On the first day of March 2016, The Broadmoor resort looked something like a church gathering. Praise and worship songs bellowed from the speakers of the International Center, hands were raised in silent submission, and you may have even spotted a tear or two rolling down a few puffed cheeks. But this wasn’t your typical group of churchgoers—this was a gathering of over 150 NFL players, their wives and fiancées coming together to draw closer to God.
And no, most media outlets didn’t cover this.
Partially because much of what you read regarding the league involves some sort of scandal or domestic disturbance, maybe a community service project or two thrown in for good measure, and also because it’s a safe-haven for the team players to ditch the press and autograph requests and talk about the pressures that only those regularly in the spotlight could understand. It's partially why the Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO) organization was created—to bring together pro athletes and couples to grow in their walk with Jesus, and also positively impact their spheres of influence on and off the field. The annual PAO conference is an extension of that ministry, bringing single and married pros and their spouses or fianceés together for a few days in order to deepen that relationship with Jesus.
The conference may be less publicized, but it was exactly what Terence “TJ” Barnes, defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills, and his wife Charli needed to continue building a firm foundation for their marriage. “We wanted to really get back onto the track of Christ, and get back to getting our lives right because we were handling a lot of conflict the wrong way, and so we just saw the best opportunity to do it and basically have a restart button,” says TJ.
One thing that any married couple will attest to is that life after the wedding bells is a struggle. Coast past the honeymoon stage of any relationship, and you’ll find that the foundation is tested in all areas from faith to finances. Add to it the lights, cameras, and potential groupies—and the weight that comes with notoriety becomes a heavier load than anticipated. The PAO conference allows for real conversations to happen between the vets and the rookies, and serves as a support system where both the husbands and their wives can build on solid spiritual ground.
The conference took place across four days, with workshops, lunch sessions and sermons occurring throughout the course of the day. While there were many sessions that couples could attend individually, TJ and Charli went to most of their workshops together. “The workshops that they had focused on finances, your faith, and they had relationship ones. We just needed to go to those relationship ones. That is really what we were there for, but we just got so much more out of it than just focusing on our relationship,” says Charli, who admits that her and her husband were at odds when they arrived at the conference the first day.
Couples soaked up the words of Kim Anthony, a former gymnast and ESPN sports reporter and wife of Corwin Anthony, who spoke on finding your purpose and not focusing on the negativity of naysayers, and devoured the message of finding your identity in Christ, particularly for the women, like Charli, who set aside their own career aspirations in order to fully support their husband on and off the field.
“I know during season I was miserable to deal with because I had just come from graduating with my masters and thinking that I was going to go and start my career, and then we got married and I wasn’t going to go and start my career and live 800 plus miles away from my husband. So I struggled with that a lot, like who am I now? I don’t want to just be TJ’s wife. I want more than that. And she really touched on find who you are. Yes TJ’s wife is an amazing piece of me, but in Christ he has so much for me,” Charli said.
During one session the men and women split up into small groups, which was helpful for both TJ and Charli as they had the chance to connect with others going through similar struggles. “In the NFL you feel like nobody is going through the same things you’re going through but here it’s just like fellowship, and you’re hearing different stories and different backgrounds and you’re like I’m not the only one who’s going through this,” says TJ.
Not only did they find comfort and reassurance in learning who they are in Christ, but many players and their wives decided to rededicate their lives through baptism. In a post from singer Miranda wife of AJ Green of the Cincinnati Bengals, she comments on how this is the way the NFL community holds each other accountable.
I just want to shed light because the media doesn't know much about THIS side of the NFL community. We are holding each other accountable and growing together in the name of Christ.
Getting baptized alongside my husband was one of the greatest moments that I've ever experienced. Tonight was special. God is REAL and he lives within us. We are ready for new beginnings! Thank you, #PAO
Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback Jameis Winston and his girlfriend Breion Allen were also baptized during the retreat. Breion shared her experience on Instagram with the caption:
Last night I accepted Christ into my life for the first time. So thankful for this #PAO experience for helping me grow closer in my faith and to be around people trying to do the same.
While Charli knew about the baptisms beforehand, she said that her and TJ didn’t go with the intention of being baptized, but after hearing from pastors like Francis Chan, who stressed that walking in faith doesn’t come without the everyday struggles nor does it equate to having a perfect life, made Charli view her relationship with God in a whole new light. Aside from strengthening their spirituality, the couple said that one of the most significant things that they walked away with was renewed faith in their marriage and a better understanding of one another. “I got a better understanding of what my wife goes through and what it’s like to be in the shadows of a NFL player, and I got a better appreciation of the things that she does when I’m not at home because I used to think that she was watching Netflix and eating Bon Bons and stuff, but she’s actually working and taking care of the house and taking care of the things that I take for granted,” says TJ.
There is nothing better than marrying a man who loves Christ. This past week we got to be in fellowship with 300 of our NFL peers for the #PAO annual conference. It's amazing to see all of these men love the lord, lead their spouses, and understand their blessings are given to them to be shared and to glorify God. There's no teams at this conference, just one family for Christ. We're eating breakfast with the Broncos and dinner with the Dolphins, it's one big family and so fun to have friends on every team! This conference is my favorite week of the year. Thank you to all of the core group leaders you guys are amazing and a blessing!! #NFL #wemustdecrease #sohecanincrease A photo posted by e l i s e🌻 (@elisepollard) on
Charli adds that taking the time to hear her spouse’s perspective helped her to understand that there will be times when he comes home tired after a hard day of practice, and that means not hitting him with a list of things to do as soon as he steps in the door. Hearing from couples who’ve successfully navigated the waters of conflict resolution helped them to see the changes that they could make within their own marriage.
“Kurt Warner and his wife were there, and it helped having couples there who are telling you ‘this is what we went through and this is how we overcame it.’ But you still see the back and forth that they had. Like they were still up there bickering back and forth, but at the end of the day they were like we love each other and we know that God put this person here for me and I wouldn’t want to go through this with anybody else.”
Looking back, TJ and Charli are grateful that the conference happened eight months into their marriage, and that they didn’t waste years trying to figure it out on their own without having the proper support systems in place to stay strong when challenges arise. They’re part of a group that’s redefining what it means to have #relationshipgoals, not the cookie-cutter version that is often assigned to seemingly perfect partnerships, but the one that takes strong faith and dedication with the person that you exchanged vows and walked down the aisle with.
The world may not often see players honoring God and their wives through this life-changing conference, but perhaps the spiritual revolution that’s quietly happening in the NFL community after the cameras stop rolling will one day be televised.
Whether it was your group chat, social media feed, or your favorite media outlet covering the spectacle, I’m pretty sure you’ve come across the viral Black wedding between actress KJ Smith (Sistas, Raising Kanan) and actor Skyh Black (All the Queen’s Men, Sistas). From their grand entrance to Jay-Z, Kayne West, and Beyoncé’s song “Lift Off” to KJ’s standout dance routine and the endless celebrity appearances, it’s an addictive TikTok scroll you can’t help but delve into.
But what many people would be surprised to know is that the couple’s original wedding plan was nothing like what it grew to be. What started as her simply scrolling through posts to get ideas eventually transformed into what the internet knows now as #TheBlackExperience. In an exclusive conversation with xoNecole, KJ walked us through her planning process, the morning of her wedding, and what she thinks of the online response.
Some women have their whole wedding planned out, from the bridal gown and venue to the bridal party and playlist. However, KJ was not one of those people. “I didn’t foresee a wedding in my future,” she reveals. “I was just gonna be the boss chick, rich auntie. I didn’t force love in my life until recently. I never had an idea of what a dream wedding would look like, it was easier for me to elope.”
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
And to many people’s surprise, that was their original plan – until Skyh brought up a valid concern. He was raised by his grandmother and thought she should be at the wedding, and naturally, that led to KJ wanting her grandmother to be there as well – then her mom – and later her sister – and, you’ve gotta invite the besties too, right? From there, the guest list continued to blossom. Much like the updo and pop of color bold red lip, she wore on her special day, which was initially on her Pinterest board as a soft glam look with her hair hanging on her shoulders, KJ is okay with changing her plan if it brings her and her loved ones happiness.
So let’s get into the wedding, which took place in Malibu, CA. The first thing you should know about the celebrity couple is that they’re non-traditional. They know, and they don’t care. So, in true unconventional fashion, they shared the morning of the wedding together.
“I woke up with Skyh, we walked our dog, had black coffee, and said good morning to the people who stayed at the venue with us,” she says.
Now, it was time for hair and makeup. While she was getting glammed up, she had Black-owned McBride Sisters wine and champagne (which ties into The Black Experience theme) on deck with her mom and friends, had her besties help rework her vows, retried on every outfit (sis is very Type-A), took photos, and ended the early-celebration with prayer and meditation. It seems very non-Bridezilla, I said.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company,” she explains. “The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
Things moved quickly, and before she knew it, it was time to line up to walk down the aisle.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company. The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
KJ Smith and her bridal party
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
Since everything started with their grandmothers, the couple wanted to ensure they honored them and planned to keep an element of their wedding traditional. Although we’ve all seen the reception videos and photos online, you may have noticed visuals from the wedding itself are harder to find.
“We planned for it to be traditional, but we’re not like that, so we tried to create those moments. We jumped the broom and had a salt ceremony (where the bride and groom individually pour salt into a glass container, symbolizing their lives becoming one.) But honestly, still, nothing was traditional about it.”
She goes on to explain that her mom caught the holy ghost coming down the aisle, her glam team was on deck, and she became so nervous with excitement that she had an anxiety attack – something she struggled with for years, she explains tearfully. Her friends had to literally cheer her down the aisle because of how overwhelmed she felt until she eventually calmed down.
“Skyh was standing there with his hand on his heart; we have our own little language, and I could feel the support,” she shares.
It was surprising to hear all these emotional moments happened before the party we saw online. That is until she once again got into the backstory.
“As a Black woman actress, for so long, it was popular to be mysterious and secretive, but that’s not who I am or what I like. Plus, we both wanted to create an experience for everyone there. We are the people who always host family and friends,” she says. “Like for me, the first order of business was getting sandals for the women so they can dance all night long. We had oxtail, D'ussé, and a coffee and sativa lounge – which is part of Skyh and I’s lifestyle and routine. We wanted to bring them into our world.”
Skyh Black (L) and KJ Smith (R)
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
She went on to discuss the dance routine she did for her husband at the reception, which has taken over the internet. Apparently, that’s another thing that didn’t go according to plan. According to KJ, she had promised a performance at their joint bachelor/ bachelorette party, but her outfit got stolen from her car. So, Skyh ended up performing for her – complete with a strip tease. Still, she never forgot her promise to dance for him.
So, she hired her friend as a choreographer, learned the routine, made friends and family watch it endless times, and attended Beyoncé’s Renaissance show a few days before for a confidence boost. It ended up being a show to remember. But that wasn’t all the night offered. Lil Mo performed, and the guests received special goody bags featuring their favorite Black-owned products like journals, hair care, and more.
“We made sure everyone was taken care of all night. That kind of stuff makes us happy. I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives,” she says.
But naturally, the internet is going to internet, and while there were countless people praising the event and applauding the newlyweds, some thought it was too over the top. I was curious to know her thoughts on some of the criticism.
“It’s cool. We did what we wanted to do. I’ve decided to share my world with people. Just how I went on social media platforms and found inspiration, I want people to do the same,” she explains. “I don’t think it's fair to my supporters not to give that out. There’s so much I wanna share with brides, specifically Black brides. I love that people are adding it to their Pinterest boards."
"I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives."
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
“I’m happy with it because we did what we wanted to do. They can do what they wanna do. Don’t be cruel, though, because you will get blocked,” she said, laughing.
The more I spoke with her, the more her sense of freedom shined through. People are always going to have their opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s you who has to live your life, and it seems like the couple realizes that and embraces that power. She also stressed the importance of not living for others and the lessons life has taught her.
“I’ve been to countless weddings, and I’ve been in countless weddings. I’m a generally older bride. So when women in my demographic get married, and you and your husband are busy working people like us, you deserve to have the one you want to have,” she shares.
“This is what we wanted to do. Our loved ones love and support us. We did so much to honor them, but we also wanted to start our own tradition, legacy, and creation. I'm not going to be pulled back into ideas of the past when I’m trying to create a future with my partner. “
If you’d like to see more of the couple, you probably won’t have to wait long. Although no content is planned yet, she admits to being an oversharer. “Me being open and transparent about my experiences lets people know it’s okay to have flaws; it makes you human, and for many years, I didn’t believe that was okay. I had pressure to be perfect, and I’d crumble every time,” she explains to xoNecole.
Now, she owns her flaws and uses them as a superpower to connect with her community and feel and express her love.
“Some people give us [Skyh and KJ] a hard time because they say we just seem too perfect. I’m like, why is that a bad thing? I love the people I love. From my man to my mama, to my friends - unabashedly. We move through time and space how we want to move. If we did it another way, we’d let ourselves and our union down.”
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Feature image by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
Undoubtedly, this summer was a mean one to add to the record books. It's easy to want to forget about it all, and move on, when there were temperature records broken, unaffordable global tours and strikes announced, political foolishness, new COVID strains, and egg prices. But along with the summer's chaos came some much-needed downtime and quality time with friends and family. Yes, we will remember this as a time of chaos, but we will most importantly remember this summer as a time of delight and wild abandon for years to come.
Therefore, it is only fitting that we reflect on the iconic tunes that served as the music to our sun-drenched travels before ushering in the new season. So, in no particular order, here are the top songs of the summer that kept things enjoyable despite the stifling heat.
1."On My Mama" - Victoria Monét
In June, "On My Mama" made its Billboard Hot R&B Songs debut at position No. 16. It has since risen to number seven thanks to its captivating dance-filled video, which pays homage to 2000s hip-hop/R&B. This summer anthem was first written as a song of affirmations, the ideal hype-up and full of love for oneself. In the song, Victoria Monét proclaims she is "done being the humble type" and correctly asserts herself in self-love and affirmation to attaining her goals as the song is built over a stylish sample of Chalie Boy's 2009 hit "I Look Good."
2."What It Is (Block Boy)" - Doechii ft. Kodak Black
Doechii and Kodak Black's "What It Is" track, which is a radio and social media sensation, is the ideal "fusion of nostalgia and pop vibes." This summer smash seems like a 00s hit, as it pays homage to the stereotype of wanting a bad boy at the end of the night. Alluring its audience with vintage samples of "No Scrubs" and "Some Cut" to mix in some lighthearted energy, Doechii urges all women to embrace their longing for something daring despite the inevitable drawbacks of dating a bad boy.
The exuberant and empowering song serves as a gentle reminder that there aren't enough songs in which women flaunt their endowments and demand what they want. It's more pop than we're used to from the rapper, but its playfulness creates a sentimentally enjoyable track that gives Doechii an opportunity to be much more vocally assertive than her previous hits. You may choose to listen to the song's original recording or the single she released with only her; either way, you can't help but move to the music as she smoothly questions, "What it is, hoe? What's up?"
3."Barbie World" - Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice (with Aqua)
The Barbie movie proved impervious to error throughout the course of its development and promotional tour, dominating the internet both during its production last summer and at its debut this summer. To further demonstrate how immaculate it might be, they showed that they were better than the hype when they recruited Nicki Minaj, the self-described Barbie, to participate in the lead song from their soundtrack.
Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice's "Barbie World," their second joint effort after "Princess Diana," debuted in June and included a sample of Aqua's 1997 dance-pop smash "Barbie Girl." The song strikes the ideal mix between drill and pop, as well as fun and feminine elements. It blends syncopated percussion with powerful bass drums and features aspects of Jersey club music. You can't help but sing along and find amusement in it because of the song's slithering groove and bad bitch anthem.
4."Kill Bill" - SZA
Like the Scorpio she is, SZA spent the summer weaving a tale of two extreme woes. Her first woe was detailed in the form of "Kill Bill," which is a classic example of the crazy girl cliché, telling the story of a woman who is overly committed to a former love and will do anything to win her relationship back. With the majority of cuffed women returning to the streets, "Kill Bill" created the perfect soundtrack for one's summer vengeance.
With a lullaby-like sway, it is easy to join SZA in her deadly mission as wary, but enchanted companions. Although we can all agree that SZA's murder fantasies are catastrophic, they are somewhat realistic, given the song's underlying message of doing whatever it takes for love. Praised for its honest exploration of raw, violent feelings, "Kill Bill" was perfect for one's summer playlist.
5."Snooze" - SZA
SZA's second song on this list that took the summer and listeners by storm was "Snooze." Unlike "Kill Bill," "Snooze" holds the opposite vibe and offers advice on how to deal with heartbreak. In contrast to the previous song, "Snooze" takes the time to describe how important someone has become and why desiring anybody else is impossible. As she exposes thoughts of hatred, retaliation, self-growth, self-worth, and love, SZA's voice and the unique musical style produce an emotive tune strangely perfect for the summer.
Similar to "Kill Bill," "Snooze" uses impassioned and vaguely violent language, which occasionally works against the title's intended tranquil and drowsy tone. However, it adroitly captures the wrath one feels when one really wants a relationship, and the other person makes no attempt to try.
6."Boy's a liar Pt. 2" - PinkPantheress ft. Ice Spice
"Boy's a liar Pt. 2" slid into the summer like the little engine that could after remaining stable on the charts during the winter. The song "Boy's a liar Pt. 2" by British artist PinkPantheress and current rap phenom Ice Spice is about someone who is only interested in you when you "look good." It's an incredibly catchy summer tune that is both quick and slow, old and fresh.
Like an ephemeral hallucination, this summer song has a light, floaty feel thanks to rhythms that borrow from old dance tunes, Jersey Club music, and powerful percussions. Effortlessly weaving into the hyper-pop we've come to know from the artist, there is a gentle, luxuriant vibe, which causes listeners to bob along coolly and adroitly.
7."Good Good" - Usher, Summer Walker, & 21 Savage
Like Usher said, this song is "different." Unlike the other summer songs where relationships fell apart, Usher is not trying to seek revenge or find violent ways to retaliate against his ex. Instead, he can acknowledge that they are not on the best of terms, but that the terms are nevertheless, still good. Crooning over a slick beat, he prunes out his desires like he once did on his early 00s tracks and shows his ex that he understands that though he wished for forever, it simply wasn't in their cards.
Singing in cursive and rapping matter-of-factly, Summer Walker and 21 Savage join the song to confirm matters on hand. Though Walker intended to become her ex's "missus," it is clear that she and her ex are happier apart than trying to solidify their relationship in marital hell. Meanwhile, 21 Savage reflects on his relationship and everything he provided for his ex, but in the end, he just wishes to be friends and remain a support system for his former flame.
8."One Margarita (Saucy Remix)" - That Chick Angel, Casadi Music, & Steve Terrell (ft. Saucy Santana)
You've probably heard this song a thousand and two times on Instagram this summer, and if you didn't, you certainly heard it on TikTok. Regardless of where you found the tune, this song took the summer by storm with its playful, and overtly sexual nature. A song that literally explains how many margaritas you'll need to get That Chick Angel to "open her legs," it feels like the female perspective to Miguel's "How Many Drinks?"
The song is catchy, and it certainly makes you want to dance, but the best part of its creation is how it aligned together in the first place. Never meant to truly be a song, Angel Laketa Moore created this hit after hearing a sample from Sister Cindy, which claims "If you buy her one margarita, she will spread her legs.” From there, Moore freestyled her infamous "Give me one Margarita, Imma open my legs/Give me two margaritas, Imma give you some head." Within 24 hours, Casadi Music and Steve Terrell added their twist to the track, and the rest is summer history.
9."Summer Too Hot" - Chris Brown
"Summer Too Hot" dropped in June 2023 as the lead single of Chris Brown's eleventh album, 11:11. The lively tune "Summer Too Hot" makes Brown's intentions to "wet up" the summer clear. Brown admits that whenever he finds someone who attracts his eye, it is simply too hot for both of them to resist exploring the wetter side of things. The track, which has silky vocals and a laid-back beat, quickly gained traction and peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot R&B.
With its frank lyrics and explicit sexual character, the vibrant song about "getting nasty" during a summertime affair promotes the value of cooling off from the heat and appreciating the season's lack of clothes.
10."Smoke" - Victoria Monét ft. Lucky Daye
Levitating us effortlessly with its spellbinding harmonies, Lucky Daye and Victoria Monét begin "Smoke" like the ascension of a firework. However, this aural joy generates a fluid rhythm that has no business being as smooth as it is, rather than a quick-paced explosion. This summer song, which debuted five months ago and has been steadily entrancing fans with a sensuous, syrupy bassline, eventually builds to a 70s funk and reggae bop. This lighthearted dedication to the celebration of cannabis is an ode to all potheads and is pleasant and summery in feel.
"Smoke" is a refreshing, playful track that lets you float/groove to the beat, amplified by an amalgam of whistling horns, organs, and vibrant electronic effects.
11."Popular" - The Weeknd, Madonna, & Playboi Carti
Just like his HBO flop The Idol, this collaboration from The Weeknd doesn't make sense on paper. However, unlike his HBO flop The Idol--yes, I mentioned it twice, because it was that bad--this collab was something none of us knew we wanted. Sounding like another nostalgic 00s throwback, or Justin Timberlake and Timbaland song, this is the best thing to come out of the now-canceled show. With Madonna and Playboi Carti, the rap-pop group spins a tale about a lady who is yearning for fame and glory and wants nothing more than to be popular.
However, as everyone is aware, when someone seeks attention and the spotlight, they typically end up with both more and less than they expected. "Popular" is a ditty that brings the summer to a close with a lovely, crisp farewell. It is straightforward, catchy, and ends at exactly the appropriate spot.
12."AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM" - Beyoncé
This summer's music wouldn't have been half of what it was without Queen Bey herself. This summer, as her Renaissance World Tour got underway, Beyoncé found herself responsible for Sweden's highest inflation of the year and the world being put on mute via "ENERGY." With every sold-out performance and every "mute" challenge, Beyoncé further demonstrated to the world that she was deserving of their addiction.
Though she had many tracks from her latest album circulating with viral moments from her tour, the song that transformed the summer for us was "AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM." "AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM" is a song sampled from Kilo Ali's "America Has a Problem (Cocaine.)" that focuses on cocaine and happiness, and eventually the anguish it causes, via the metaphor of a woman. In this sample, Beyoncé makes a comparison between herself, her music, and the addictive qualities of cocaine.
She outlines all the qualities that make everyone fall in love with her and keeps them coming back to her time and time again, proving that she is a lady to be revered.
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Featured image via YouTube