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.
When life hits you with unexpected news, like the loss of a loved one, it can be difficult to know how to move on. Grief is something we all experience and it is something that stays with us forever. But it is within grief that we try to find the joy in order to keep moving forward. That was the case for Briana Hampton, who is an entrepreneur/author based out of Atlanta, Georgia. After losing her mother to cancer in 2015, Briana navigated through her grief by trying her best with keeping herself busy in her career as a model.
One day, when Briana sent a Facebook message to her now-husband Robert Hampton, aka Latruth, about a possible career opportunity, she did not expect her life to take a turn for the better. Now after four years of marriage, both Briana and Robert are enjoying life to the fullest.
The couple was able to sit down with xoNecole and share more on how their initial connection has kept them married after all these years. For Briana and Robert, it was the ability to connect on an experience that is one of the hardest realities to have to endure. The way Briana and Robert could relate to each other would be how they took a chance on love. After months of talking, the couple knew immediately that they wanted to take things to the next level. While they met one another and bonded over the feeling of grief, they were each other's light to get out of a familiar dark tunnel. Here's what they had to share.
How They Met
Briana: "I reached out to him via Facebook. At the time, I was a model and I reached out to him for a promotion opportunity. He responded and asked me for my number and till this day, I still haven't gotten that promo (laughs). When he called me, I thought we were going to talk about how much the shoot was going to cost and stuff. But it led to asking questions to get to know more about me and after I realized what he was doing, I figured to just see where this was going to go. While we were talking, we got to the topic of my mom passing away recently. He shared that his mother passed away from cancer too. Instantly, that was a click for me."
Robert: "Yeah, that's the gist of how we met. When I saw her message and looked at her photos, I thought she was very beautiful. After she gave me her number, I contacted her and just went from there. I lost my mom when I was five years old. I don't think I ever met anyone else who lost their mom too. When she mentioned her mom recently passed, that was definitely something that made me take the wall down and open up to her more. We talked for hours into days without seeing each other face to face. So the chemistry between us was built."
"When she mentioned her mom recently passed, that was definitely something that made me take the wall down and open up to her more. We talked for hours into days without seeing each other face to face. So the chemistry between us was built."
Briana: "When my mom passed away, I was going through it. So when I met him, I was grieving her and I felt all the signs of her were coming through him. Whether it was our conversation and just our similarities, I felt my mom sent me an angel. Even our moms were similar in many ways that I just said, 'I got it, I am listening.' I knew that this was the person for me. Since my children's father, I never took anyone seriously. So when we were able to bond with each other's children, that made me more certain about him. When I moved to Atlanta, I expressed that for the long-term, I want marriage. I knew he was the man I wanted to be with and the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He was my biggest cheerleader and that was it for me. He wasn't someone that wanted to control me, but wanted what was best for me and the family. He wanted to be the man to lead us down the right path."
Robert: "For me, it's loyalty over love. You meet a lot of people and they say they love you, but the loyalty doesn't match. I could tell that she was different from other women when it came down to loyalty, so that was key for me. Also, like she said, allowing me to lead was big for me. I don't think I've experienced love like this. For somebody to love me the way she loved me, that was it for me. With both of our moms passing and being able to be there for each other, we supported each other when times were hard. She also enjoys me being around her. I really believe that being with her, it's like my oxygen. You feel you can't breathe without her."
Robert: "My biggest fear was being with a woman who didn't understand my career. I worked my whole life in the entertainment industry. So I wanted someone who understood what that meant for me and who supported me in my career. I know with entertaining, it is hard to trust entertainers. Being more communicative with one another and building that trust helped me let go of my fears."
Briana: "My biggest fear was being with someone that will end up failing me and my children. Mainly putting my trust into something and it doesn't succeed. How I was able to let go of that fear was me paying more attention to his actions and less go by his words. We may seem like we disagree with something, but his actions will tell me that he is listening and he cares. He makes me feel secure and that is what means the most to me."
"I knew he was the man I wanted to be with and the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He was my biggest cheerleader and that was it for me. He wasn't someone that wanted to control me, but wanted what was best for me and the family. He wanted to be the man to lead us down the right path."
Briana: "One thing I will say is that my husband is very friendly. So there were some flirting issues in the beginning of our marriage. I don't have a problem with people being friendly. But it is the way you go about it that gives a woman the idea that she has a chance with you is what bothers me. When you engage with someone in that way, they are going to take advantage of that. It was hard for me to communicate that that kind of behavior hurt my feelings. Over time, I had to learn how to actively communicate my feelings to him. I also had to grow accustomed to how the entertainment world works. Since then, he has changed his approach when he engages with other women. I think it is much better than before. He has changed the flirting a lot since then, for me."
Robert: "I don't feel like Briana had any habits for her to break. I just felt like she needed to understand more how the entertainment business works. Coming into the marriage, I have a huge fanbase and it is mostly women. With that, I handle certain situations the way I handle it and sometimes my wife wasn't comfortable with that. But after some time, I was able to show her that this is mainly business and that I separate that from personal. I had to be more mindful on how my behavior affects her and be more considerate. Before marriage, I was a single guy and I never had anyone question anything that I do. It was definitely an adjustment for me because I felt in the back of my mind that I was always doing something wrong at first."
Briana: "The most important lesson I've learned is how to listen better and be able to effectively communicate. It's important to listen to understand someone instead of listening just to respond. Let me tell you, I'm a Cancer, so if you try to hurt me, a Cancer will hurt you back! (Laughs) I was never taught how to effectively communicate my feelings, so it was a learned behavior to be in defense mode instead of speaking about how I really feel."
Robert: "For me, the biggest lesson is realizing that something that may seem small to me, may be major for the other person. I think that is in a lot of relationships. Going back to me being used to just doing what I want to do. When you are in a partnership, you can't do what you want to do anymore (laughs). So being able to understand each other's perspective on things and take a moment in the other person's shoes was helpful for me in this marriage."
"I make it a point to continue to date my husband within our marriage. Dating each other helps us learn more about each other as we grow over the years and elevate in different areas."
Briana: "I wasn't given any advice about marriage going into it. What I will say is that even though you are married to someone, it is important to keep the fire alive. I make it a point to continue to date my husband within our marriage. Dating each other helps us learn more about each other as we grow over the years and elevate in different areas."
Robert: "I didn't get any advice either. I had to learn a lot of things on my own. I do hate that I didn't get any advice, but I wish that someone that told me about how to handle conflict. You have to handle things differently after you make this commitment. Growing up, I didn't have a lot of people guiding me. But I always made the right decision when it came to doing the right thing. I think that speaks volumes about my character as a man."
For more of the Hamptons, follow them on Instagram @mrslatruth and @_latruth.
Featured image via The Hamptons
'K' is a multi-hyphenated free spirit from Chicago. She is a lover of stories and the people who tell them. As a writer, 9-5er, and Safe Space Curator, she values creating the life she wants and enjoying the journey along the way. You can follow her on Instagram @theletter__k_.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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Feature image by Mike Marsland/WireImage