For the last few years, and since day one, my husband and I have watched and admired OWN'S Black Love series (#BlackLoveDoc). I even have a "black love" cut-out plastered on my vision board. Hence, it was exhilarating and exciting to attend the Black Love Summit (presented by BlackLove.com), and we are even more excited about season three, which will premiere Saturday, August 10 on OWN.
The creators of Black Love – Tommy and Codie Oliver – and their team hosted the summit in Atlanta, Georgia on July 20 at the Mason Fine Arts Gallery (the first one was held in LA last year). The atmosphere was so optimistic, enthusiastic, and supportive. It was as if everybody in the room was not only "rooting for everybody black," but for love as well.
Just like the hit series, the Black Love Summit painted a beautiful picture of love, dating, and marriage, directly from the eyes of the artists, and without any filters…raw and uncut. From sex to submission, faith and finances, to dating, parenting, marriage, and money…no topic was off limits.
Men and women -- single, married, dating, and divorced -- filled the gallery, wall to wall. Attendees anxiously and enthusiastically collected nuggets of wisdom from a variety of couples (and singles) including: LeToya Luckett and Tommicus Walker, Erica and Warryn Campbell, Dondre Whitfield (Queen Sugar), Devale Ellis, Egypt Sherrod and DJ Fadelf, Terrence J, Kevin (Kevonstage) and Melissa Fredericks, Karli and Ben Raymond, and many more.
Why Black Love?
Like many of us, Tommy and Codie didn't have a lot of examples of marriage to look to. Not to mention, the fact that society and the media often create false and negative images about love, especially black love. Nevertheless, they were determined to help change the story by allowing others to share their stories. Through these stories and experiences, they (and many of us alike) have learned, and are learning, how to navigate and make marriage work.
Despite the overwhelming response and success of the series, Tommy and Codie couldn't have imagined seeing Black Love go from the screen to the Summit:
"We needed the advice. We knew we weren't the only ones. So, we were like 'someone's going to appreciate this. We couldn't have envisioned it, but at the same time we were like 'oh, we were right. People wanted to see it.' So, it feels amazing and I'm really grateful that it has resonated."
Here are a few reasons why you don't want to miss the next Black Love Summit (and season three of the series)*:
1. It’s real.
On social media, most of the time we only see the positive marriage highlights. However, the show and the summit pulls back the curtain on marriage. You're able to hear and bear witness to candid conversations about what it really takes to make love and marriage work.
Erica and Warryn
"You come to marriage with a lot of preconceived notions. When you first get married, you don't know really know how to be married when you get married. You have to figure some things out, and we were committed to figuring it out."
2. It's relatable.
Celebrity or not, it was easy to connect and relate to many of the experiences and lessons that were shared by the couples. There was always at least one or a few couples that reminded my husband and I of our relationship.
"It's very difficult to be what you don't see. If you're not around husbands who are good husbands, then being a husband is going to be a struggle for you. So what you want to do is find a community of men who are dedicated to being husbands and talk to them about what that entails."
3. It's relevant.
By hearing different perspectives and experiences from a variety of couples, you quickly realize that everyone does what works best for them, and you, too, have to do the same.
Karli and Ben
"It takes time to become one. It's a learning of someone day to day. Set your own boundaries and figure out what works for you."
4. It's revealing.
Although at times uncomfortable, the necessary truths revealed by the couples in turn help reveal a lot of truths within ourselves…both as a couple as well as individuals.
Egypt and DJ
"As women, we can manifest the lives that we want. We can talk the destiny into our lives. But how are you going to be with the man that God designed for you if you're not even the woman that you need to be? I went to therapy to better myself and to work on myself."
5. It’s restorative.
It's the therapy session you didn't know you needed, because one person's triumph over a difficult situation can initiate the healing process for someone else. A perfect example was when after LeToya explained how her parent's divorce influenced her relationships with men, Terrence J was enlightened and he shared:
"It's incredible how deep that cuts. As you're talking about that, I'm thinking about my dad and how I only know three things about my biological dad. I realize it is an emotional thing and a vicious cycle, but I don't want to damage a woman like my dad did."
6. It’s reassuring.
The mere fact that we were surrounded by a community of black couples -- the creators, the panelists, and the attendees -- was powerful, encouraging, and inspiring alone. It's a testament to the fact that black love isn't a trend; it's a commitment built to last.
Tommy and Letoya
"With us being married, being a young black couple, we felt it was necessary to put our story out there to give people hope. So many people may feel like 'I don't know if it's going to work, or I don't know if I'm good enough for this man or woman.' But to see the struggles that we went through before we met, before we got together, then how we got to this place now, it was necessary to tell it."
*Responses edited and condensed for clarity.
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Shonda Brown White is a bestselling author, blogger, life coach, and brand strategist. When she's not jumping out of a plane or zip lining, she's living the married life with her husband in Atlanta, GA. Connect with her on social @ShondaBWhite and her empowering real talk on her blog.
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
Finding Your Perfect Match: A Guide To Sex Toy Shopping
Have you ever walked into a sex toy store and didn’t know what the hell to buy because everything looked fun and intimidating all at once? Sex toy stores are a vibrator overload; there are pink ones, twirling ones, remote-controlled ones, and ones that look like penises. Can you say overwhelming? As a former sex store employee, I can’t begin to tell you how many customers I would see walk into my store with that “deer in headlights” look on their faces. I mean, I get it–there are sex toys EVERYwhere!
And all of them claim to have promising features designed to take your pleasure to the next level. I loved working at the sex store, mainly because I love all things sex toys, and secondly, I absolutely loved helping the customers that came into our store find their perfect match. I made it my personal mission to make sure each and every customer left feeling more informed and less nervous than they did before entering. When shopping for a new sex toy, there's a lot to consider. With so many options, it can be hard to decide which option is best on your own– especially if you are new to this scene– but it doesn’t have to be a daunting task.
A sex toy purchase should be a well-thought-out decision. Before you even set foot in a store, there are things you must ask yourself, such as what you want from your new toy. Will the toy be used with a partner? Decide whether you wish to purchase your vibrator in-store or online, the materials you prefer, and the price range. Knowing what you’re looking for beforehand can save you both time and money. But don't worry, you're not in this alone.
Consider me your personal sex toy Fairy Godmother who's here to hold your hand every step of the way. And by holding your hand, I mean I’ve created my own “how to” guide just for you below.
Know Your Needs:
Whether you’re buying your first sex toy or adding to your collection, it's essential to understand what you want. Are you looking for something to use solo or with a partner? Do you prefer clitoral or G-spot stimulation? Or do you crave something that can do all the work for you? Once you’ve identified your needs, it becomes easier to narrow down your choices when shopping.
Research Is Key:
Before walking into a store or making a purchase online, take some time to research the toy you want. Check the reviews and the product description to know what others have to say about the product. This is important since the experience of others can help you make an informed decision.
Set a Budget:
Sex toys come in different price ranges, so it's always a good idea to set a budget. It's easy to get carried away and overspend, but it's important to remember that expensive doesn't always mean better.
Size Does Matter:
Sex toys come in different sizes, shapes, and textures, so finding one that fits your body and preferences is vital. Don't be afraid to pick it up, feel the texture of the material, and read the product’s measurements to ensure you make the right choice.
Ask for Help:
Sex toy shops have amazing assistants that are always ready to help you make a decision. They can provide you with informative suggestions while ensuring your privacy is maintained. Don't hesitate to ask them about the products' features, how to use them, and how to clean them.
Sex toy stores are not scary places. Remember to take some time to understand your desires, do your research, set a budget, know what size you prefer, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Sex toys can be a game-changer for your sexual experience, and with these tips, you'll be on the path to finding your perfect match.
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Featured image by dima_sidelnikov/Getty Images