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.
For Billboard-charting hip-hop artist Call Me Ace, he met his match when he met his now-wife, attorney Roza Patterson, at his college birthday party. On this particular night, in 2011, Ace and Roza shared with each other their ambitions and their dreams after college. With both of them living in two different states, they had no idea that the strength of their connection would withstand the physical distance between them.
According to Ace, what drew him to Roza was the fact that "she loves so much. She has taught me to be less self-centered." For Roza, "it's the way he celebrates other people. He is so supportive of others." This couple maintained their long-distance love until they finally walked down the aisle in 2016.
For Roza and Ace, this month marks their five-year anniversary and they have centered their marriage in being aligned spiritually and purposefully. With combining their Jamaican and Ethiopian cultures, Ace and Roza made it their mission to build together in love and serve each other to reach the ultimate #RelationshipGoals. With Ace being an artist, his recent song "Love Goals" talks about the core principles of his marriage, and how he and Roza continue to work hard and trust in God to take them to the top.
When you love someone, having faith as your foundation helps you get through the best of times and the worst of times. Ace mentions, "Instead of thinking of these instances as negative, we took these moments as opportunities to help build together in this project called marriage." Whether you are married, engaged, or in the beginning stages of dating, a partnership is about togetherness. It highlights the importance of focusing on the journey of love and trusting that your faith will guide you to the ultimate destination.
Courtesy of Ace and Roza
In this installment of xoNecole's "Our First Year", Ace and Roza share how they kept their love alive during long-distance, how they keep God as their foundation, and truly support each other's dreams in their marriage.
Here's their story:
How They Met
Ace: I recently graduated from Columbia University and was having a birthday party on campus. A mutual friend of ours attended the party and Roza came with [the mutual friend]. My first impression of Roza was I thought she was a literal angel. I never met anyone like her. I was fresh out of college and I didn't have much. So after talking to Roza for a while, I compared what she was doing with her life versus where I was in my life. I couldn't even be her friend because I figured I was going to mess up her life (laughs). My attitude was that she was doing so great for herself, so she should just leave me or she would regret it (laughs).
Roza: I really didn't know anyone at the party. So to make myself more comfortable, I figured I would talk to the birthday boy. We basically talked all night and we exchanged social media information. Ace was definitely the most interesting person I talked to that night. When I met Ace, I thought he was a good listener. At the time, I recently got out of a relationship, so I wasn't looking to hop into another one. Even though I liked talking with him, I really didn't think anything would happen between us.
Roza: When I met Ace, I had made a commitment with the Lord that I would not take action into anything unless hearing from the Lord first. A lot of people say "when you know you know" and for me I patiently waited for the Lord to tell me that Ace was my person. When the moment finally happened, it was all excitement from then on out.
Ace: Roza and I were long-distance the entire time before we got married. At a point in our relationship, Roza had a choice to choose between Columbia [my alma mater] or a school in the UK. She chose the school in London. I was mad at the situation because I took it as a sign that we weren't meant to be together.
But one day, while I was praying and writing in my journal, I heard this question, "Has Roza wronged you in any way? If so, leave. But if not, you should love her through this." I took that as a sign that if this is God's will, then so be it. So after Roza's Master's program was over, I was convinced that if we can make it through an international long-distance relationship, we can make it through anything.
"A lot of people say 'when you know you know' and for me I patiently waited for the Lord to tell me that Ace was my person. When the moment finally happened, it was all excitement from then on out."
Courtesy of Ace and Roza
The Big Day
Roza: One thing I do remember on our wedding day is that Ace actually surprised me with a song. I was completely shocked (laughs). Ace and I planned our wedding to a T. But after our first dance, I see the DJ walking over with the mic. I'm telling the DJ we don't need the mic, it's fine (laughs). But little did I know, Ace started performing his song and I was blown away. Ace told me when we were planning the wedding that he didn't want me to stress and that his job was to make me happy. He definitely did that.
Ace: One thing I remember is that when the wedding was all done, we ran into another married couple. They had this huge white old-school car and Roza and I asked if we could take a picture with them and their buggy. Then, we were slick and got them to take our picture by ourselves in front of their car (laughs). It was one of the dopest pictures ever.
Roza: When Ace graduated from Columbia, he started at an unpaid internship. In my head I thought, 'Who starts an unpaid internship after college, we need to be getting jobs.' (laughs). So basically, he didn't have any money. I started to wonder if he would be able to provide for me in the future. I struggled with this and even thought about giving up on our relationship. But I am glad the Lord worked with me on that. I value security and I believe everyone does. But finances is not what I wanted to base our relationship on. In the end, he is providing for me more than I can ever imagine now. So I am glad I let go of that.
Ace: So the challenges as far as culture, what we like to eat, or different sleeping patterns hit us after we got married. But for us, it wasn't really a challenge per se. It was actually pretty fun. We have never lived together before, so it was all new for us and we were able to experience everything for the first time together. Instead of thinking of these instances as negative, we took these moments as opportunities to see how we build together in this project called marriage.
Ace: My biggest fear, and I am still working through this, I just want to be a good husband. In the beginning, I feared that our relationship would crumble because of me. The way I grew up, I didn't have a lot of role models on what a healthy black relationship looked like. All of it was new for me and even my family. So there's this pressure to not mess things up. But I submit my fears to the Lord and it is an everyday choice to trust in God and lead in loving one another.
Roza: One of my biggest fears was that we had different upbringings. I am Ethopian-American and he's Jamaican. My other siblings married other Ethiopians, so I was scared about how our different cultural backgrounds would blend together. I struggled between if my family would accept him or if I should do what my siblings did, because that's easier.
But God is so gracious, because I learned that above anything, you and your partner comes first. If I would have listened to those fears, I would have lost out on this amazing man and our beautiful marriage. When you are with someone that you know you love, don't use money, looks, culture, etc. as an excuse to break that up.
"If I would have listened to those fears, I would have lost out on this amazing man and our beautiful marriage. When you are with someone that you know you love, don't use money, looks, culture, etc. as an excuse to break that up."
Courtesy of Ace and Roza
Ace: One of the scriptures in the Bible, it says love doesn't demand its own way. I think that is so powerful because in marriage, we are both individuals with our own perspectives. So it is not about living your life your own way anymore. It is about how we mend things together into one. One of the ways we keep our marriage intact is we have these relationship summits. We are working on a better name for them (laughs).
Every quarter, we travel somewhere and take a couple of days to sit and talk. Whatever are the hot topics in our marriage during that time, we have a chance to talk them through and our goals moving forward. This is really our safe space for one another to lay everything out on the table and the other person's job is to actively listen. I am really thankful for those times.
Roza: One of the lessons I have learned is that you can not treat love as a feeling. In marriage, love is action. Love translates through service. You can give without loving, but you can't love without giving. With that said, it's important to remind yourself that there are times you will show you love your partner whether you feel like it or not. I have to show up no matter what for my teammate.
"One of the lessons I have learned is that you can not treat love as a feeling. In marriage, love is action. Love translates through service."
Ace: A happy wife is a happy life. Period (smiles).
Roza: The only competition in your marriage is to see who can outserve each other. Marriage should not be for tit for tat. You should be serving your partner simply because that is what you are called to do.
For more of Ace and Roza, follow them on Instagram @rozapatterson and @callmeacelegit. You can also check out Ace's most recent album, Out of Office, here.
Featured image courtesy of Ace and Roza
'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