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To Be Young, Gifted & Black: 5 Black Educators On The Power Of Representation In The Classroom

"If you come from their world and you're of their world, the amount of impact and positive influence you can have on students is unmatched."

Human Interest

Matthew Cherry scoring an Oscar for his animated short film Hair Love, Beyoncé delivering a historic ode to HBCUs at Coachella, and Black Panther obliterating the box office as the top-grossing superhero film of all time aren't just mere moments in pop culture. They are potent reminders that representation matters.

This truth stretches far beyond entertainment. Though America's schools are more diverse than ever, the average teacher remains white and female with Black educators only representing seven percent of the teaching force. Black men, in particular, make up a mere two percent.

To no surprise, however, research testifies that Black teachers improve outcomes for Black students (and more). Indeed, the presence of just one Black educator has the power to curb high school dropout rates and deepen the desire to enroll in college, all while granting scholars tangible evidence of educational attainment.

To celebrate diversity in representation, xoNecole salutes the everyday heroes making an impact, both vital and undeniable, in the field of education. Here, we connect with five Black educators tearing through underrepresentation to ignite change in the lives of their students--our future.

Jasmine Merlette, ​3rd Grade Teacher

Courtesy of Jasmine Merlette

Birmingham, AL

Jasmine Merlette's first year as a teacher defied the norm for educators taking their first steps in the classroom. The Georgia native, whose love for children oozes through the phone, was no stranger to sharing everyday moments with her students on social media. When she posted their remix to Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" on her then-private Instagram page, she never imagined it would go viral, much less land her national attention on Ellen.

"As soon as I posted it, my phone blew up. I had no idea it would have that effect, but it is probably the most humbling thing I've ever been a part of, especially the fact that it was with my kids," Jasmine tells xoNecole. "For me to have an experience like that in my first year--that doesn't happen. When I think about it, I literally get emotional and praise God because that was all Him. His hand was all over that."

If there is one thing Jasmine, an alumna of Xavier University of Louisiana, does want to promote now that she has drawn the attention of thousands, it's representation.

"I don't think people realize how impactful it is to have someone who you're able to look at every day that you share commonalities with, how much that changes the classroom experience and what that does for children," she says.

Seeing her take up space as a Black woman in education hasn't only left an impression on students and parents far and wide, but has also planted a seed in the next wave of educators to come. With humility, Jasmine notes that she has received messages from college students who have decided to major in education due to her example. "It's crazy!" she exclaims. "I can't wrap my head around it."

Capping off a year for the books, Birmingham City Schools honored Jasmine with the Creativity and Innovation Award at their Teacher of the Year Gala in May 2019. It's an accomplishment she didn't dream of so early in her career but is unsurprising when tracing her deep commitment to her students. "I'm a relationship person. If we're about to spend the next 180 days together, we need to know each other," she says of her approach in the classroom. "I'm not just invested in your education. I'm invested in you, the child."

In her second year, Jasmine continues to lead from a place of love, noting that her students' growth and belief in themselves is what she is after most. "When they see me, I want them to know I have their back," she expresses. "I want them to see me and be able to see themselves to the point that they see their visions, their goals, and what they aspire to be."

Sammy Rigaud, 2nd Grade Reading Teacher

Instagram / @sammyrigaud

Atlanta, GA

When Sammy Rigaud shared a live glimpse of Freestyle Fridays, a regular event in his classroom that offers students an opportunity to celebrate 80s or above through rhyme, the image of a Black educator carving space for cultural expression tugged thousands of hearts. During our conversation, however, the Miami native reveals he had no plans of becoming a teacher, especially when thinking back to his experiences as a student.

"Before you're a Black man, you're a Black kid, and you feel disengaged in the education process," Sammy tells xoNecole. "The whole experience isn't really for you so by the time you're an adult, you have negative memories of school. You were always 'too hyper,' 'seeking attention'--those were the kinds of things you were labeled as. By the time you get to picking careers, that's the last place you want to go."

Deemed a "troubled kid", Sammy spent years in and out of jail. After his final arrest at the age of 19, a judge ordered him to complete community service at a local YMCA where he would soon rethink his decision to evade the classroom. It started with one task: keep children occupied during a turkey drive.

With nothing more than random equipment and a gymnasium, Sammy didn't simply make it work. He created an unforgettable experience. "I had the kids in there having a blast for an hour and a half," he recalls. "At the end, some of them were crying, asking if we could do this again. That was my first time feeling the influence I could have, and it shocked me."

While Sammy fully embraced the call on his life to be a leader and dove into teaching seven years later, he admits he didn't take in the gravity of representation until one conversation with a student added clarity to his purpose. "I had a student who had been retained who was so used to giving up. He was very short-fused. One day we had a talk, and it reminded me of how I was as a kid," he reflects. "I almost had a déjà vu moment, and I thought about what I would have wanted to hear as a student. I don't remember what I said, but he gave me a look where he knew that I was on his side, and we started our connection there, and I've had him bought-in ever since."

Sammy is committed to teaching the whole child and as a musician and author, he is a firm believer in making room for creativity. It was his observation of a group of underperforming boys in his classroom who seized any ounce of free time they had to listen to beats and rap that ultimately led to the birth of Freestyle Fridays.

Going viral wasn't the plan, but the local and national attention has since granted his students a much larger stage to flex their talent as rappers and their immense promise as scholars. "My mission is to give every student a chance at winning," he pledges. "Not just to tell them they can win, but to show them they can win."

Tanesha Forman, 6th Grade ELA Teacher

Instagram / @love.tanesha

New Haven, CT

When Book Character Day rolls around, you can find Tanesha Forman paying tribute to titles like Jason Reynold's Miles Morales Spider Man and New York Times bestseller The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. As an ELA teacher, she believes it is "beyond important" for Black students to see themselves reflected on and between the covers of books and is adamant about ensuring the young minds in her care have access to such work.

"We truly have to change the literary canon," the Miami native stresses. "I think the classics are so white-centered. When kids don't see themselves, it prevents them from dreaming bigger."

Fourteen years into her teaching career, a path she knew she always wanted to travel, the weight Tanesha's presence carries in the classroom doesn't escape her either. It is the everyday occurings, over the grandiose, that she holds close.

"It's in those small, micro moments that are in the day-to-day hustle that remind me my students are watching and taking me in," she tells xoNecole. "This woman shows up as who she is. She looks like me. She gives me this vibe that I can't play with her, but I know she sees me."

As a veteran, Tanesha leads with a student-first mindset, refusing to play coy in the face of difficult conversations that are ultimately for their benefit. "I have heard and seen teachers operate in ways that fit their narratives for our kids that are not true," she states.

It's the reason why she has embraced the opportunity to facilitate monthly anti-bias and anti-racist sessions at her job. "It is not a destination. This work that we do is a way that we constantly ensure that we are doing the self-work that prevents our biases from coming to play in our classrooms," she explains. "When I'm leading these facilitations, it is the hope that we are doing the self-reflection that will allow us to see our kids for who they are and to ensure that anything we're putting in front of kids is rooted in power and love."

Though she has served as a teacher for over a decade, Tanesha never wants to become blinded by the fact that there's always room to outdo her previous best for the children set before her. "Leverage your experiences, but see kids in every year as individuals," she advises. "Sometimes people say, 'I'm just in my first year,' and I always say, 'I'm just in my first year with this group that I have right here.'"

Whether she's sharpening her own practice or supporting other educators in doing the same, Tanesha sums up the core of her drive in a few words: "I want my students to remember that 'my teacher was always rooting for me.'"

Alfred “Shivy” Brooks, 10th & 12th Grade Economics and Government Teacher

Instagram / @callmeshivy

Riverdale, GA

After securing a spot in 106 & Park's Freestyle Friday Hall of Fame, Alfred "Shivy" Brooks was on his way to fame beyond BET's hit series. That is, until his best friend Sunny was shot and killed in 2007. Despite already dropping out of Rutgers University and making the move to Atlanta to stamp his presence in rap, the rising MC immediately reevaluated his decision. "The culture of hip hop at the time--there was a lot of hypermasculinity and murder," Shivy tells xoNecole. "When that event happened, I was just really turned off from music."

Creating distance from his one-time dream, the East Orange, N.J. native returned to school (this time Georgia State University) and shifted his focus to public policy. "I had said that my goal would be to serve Black and brown communities so that other young people would never have to go through the experience that my best friend did."

What Shivy didn't anticipate was that this desire would manifest in the classroom.

"My father is also a high school educator and has been the majority of my life, and I always tried to run away from it," he reflects. "Sure enough, you can run from a calling, but if God has something predetermined for you, you're just here to walk that walk."

Within four years of teaching, Shivy has been voted Most Influential Teacher twice, a testament that his presence in the classroom is no accident. His secret to making a difference lies in marrying his past with his present. "When I first got into education, I was really trying to separate my music and entertainment life from my professional life, but it wasn't the way I could flourish," he muses. "Now, I allow my students to see my duality. I tell them there has to be many sides and angles and nuances to a diamond for it to shimmer. The same goes for people. We're not one-dimensional."

Whether it's discussing the latest Roddy Ricch album, retracing his journey on 106 & Park, or hosting Teacher Talk Tuesdays, bringing his full self to work allows Shivy to cut through curriculum to deepen relationships with his high schoolers. "If you come from their world and you're of their world, the amount of impact and positive influence you can have on students is unmatched," he beams.

As a Black man, Shivy is aware that he is a rarity in education but is motivated, rather than deterred, by underrepresentation. "There is an absolute need for me to show up and give it everything I have on an everyday basis," he stresses. "To not just teach kids the standard, but to go above and beyond it."

Veroniqua Bernard, 3rd Grade Math Teacher

Courtesy of Veroniqua Bernard

New York, NY

Veroniqua Bernard was at a crossroads. As a nursing student, she could either commit to a major she had no passion for or step into the unknown to discover her true purpose. "I knew nursing wasn't my calling," the Brooklyn native tells xoNecole. "It was my parents'."

When competing for a seat in a LPN course at Farmingdale State College, Veroniqua drew the line. "I don't like science. I don't like seeing people in pain, and I really don't like nursing," she recaps her thinking. "I got up and just left during the test. I didn't know what I wanted to do."

Out of the number of issues she spotted in medicine, one stood out most. "While working with the mentally challenged, I saw many things I wasn't happy about," Veroniqua recalls. "A lot of times, their disabilities were seen as a crutch."

Thinking about her nephew, who too has a disability, this observation didn't merely strike a chord. It lit a fire. "That's when I made my mind up," she says firmly. "I wanted to become a special educator in order to be an advocate for students and people with disabilities."

After earning dual certification in childhood and special education, Veroniqua served as a special educator for New York's Department of Education before embracing her current role as a 3rd grade math teacher in Harlem.

With an outspoken nature, dazzling style, and undisputed passion for serving Black and brown children, Veroniqua's presence is easily felt in the halls of her elementary school. "This year I said I was just going to focus on the classroom," she says with a laugh, revealing that the students ultimately keep her active in school affairs.

She currently oversees student council and runs the Young Kings Boys Group, a program she created last year to support the social and emotional development of 4th and 5th grade boys labeled "at risk". While she is highly respected by the "young kings" under her counsel, her goal this year is to connect them to Black men who can reach them in a way their teachers and administrators have struggled to.

"Because there is a lack of men in education, I focus the speakers to be African-American men because I feel they do not get to see African-American men in great positions who came from the same situations as them, such as single-parent homes or being raised in the projects," she explains.

In the short time since she has designed the group, she's taken note of small, yet notable, changes--signs of good to come. "Last year, I saw a lot of progress with my heavy hitters wanting to do well--not really meeting the goal because I feel that is a much longer process--but going from 'I don't care if I get in trouble' to wanting to cut their [dean] referrals down and be in a different space when it came to behavior."

No matter what space she occupies at work, Veroniqua's goal as an educator to her students is simple. "I want to be that person who made them want to come to school," she expresses. "I want to take it beyond academics."

Featured image courtesy of Sammy Rigaud

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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In xoNecole's Our First Year series, we take an in-depth look at love and relationships between couples with an emphasis on what their first year of marriage was like.

It was a cold winter night in Chicago, more than a year ago. Your girl was scrolling through the fifty-eleven million options on Netflix to find something interesting to watch. I spotted this new show, The Circle, and have not looked away since. Produced by Studio Lambert and Motion Content Group, it premiered in January 2020 and has become my new favorite type of game show. Hosted by Michelle Buteau, The Circle is about contestants who are isolated in their own apartments and can only communicate with others via an online social media platform.

On season 2 of The Circle, the world fell in love with DeLeesa, the contestant who would eventually be crowned winner of the cash prize. She won the game by playing as a single dad named Trevor, who is actually her husband. As a true fan of the series, I figured it was only right to sit down with DeLeesa and Trevor to get the deets on how marriage has been for them IRL. So, let me take y'all back into time real quick, to the beginning of their love story.

It was 2007, and DeLeesa was starting her first day of school as a college freshman. She was getting adjusted to her new dorm and was introduced to her new resident assistant, *drum roll please* Trevor St. Agathe. They quickly became friends and Trevor helped DeLeesa find different activities around campus. After a year, they decided to take things to the next level.

Now, 14 years and two beautiful children later, the married couple have been focusing on doing whatever it takes to create the best life for their children. Since college, the power of commitment and open communication is what has kept DeLeesa and Trevor by each other's side.

One thing that we can all learn from The Circle and social media in general is that everything is not what it seems. When I connected with the couple, DeLeesa wanted to get the story straight about her and Trevor's love story. "I feel like people look at couples on social media and they think that things are perfect when that's not true. We went through stuff, too. We just figured out how to overcome it and move together as a unit."

In this installment of xoNecole's Our First Year, Deleesa and Trevor share how marriage is about work, navigating through the ups and downs, and prioritizing family. Here's their story:

How We Met

DeLeesa: I got to school early because I was starting [college] a semester late. I met him, we became friends, and I developed a little crush on him. One day, we were hanging out in his room and he just didn't want me to leave (laughs). So we were messing around for about a year. Exactly one year later, I told Trevor that I am not going to keep doing this unless he becomes my man. If he didn't make me his girl, then we were done. (Laughs)

Trevor: I tried to ride it out as long as I could (laughs). At the time, I was thinking, since I'm still in college, I shouldn't be tied down. But I knew that if I didn't make it official, she was going to leave. So, she was right, and we took it to the next level.

First Impressions

Trevor: I thought she was absolutely beautiful. She was pretty and the new girl on campus. So I knew she was going to get lots of attention. But I didn't want to be on that with her, so I continued to just be a stand-up guy. At first, it was the normal student-and-RA relationship. She would ask me what activities she could do on campus and I gave her a few suggestions. For a few days, we continued to hang out and I started to realize the chemistry we had between us.

DeLeesa: When I first met Trevor, I wasn't even thinking about going that [relationship] route with him. I was new to the school and I just wanted to be his friend. But because we shared bathrooms in the dorm, this man would just walk around in his towel sometimes. I couldn't help but notice him more after that. I just thought 'He is fine!' (Laughs) He was so nice and he never pressured me into anything, but, he knew what he was doing.

Favorite Things

DeLeesa: I love that he has unconditional love for me. I feel like that no matter what I do or no matter how mad he gets, he is still always going to be by my side for anything that I need. We have been together for a long time. Even though we had breaks in between, he has always been there for me.

Trevor: It's not just one thing for me, but I can sum it up: DeLeesa is everything that I wish I was. She is very much not afraid of what other people think and she is very determined to go after what she wants. She has that go-getter mentality and it is so attractive to me.

"DeLeesa is everything that I wish I was. She is very much not afraid of what other people think and she is very determined to go after what she wants. She has that go-getter mentality and it is so attractive to me."

Wedding Day

Trevor: On our wedding day, I was crying like a baby when I finally saw her. That is my fondest memory of that day: seeing my wife-to-be from a distance and instant water works. (Laughs)

DeLeesa: I really enjoyed our first dance. Our wedding was pretty big, and I planned the whole thing. I was very hands-on and it was hard for me to just have a moment and be present. But when we had our first dance, that was our time to just be with each other and not worry about anything else. It really hit me that we were married at that point.

The One

DeLeesa: Well, the thing with Trevor and I is that we broke up a lot. We reached nine years of being on and off. By that time, we said to each other that this would be the last time we were going to break up. We were going to try our best to do everything that we could to stay together. And if we didn't work out, we were going to go our separate ways. For me, I really wanted us to work because I did see him as my future husband and my children's father. So it was the conversation we had to not break up that was my "you are the one for me" moment.

Trevor: It was something that I always knew. Young Trevor would say, "If I had to get married, this is who I want to marry." When I knew it was time to take things more seriously with her, it was after we had that conversation. Another confirmation that DeLeesa was the one was when we had to move to Canada from New York. I thought to myself that this woman must really love me to pack up and move to another country for me. This woman trusts me so much and she is my forever.

"The thing with Trevor and I is that we broke up a lot. We reached 9 years of being on and off. By that time, we said to each other that this would be the last time we were going to break up. We were going to try our best to do everything that we could to stay together."

Biggest Fears

Trevor: The questions that popped into my head were, "Can I do it?"; "Can I be a good husband to her?"; or "Was I truly husband material?" You can't take a test for that or study to get those answers. You have to just do it, apply your morals and values, and do the best you can. What has helped me with this is continuing to reaffirm how we feel about one another—affirmations that let me know that she is happy and I am doing a good job. Marriage isn't that much different from what we have already been doing this entire time. We just wear rings.

DeLeesa: My biggest fear [is related to the fact that] I am a very independent person, [so] if I do not like something, I can be out, quick! So with me, I questioned if I could stay put and fight through the bad times within a marriage. I would question if it is worth sticking it out since this is a lifelong commitment. What has helped me get through that is reminding myself that I can still be independent within my own marriage. I can still do things on my own and still share my life with someone I really care about.

Early Challenges

DeLeesa: I feel like I have been really good at keeping my relationship with my friends balanced with my partnership with Trevor. So when we first got married, my personal challenge was me trying to juggle between being a good wife and still making time for my girls. I really didn't want to lose sight of who I was in the process of marriage.

Trevor: My work at the time forced me to travel a lot. So when you are in that honeymoon phase, it's important to have quality time together. It was hard with my job to enjoy life together as a married couple in the beginning. Yes, we have been together for a long time. But this was different. Not being around my wife as much as I wanted to was really hard for me and the both of us. Our communication started slacking and we definitely struggled during that time.

Love Lessons

Trevor: There's two lessons that I have. One lesson is that I am a husband first. I have spent a lot of time not being a husband so it can be easy for me or anyone to continue to behave that way. But my wife always has to come first, no matter what is going on in life. When you're married, you have to reinforce that. My second lesson that has helped in our marriage is making sure I do things in order to make her life easier. It can be the simplest thing, but for me, it is a huge priority.

DeLeesa: My biggest lesson is being able to learn from each other. For example, if he is doing simple things to make life easier for me, I am learning from him how to show up for him to make him happy. It can be easy to just receive everything he is putting forth, but it has to be give and take for us.

"I am a husband first. I have spent a lot of time not being a husband so it can be easy for me or anyone to continue to behave that way. But my wife always has to come first, no matter what is going on in life. When you're married, you have to reinforce that."

Common Goal

Trevor: To do everything in our power to ensure that our girls have the best possible life. Everything that we do at this point is for them. Before children, I may have moved slower working toward certain things, but there is definitely an added fire on how we approach things because of them.

DeLeesa: I agree. The number one goal is to be the best parents we can be. We want to set up generational wealth and we want them to be culturally aware. We want them to grow up and be proud of everything we have done for them.

Best Advice

DeLeesa: My advice would be don't go looking for advice, honestly. A lot of people are going to have an opinion about your life and sometimes that may not be the best for you. People can have different intentions and may give you the wrong advice. So I feel that if you need to vent, then yes, have someone to confide in. But don't take their word as facts. Try to figure out your marriage for yourself. Stick to your intuition and what you want to do, no matter if you are being judged for it.

Trevor: The things that matter are to be patient, listen close, choose to be happy, and love hard. I also think when people come to terms with the fact that marriage is work, then it is more possible for people. There are honestly more things to be happy about with the person that you marry. You have to keep all the things that you love about that person at the forefront to get you through. Once you do that, you will be fine.

Follow Deleesa and Trevor on Instagram @leesaunique and @trev_saint and their family page @itsthesaints.

Featured image via Instagram/Leesaunique

Since 2000, Black buying power has increased a whopping 114 percent. According to Business of Fashion, we brandish $1.3 trillion in annual spending power. It's also no secret that Black women move culture like no other, making us one of the largest assets to the U.S. economy. However, for some odd but obvious reason, society tends to question Black women when they level up and revel in luxury.

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