afraid to let the other person know. We both want to be great and be successful in our careers so we call each other out when we don’t see the other one striving to be their very best. Keeping each other accountable is paramount to both our individual success as well as our success as a couple.

Kevin: We push each other to ensure we reach our goals. We also give each other space when we have to focus on a particular task. I think that is what is needed when it comes to careers. New York is a world in which you may have to put in long hours in a highly stressful environment. Having the ability to read your partner and provide what they need when they need it is crucial to help achieve career excellence. Having a partner who is willing to sit down with you, listen to you talk about your day, and provide a perspective on work issues helps tremendously.

What has been the biggest challenge in balancing your careers with your relationship?

Brittany: For me, it was compromising when it came to work-life balance. My job is pretty much 9 to 5 but sometimes he has to work from home on the weekends. So even if I have something planned for us that weekend I have to be adaptable and understand that he has to get his work done. It was a challenge at first, but now I am a lot more understanding about it.

Kevin: I think adjusting to the demanding hours was the biggest hurdle that we needed to overcome. It is difficult to be able to communicate with your partner after a 15-hour day however, as stated earlier, making it a priority to spend time during the week is essential to ensure a healthy relationship.

Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams (@jazzthenoise)
Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams (@jazzthenoise)

 

Do you ever envision a time in your partnership when one of your careers will become more of a priority over the other person’s? Do you envision a time when one of you will not work? If so, what will that look and feel like?

Brittany: When we have our first child I would like to take off for one year. It would be difficult at first because I am passionate about my work, but I think it would be a worthwhile sacrifice. I want to be there for all those “first” moments and in my opinion that first year is the most critical year in a child’s life. But it would only be for a year; I could never see myself as a full-time housewife. I’ve already invested a lot into my career and I want to accomplish all of my dreams, so it would have to be a short-term break.

Kevin: It’s’ the twenty first century and I believe that we live in a world where both individuals in the relationships have careers that are equally important. The only time where that will potentially be interrupted is the birth of our first child. It is one of those life-changing events that can and will result in a change in priorities. I believe that in the initial year of a child’s life is very crucial and will require one parent to remain home. We have discussed this topic at length. It will probably involve Britt staying home for a year to care for our child but also continuing her career path from home. That may be through continuing education or working on her career remotely.

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

Brittany: I think black love is unique and special. It’s more than just an emotional connection. To me, it’s about loyalty, resilience, and compromise between two people who have external forces against them – yet, they find solace in one another.

Kevin: Our love is special for because we truly care for each other, our respective careers, families, and friends. We are also each other’s greatest supporters.


Brittany is passionate public health advocate, who is dedicated to making a difference in health disparities research and health education. She enjoys reading African American literature, attending stand-up comedy shows, traveling internationally, and dining out at new restaurants. She’s originally from Baltimore but currently lives in Harlem. Follow her on Instagram and/or Twitter: @BrittanyMonaye

Kevin was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park. He believes that hard work, enthusiasm, and perseverance are keys to a successful career. Outside of work, he enjoys sports, traveling, and spending time with family.

Read more of Kevin and Brittany’s story in this xoNecole feature.