How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
There is a quote by the beautiful Erykah Badu that states, "Write it down on real paper with a real pencil. And watch sh*t get real." This my friends is manifestation at its best. The power in manifestation is speaking what you want like you already have it. You speak in present tense and the Universe will respond at the right time. In 2019, Ragin took her pencil and wrote in her journal what she wanted in her love life. Some of what she wrote in her journal was, "I am in love with an amazing man, who is everything I want and need. He is honest, transparent, and loving. It is easy for him to love me. I never have to convince him that I am special. He is my 'truth' song [by India Arie]."
Just months later, the Universe responded and presented Ragin to the man she needed in her life. And that man was/is Imran. But the thing is, Ragin and Imran actually crossed paths four years prior in the year 2015. I guess you can say it wasn't exactly their time back then.
Courtesy of Ragin and Imran
Ragin and Imran were both in college and were at a club one night. Ragin was leaving and Imran was just arriving. It was a quick moment, but they were able to exchange numbers after the night was over. They kept in touch over the years and it is safe to say that Ragin's journal entry confirmed that the, now couple, deserved a second chance at giving love a shot. Six years ago, Ragin and Imran met each other and went their separate ways. But when things are meant to be, they will find their way back to you one way or another.
In this installment of xoNecole's "How We Met" series, we learn about the power of divine timing, supporting your partner through the ups and downs, and how this couple keeps love as their foundation.
How We Met
Ragin: We both met in 2015 at FAMU. I was actually at this famous club at the time called Coliseum. I was walking out and he was just walking in with his friends. When we crossed paths, he tugged on my arm a little bit. I thought to myself, 'Oooh he's tall' (laughs). We exchanged numbers and went on a date a week later. There were a couple of other guys trying to talk to me at the time too. So I was like, 'Some of yall have to go' and Imran didn't make the cut (laughs). But four years later is when we started dating each other.
Imran: She was walking in the opposite direction of me. [It's] something I don't usually do, but I tugged on her arm to get her attention. I brought her to the side and introduced myself. After that, we caught up afterwards and the rest is history.
Imran: She just stood out in the crowd to me. She looked so beautiful and it was just a natural reaction when I reached out to grab her arm. I was immediately drawn to her.
Ragin: He has very kind eyes. I think that's what most people notice about him when they first meet him. I also liked how he introduced himself. He wasn't like, "Hey ma, wassup?" He introduced himself like a man. I didn't give my number out to everyone, so when he did that, I really appreciated it.
"He has very kind eyes. I think that's what most people notice about him when they first meet him. He introduced himself like a man. I didn't give my number out to everyone, so when he did that, I really appreciated it."
Courtesy of Ragin and Imran
Imran: After the first date and time goes by, we kept in touch via social media. I would check in with her and make comments under her posts. She realized I wasn't following her at the time. So she called me out on it saying, "Are you going to be commenting on my stuff for the rest of my life? And you don't even follow me?" (Laughs) Of course, I was caught off-guard (laughs), but I owned up to it. From then on, we started talking more seriously.
Ragin: When I messaged him that, he was working a 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift at the time. He asked if he could call me when he got off work. During this time, it was difficult because my mom was in the process of passing away. I was taking care of her full-time. So I stayed up late, allowing my sister to take the night shift, in order for me to talk to him. That night, he told me straight up that he was not going anywhere. I didn't believe him at first (laughs).
Ragin: I feel like I caught feelings first (laughs). I knew I loved him after a couple of months of us talking, after we reconnected. With taking care of my mom, throughout the day I would be wondering, 'Why isn't he hitting me up?' I tried to be understanding with his shift at work. But I was telling my sister at the time that I felt I wasn't getting enough attention. She would joke and say, "Oh, so you like this boy?' We are both great communicators, so I told him how I felt. He listened and things picked up from there.
Imran: I knew what I wanted from our first date. My friends and I laugh about it now, but I was so sick about it not working out from the first time we went out. So when I had my second chance, I knew I had to hold on to her. We had a connection spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It was nothing like I ever experienced before. It's like when people say, "when you know you know."
"I knew what I wanted from our first date. So when I had my second chance, I knew I had to hold on to her. We had a connection spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It was nothing like I ever experienced before."
Courtesy of Ragin and Imran
Imran: I learned that while you are in a relationship, it is important to be secure in who you are. Knowing yourself, knowing what makes you happy, and communicating that with your partner with no pride or ego. I learned how to communicate better while being with her. Not having to shut down, but be open with her more.
Ragin: I learned I have to give myself the same patience that he gives me. I try to see myself through his eyes when I am feeling down about myself. Life has been a whirlwind and it's important to share with him what my needs are, so we can work on things together.
Ragin: I had a really great example of what love looked like growing up. My parents were together since 1981 and I think my mom really prepared me for what it is like to be in a relationship. But I had to learn, after my mother passed, how to handle grief while in a relationship. There were days where I honestly didn't know who I was going to be when I woke up. I was just sad. I had to learn to be considerate towards another person when things felt like they were shutting down around me. I had to make sure I wasn't using him as a crutch to make me feel better. I will say though, I am blessed to have had him transition into my life while my mom transitioned into another form of being my guardian. It was divine timing.
Imran: Similar to what she said. Learning how to support someone who is grieving. Learning how to be there for her in the right way and not overthink things. I would internalize a lot with how I felt and not really voice them. But I was able to get better with that in communicating more.
"I had to learn, after my mother passed, how to handle grief while in a relationship. There were days where I honestly didn't know who I was going to be when I woke up. I was just sad. I am blessed to have had him transition into my life while my mom transitioned into another form of being my guardian. It was divine timing."
Courtesy of Ragin and Imran
Ragin: I have never lived with a man before Imran. So we had to find that happy medium between the different roles we wanted to play. When we first moved in together, I was working a full-time job. I decided to quit that job, so I could make more time to do things that were more fulfilling for me.
Imran: That was definitely a situation we had to approach with a lot of grace and patience. We didn't want the other person to feel like one was doing more than the other. At the time when we both had different shifts, we would pour into each other or take care of things around the house when the other person couldn't. When she decided to quit her job, I had let her know that she didn't have to work that job if she didn't want to.
Ragin: We are very family-oriented. I fangirl over his family. They embraced me ever since I met them. He is nice to my sister and very hospitable whenever she comes to visit us. We also have a mutual respect in each other's mindsets.
Imran: I want her to be close with her family just like I am close with mine. To strengthen those relationships and just allowing ourselves to be our own individual person.
Imran: The biggest thing for the fellas out there is to communicate. We sometimes let pride or ego get in the way. But with communication, it is so important to be open and it helps having a woman that provides that safe space for us to do that.
Ragin: Let it be known exactly who you are in the very beginning. A lot of times we try to be cute and hold things back. In the beginning, I was upfront about who I was. Doing that gives the other person a chance to know what they are getting themselves into and the choice to decide if they want to rock with it or not.
For more Ragin and Imran, follow them on Instagram @westindieray and @ron2_smoov. You can also check out Ragin's YouTube channel here.
Featured image courtesy of Ragin and Imran
'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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Tabitha Brown Explains Why She's Still Approachable After All The Success She Has Achieved
Social media personality, entrepreneur, and Emmy-nominated host Tabitha Brown have won the hearts of many with her kind demeanor and positive outlook on life, as evidenced by the uplifting videos she shares on her social media page.
The mother of two --who has been a part of the entertainment industry as an actress for over a decade with minor roles in films, television shows, and videos--became a household name in 2020 after her TikTok content of vegan food and inspirational posts went viral. In addition to the virality, Brown gained millions of followers solely based on her loving personality and was ultimately nicknamed America's Mom by her fans.
Since then, Brown has used her popularity to obtain various job opportunities. The list includes the 44-year-old's children's television show Tab Time, a haircare brand Donna's Recipe, a collection with Target, and a McCormick partnership for her Sunshine All Purpose Seasoning, among other things.
In a recent interview on Shannon Sharpe's Club Shay Shay podcast, Brown opened up about how she remains positive regardless of life's circumstances and why she continues to be an approachable figure despite all the success she has achieved.
Tabitha On Why She's A Positive Person
During the discussion, Brown revealed that her positivity comes from her late mother, Patricia, and how she dealt with her 2005 diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS.)
According to John Hopkins Medicine, the terminal disease "affects the functions of one's nerves and muscles." The site also states that ALS can affect "any racial or ethnic group" around 40 to 70 years old. To date, there is no particular cause or cure for ALS.
During her mother's journey with ALS, Brown shared that her mom never complained or wished away the disease but dealt with it gracefully because she believed it was part of God's will. Sadly two years following her diagnosis, Patricia passed away in 2007 at 51.
Following the loss of her mother, Brown disclosed that she uses the lessons she learned from her mom in her "everyday life" because she knows that no matter what happens, it will not compare to what her mother endured.
"Listen, it plays a large role in my everyday life, in my everyday life. Even like right now, things I'm going through, I be like, 'I'd hate that I'm going through this, but there's nothing compared to that,'" she said.
Tabitha On Why She's An Approachable Person
As the topic shifted to how friendly and approachable Brown has been toward her fans over the years, the star explained that her kind demeanor has always been a part of her personality and will continue to be regardless of her celebrity status.
When asked why she usually makes time for her fans, Brown told Sharpe that it's because she understands that her supporters are one of the reasons she is successful.
"I'm going in. I'm going in for the hugs. I'm like, 'Hey, how y'all [doing]? I love that, but also like how dare I not have time for the people who helped me climb. You know, I am in this position because God said I could have it right, but because people support me," she stated while describing her past encounters with her fans.
Brown would add that her appreciation for her fans runs so deep that she is willing to take time out of her schedule to meet and talk to everyone when she has events.
"I have events, and if there's a meet and greet, you better not put a time limit for me because I'm going to see every person literally," she said. "It will go from an hour to 10 hours."
Brown wrapped up the statement by saying her meet and greets could take about 10 hours because she gets to know everyone in line.
With Brown's recent revelation about positivity and being approachable, it appears that she's found the formula of what it means to be a well-rounded person.
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Feature image by Andrew J Cunningham/Getty Images