'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_.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a daddy’s girl. And even though my father has been present in my life, I am fully aware that that is not the same story for others. Regardless of if you are close with your father or not, a father/father figure in your life shapes you as an adult in ways that you may not even realize. Fathers, especially Black fathers, are so important to our community and should be honored just as much as mothers. So it is only right to shine a light on some amazing Black fathers who are out here doing the best they can to enrich their children's lives.
In honor of Black fatherhood as a whole, xoNecole chatted with Kier Gaines is a licensed therapist, a content creator, and the founder of the lifestyle brand Kier and Them; Tony Ingram who works in the U.S. Navy and is well known for his Black Loveepisode he appeared in with his wife, Brittany Ingram; and Anthony Edwards, a digital creator and the host of his podcast, No Guru Ish, where he talks about birth, motherhood, and fatherhood. Each of these men comes from different walks of life.
For this Father’s Day, these Black men were open and honest about their perspectives on what being a father means to them, how their father figures shaped them, and the kind of legacy they hope to leave behind.
xoNecole: Who would you say was a role model for you while growing up?
Kier Gaines, 35: I don’t think I really looked up to anyone when I was growing up. I grew up in the projects of Washington D.C. and during the crack-cocaine epidemic, so I had a weird mix of environments. Outside my home, there’s violence and crime. But inside my home, there’s love, culture, and comfort. I saw older guys with things that I wanted like clothes, cars, and women. But at the same time, it was clear to me that those same guys lived lifestyles that I didn’t want. So I never saw myself in them. Now as an adult, I do have a couple of people that I look up to. But back then, I didn’t.
Tony Ingram, 38: I had a unique situation growing up. I have two dads. I have my stepfather and my biological father. They were both very present in my life. My stepfather raised me. My biological father and my mom were young parents and they didn’t work out. Then, my stepfather met my mom and raised me as his own. He fostered an environment for me to stay connected with my biological father. Both of my fathers had great attributes that really helped me become the father I am today.
Anthony Edwards, 33: For me, it’s a no-brainer that my role model is my father. My father worked hard and was a hustler. He was born in Jamaica and he had three jobs. Despite working a lot, he always tried to make time for me, even though it was hard at times.
xoN: How has your relationship with your father shaped how you display fatherhood to your children?
Kier: I didn’t have a relationship with my father. It was really my peers that were my father figures. My friends are the people I chose at the rawest stages in my life, so we were able to grow together. It’s different when it’s your peers because they do not have the wisdom of "years of experience" compared to you, but you still respect their lived experiences. At the end of the day, after all the trials and tribulations, my friends are still good fathers, good husbands, and most importantly, good humans. That is what I relate to the most. We feed into each other.
Tony: My stepfather was my coach. He taught me how to be respectful, and determined, and how to stand on your word. Now I pride myself on chivalry. I display that with my wife and both of my daughters. Now, with my biological father, he is the kindest person you would ever meet. He is the type of man that will give the shirt off his back for someone. He is also an adoptive father. He and my stepmother adopted my little brother at birth. The kind of heart that you have to have to do that is next level for me. I learned how to be compassionate [toward] others from him.
Anthony: It’s a little different for me. My father worked a lot which made him miss certain events in my life that I wish he was present for. I think those moments made me realize that, when I have a son, I will make sure to be completely present with my son. So you can say that my relationship with my dad made me want to do the opposite of some of the things he did as a father.
"At the end of the day, after all the trials and tribulations, my friends are still good fathers, good husbands, and most importantly, good humans. That is what I relate to the most. We feed into each other."
Courtesy of Kier Gaines
xoN: What is something that you wish you could've asked your father as a child that you didn't get a chance to?
Kier: It’s so funny. My brain has a protective mechanism where it leads me to believe that I do not need those kinds of answers. That is something that I am currently working through. I am less interested in asking why he wasn’t present. But one thing I am curious about is the origin story of my mom and his relationship. I don’t know anything about it. Like what did they talk about? Or what made them gravitate towards one another? You know, outside of the romantic side of things.
Tony: If I could ask them a question it would be about relationships with women. Like, how to establish a healthy relationship with a woman. To be transparent, yes my stepfather was a great father, but he wasn’t the greatest husband. He told me everything I was supposed to do, but I didn’t see it always displayed with my mom. With my biological father, I remember that he and my stepmother got divorced when I was a senior in high school. Honestly, that really crushed me. So I would ask him, how do you maintain a healthy marriage? I am curious about what happened there.
Anthony: You know, my father is really good at soccer. He still plays soccer to this day. I think I would ask him what his life was like before he met my mother. I know I had a life before my family. I didn’t have the heart to ask my dad those questions back then. I want to be able to share that kind of stuff with my son when he gets older.
Courtesy of Anthony Edwards
xoN: What do you enjoy most about being a father?
Kier: Man, being a girl dad is different. When you become a girl dad, you become a feminist. Automatically! For me, I have a weird relationship with parenthood. I don't always love it, I’m not going to lie to you. But I am always deeply in love with my children. I think the main thing is watching them grow. It’s crazy to me! You hear people talk about it all the time, but there’s a true bond there. I grew up as an only child, so watching both of my daughters grow as individuals and growing together is such a beautiful thing. It brings me so much joy.
Tony: The coolest thing I love about being a father is that I get to be a role model for my daughters. I’m able to show them what ‘doing things right’ looks like in my eyes. I can set a precedent for my daughters on who to give your energy to based on setting a standard and honoring your values. On a smaller scale, I love when I come home from work, I walk through the door, and both of my daughters welcome me at the door. They say “Hi Daddy!” like 30 times and it is just the best feeling in the world. Coming home from work to them is a whole new joy for me.
Anthony: Honestly, I like the responsibility of being a father. It makes you poke your chest out a little bit. I see fatherhood as ‘I’m a captain of my team and I am leading my team to victory.’ I like the challenge of being a father and being able to learn along the way.
xoN: What have your children taught you about the definition of what being a father means?
Kier: So my first daughter wasn’t planned. I had my daughter with my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife. At that time, we actually decided to break up a couple of months later. Sometimes in those situations, it is a tough hill to climb. So falling in love with my first daughter was a different journey. Now my second daughter, whom I had with my wife, was planned. What my daughters taught me, I could write 40 novels about it so far (laughs). But overall, how I came to love them taught me a lot about love, life, and about myself.
Tony: Harleigh is my first born. With her, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I felt unprepared. But to be honest, becoming a father is nothing you can ever be fully prepared for. Admittedly, I was more stern with her because I was very protective of her. With Willow, I was more lenient about things. I figured out which things matter and which things didn't matter as much. I have learned to be patient from Harleigh to Willow. I have also learned about being more in tune with my feelings because of my daughters. Man, I can cry at the drop of a hat now!
Anthony: I was a stepfather before having my son. My daughter, I have known her since she was 2 years old. My daughter plays a huge role in everything that I do as a father. She has taught me patience and setting boundaries as a stepparent because her father is still a part of her life. My son has taught me something different about what being a father means. On my podcast, No Guru Ish, I express that my wife and I had to go through IVF because I am infertile.
When we talk about infertility, we always highlight women. But there are men out there who experience male infertility and I’m one of them. The process was very stressful and to say that I needed help to have my son still kind of bothers me, if we are being completely real. But I am so grateful for my son because IVF is still not guaranteed. It is a miracle to have my son and it is an honor for me to be his father. Every minute is so precious to me when it comes to fatherhood.
"When we talk about infertility, we always highlight women. But there are men out there who experience male infertility and I’m one of them. It is a miracle to have my son and it is an honor for me to be his father. Every minute is so precious to me when it comes to fatherhood."
Courtesy of Anthony Edwards
xoN: Are there things that you wish you had done differently as a father?
Kier: No. I’m a firm believer in 'a series of doors leads into a series of doors and that leads to another series of doors.’ You make decisions and those decisions trickle down. I will say though, that I am glad I went to therapy before becoming a father. That is something I am really proud of myself for doing. I believe this journey of fatherhood would have been much more arduous if I hadn’t.
Tony: I am in the Navy. That requires me to travel a lot. The last three years, I haven’t been home as much and time is what I miss the most. You can’t get that time back. I wouldn’t say I would make another career choice because I am very grateful for the position I am in now. But looking back, I would take my career choice more into consideration when it comes to how it will affect my time spent with my family.
Anthony: I will start with my son. My son is only 6 months old, so I will say that I would push him to do things like make him roll over and stuff but I had to take a step back and remind myself that I need to slow down. I need him to do things on his own in his own time. With my daughter, she’s 15 now and I’m 33 years old. So the age difference is at the point where we can hang out, but when it comes to discipline, I have to be that authority figure. I didn’t set that boundary in the beginning. I wish that I could’ve set that boundary between friend and parent earlier than I did now.
xoN: How has being a father shaped your views on love in your marriage?
Kier: Parenthood has made my wife and I a better team. We are both committed to the idea “I got into this relationship with you and not these kids. We put ourselves first.” Now I know that’s a very controversial thing to say. I know people have different hierarchies where they place their children. And hey, that thing (hierarchy chart) moves too! But being a father has taught me how to take care of my wife as a person beyond motherhood. I know she still needs me as a friend, as a husband, and as a companion.
Tony: Being a father has allowed me the space to demonstrate to my daughters what authentic love looks like by the way I love my wife. I am very intentional about how I communicate with my wife and vice versa. My wife and I respect each other’s boundaries and prioritize being on one accord, even if we disagree on something. I need my daughters to witness and understand what a positive healthy relationship looks like. Because if I am being toxic to my wife, then there’s a chance that is what they are going to seek without realizing it. Model behavior is key.
Anthony: The love I have for my wife has grown and I didn’t think it would. The fact that my wife stuck it out through IVF for me is amazing. Now that I’m a father [biologically], my son definitely completed the circle. The bond between us has really gotten deeper after we had our son and it is true unconditional love.
"Being a father has allowed me the space to demonstrate to my daughters what authentic love looks like by the way I love my wife. I am very intentional about how I communicate with my wife and vice versa. My wife and I respect each other’s boundaries and prioritize being on one accord, even if we disagree on something."
Courtesy of Tony Ingram
xoN: What advice do you have for other men that are looking for that sense of community of being a father?
Kier: I say to broaden your circle. Sometimes we automatically look for people who look like us because we assume they have shared the same life experiences and have similar perspectives. That is mostly true. But when you are able to connect with someone on a human level, those differences aren’t a huge factor. There are some things you could miss out on if you do not connect with people with different backgrounds.
Anthony: With my situation, building a sense of community can be a little challenging. I would be vulnerable with some people about my infertility and you never know how people are going to respond. It can definitely be triggering. So what I’m learning now is when I talk about dismantling the stigma on male infertility, I have to look past the negative responses that I might receive. It’s about making awareness and knowing that the awareness helps so many other couples feel seen. So the advice I can give is I think it’s important for men to first know their status with producing children. There are fertility specialists out there and to not only depend on women to know those things. Whether you are a biological father or not, being a father is a blessing and having space to share those experiences with other fathers is important too.
xoN: How would you like your legacy to be remembered? What would you like your children to keep with them about their father, years down the line?
Kier: I think that when you talk about legacy, it’s not really on you. I can bring things into the world, and people are going to read into those things however they want. But the main thing that I want my children to keep with them is to pay it forward. I want them to be satisfied with who they are as individuals because they saw their father happy with who he was. My daughters do not need to be perfect or widely accomplished women. I know there are women who have multiple degrees and multiple businesses but are still unhappy with themselves. So as long as my daughters are happy and know that their father is/was a good man who tried to put good in the Universe, that’s the only thing that matters to me.
Tony: When it comes to legacy, your character and integrity are non-negotiable. The values that I have, have to be solid. For my daughters, I want them to know their father was courageous, his character and integrity were intact, and how to stay ten toes down for what they believe in. Now my wife and I will be having a son soon. When I tell you when we found out we were having a son, there was something that came over me. I thought to myself, ‘You are about to have a mini you.’ My prayer for my son is to be a healthy masculine young man that walks with courage, faith, and integrity. I want him to respect himself and be mindful of his feelings. I want to teach him that it is okay to feel his feelings. Manhood is vulnerability as well as being firm. I want to teach him to not allow others to put him in a box. I want him to be great in his own right. I want him to look up to me and be proud of me.
Anthony: I want my children to know that their dad is relentless and I invested so much into them. I want them to know it is important to believe in themselves and not allow society to throw them off the course. I want my children to also know that if things do get hard, it’s okay because their father made sure that there is a soft landing for them to bounce back from when they fall.
Featured image courtesy of Anthony Edwards
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.
I think that a lot of us believe in the notion of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This notion allows us to be grateful for being late to appointments, having plans being canceled last minute, and even changing our minds on attending events we said we would go to. I know I am guilty of feeling so satisfied when things are changed at the last minute and it honestly makes my day better. For a then-25-year-old copywriter, Chelsea Coffey, it was actually the opposite. A last-minute change in her schedule would make her be at the right place at the right time.
Chelsea received a phone call from a coworker to cover a soccer event in Houston, Texas. She was not expecting this assignment, but she is so glad that she did. At the event, Chelsea had plans to connect with the soccer team, but had no idea that one of the soccer players would charm their way into her heart. Just in case you were wondering… yes, that MLS player was Warren Creavalle.
Warren and Chelsea dated a year and half before tying the knot. These days, the married couple has not only solidified their lives in love but also in business.
Courtesy of Chelsea and Warren
In addition to a successful Philly Urban Retreat the two are known for, Chelsea and Warren have founded a business brand called Coffey + Creavalle. Coffey + Creavalle is a one-stop-shop for all things ranging from home goods to apparel. For this couple, they want to become a resource for the community and create a legacy for their children.
Time was really on their side from the very beginning and if there is anything that I took from connecting with this couple is that: when it comes to true love, it comes right on time.
In this installment of xoNecole's "Our First Year," Chelsea and Warren share how they have kept their love alive by supporting one another, making love a daily choice, and knowing the importance of building a legacy.
How We Met
Warren: I was playing soccer for the Houston Dynamo. Chelsea was covering our team's End of Year Banquet for the magazine she worked for. So on that day, I saw her before we even spoke. I was already trying to see who this fine girl was. After the event and the after-party was going on, Chelsea saw me from across the room. With her being on the job and all, she walked over and approached my teammates and I. She starts giving her a spiel on how she could work with us to style us for a photoshoot. And we followed each other on Twitter--after she threatened me about not being a ghost follower.
Chelsea: So my coworker called me about covering the End of Years Awards Dinner for the Houston Dynamo. I thought this was perfect because I was coming from a photoshoot. So, I already had my makeup done. I wasn't very familiar with soccer-focused events, so I didn't know what to expect. But girl when I got there, I called my coworker saying we have been missing out! I continue to be professional, but after the event, I figured it would be a missed opportunity if I didn't make a connection. So I come up with my business introduction, walked up to Warren's team, and did my thing. But when I was talking to Warren, I felt like we were talking for the longest. So we ended up exchanging our social media information, and that's how we connected.
Chelsea: I was a little smitten out the gate, to be honest. I remember it was very dimmed lighting in the room and Warren's smile was just *ding ding* (laughs). It was really nice. Also, something to know about me. Since I am from Texas, my default is to pronounce certain names as if they were Spanish. I assumed Warren was Afro-Latino and when he was telling me his last name, I pronounced it differently. He got a little sassy with me, understandably, because I was saying his name wrong. But that was my first impression of him. As charming as he was, he was still a little sassy to me.
Warren: It was my rookie year and I was new to Houston. So when I saw her from across the room, I felt it was a turning point for me. I felt like I was glowing up and me being able to talk to women who look like her was a plus. I was convinced that Houston may be my kind of city. As Chelsea walked passed, I said out loud, "Look at my future beautiful Black queen!" Even after we were able to finally connect, I still thought Chelsea was beautiful and was looking forward to what was coming next.
Chelsea: Warren and I actually dated twice. We hung out a few times and we'd been dating for like five minutes. This thought came into my head, 'I don't care if he gets traded, we're going.' And immediately I told myself, 'Girl, what is wrong with you?!' 'First of all, where did this thought come from, and second of all, we don't even know him for real.' But, it's true when they say when you know, you know. I saw Warren as my best friend and we always had a good time together. Even though we broke up temporarily, I told myself that I wanted to feel like that, if I ever fell in love again.
Warren: So when we reconnected, Chelsea was still in Houston and I was in Philadelphia [two teams later]. But it felt like we didn't skip a beat. I still felt like I was talking to my best friend. It was a really refreshing vibe. To be honest, I did date other people when we were both single. But Chelsea was the only woman that would make me scramble if that makes sense (laughs). That was really significant for me because I felt like I didn't have to worry if she wasn't going to be in my life anymore. That was when I knew. It was natural to take that next step with her to me.
"Chelsea was the only woman that would make me scramble if that makes sense. That was really significant for me because I felt like I didn't have to worry if she wasn't going to be in my life anymore. That was when I knew. It was natural to take that next step with her to me."
Saying "I Do"
Chelsea: We had two weddings. We got married legally in the spring and then had our marriage reception/ceremony six months later. At the main marriage ceremony, Warren wrote his own vows, and what he said was so sweet. I would say that is one of the things I will never forget. But there was this moment after the vows and all the pictures were taken. I thought that we would come back to the bridal suite for a special one-on-one moment during the wedding. Ironically, it didn't happen like that.
We got to the room and slowly, but surely, all of our bridesmaids and groomsmen were in our room. They were eating snacks and playing music. But seeing all of our close friends together made me appreciate things that were just out of our control in the best way. It was a beautiful way to celebrate our love story by being surrounded by the people we really care about. So it's a mixture of both of those for me.
Warren: I would have to say when we were saying our vows to each other was the most memorable part for me.
Chelsea: I think that one of the benefits of me being older than Warren is that I was at a stage in my life where I knew I didn't want to date just to date anymore. I was ready to be in a serious relationship and get married. I wouldn't say that I didn't have any fears, because I think that's natural when you do have them. One thing that was a sensitivity of mine is hoping that we can navigate through each other's different seasons.
I wanted us to be able to get through things together rather than individually. What helped me to be less afraid about stepping into marriage was Warren's pace. When things move too fast, I get a little nervous. And since we were at different seasons, I admired that Warren knew what he needed as far as time, to be completely ready for this. Warren has a thorough and thoughtful pace. So by the time we got closer to the wedding, we were sure about it.
Warren: I agree with Chelsea. I think the pace we chose in our relationship helped us be more confident in our decision to get married. Marriage is forever. So it's important that you are sure this is exactly what you want. So being able to take that time allowed that assurance we needed.
"When things move too fast, I get a little nervous. And since we were at different seasons, I admired that Warren knew what he needed as far as time, to be completely ready for this. Warren has a thorough and thoughtful pace. So by the time we got closer to the wedding, we were sure about it."
Courtesy of Chelsea and Warren
Chelsea: I consider myself a proper particular kind of person. I have never lived with a guy before and so to my surprise, Warren is so particular too. He has his own ways of how he likes things done. In a way, we complemented each other, but there were times I felt we were tripping over each other and our own preferences. I will say that we are still working on this. It is all about picking your battles.
Warren: Yeah I do like things in my living space a certain way. I have had my roommates before, but I was living on my own when I was dating Chelsea. So stepping back into sharing my space with someone was an adjustment for me.
Chelsea: With Warren, I really appreciate how supportive he is. There is just something to be said about someone who knows how to be present with their partner. For example, when I was writing my book, Warren sat down with me for days and went through/edited the entire book. It is really a blessing to have someone like that in your life. Someone that is just down for you for whatever. So learning how to be that way for someone is what I've learned through how Warren shows up for me.
Warren: Prior to our relationship, I had this grip on life. I had this idea about what I wanted, where I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there. So allowing someone you consider your partner to add to that, is a shift. There's a trajectory in your life that is for the better because you are letting other people in. It was something I didn't anticipate, but it has definitely been my biggest lesson.
"Prior to our relationship, I had this grip on life. I had this idea about what I wanted, where I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there. Allowing someone you consider your partner to add to that, is a shift. There's a trajectory in your life that is for the better because you are letting other people in."
Chelsea: I remember I was trying to make this video right after our Houston house renovation. I was trying to be cute and asked Warren what his main takeaway from the experience was. Warren says, "Go get the money." As much as we joke about that, we are grinding out here. We want our kids to live a life that reflects all the hard work we put in. We want to be a significant staple in our community in a big way.
Warren: If there is anything to add, we want to be able to open doors not just for our kids, but for other kids in our community as well. I think that it's important to lift up the next generation and be that source of knowledge or resources for them to become successful.
Warren: One thing I've gotten from Chelsea's father and our marriage counselor is to make a choice to love your spouse every day. The butterflies and everything is not enough to sustain the day in and day out. So you make that choice every day and sometimes multiple times a day to love that person.
Chelsea: There is the overarching theme about grace. When you are in a relationship, you have to show the other person grace. I think that sometimes when we don't give the other person grace and we lash out on them when we are upset about something, we forget about our own shortcomings. If you are able to put yourself in the other person's shoes, it sets you up for getting out of a situation better than you anticipate.
For more about Chelsea and Warren, follow them on Instagram @thecoffeybreak and @malik_lebeau. Follow their brand @coffeywithcreavalle.
Featured image courtesy of Chelsea and Warren
Originally published on July 8, 2021
How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks about love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
One thing I've been seeing return to my social media feed is the opportunity to travel. Since the top of 2020, the world has been trying to figure out what "catching a flight" will look like in the future. And when you travel with your bae, it is an extraordinary experience that should be on everyone's bucket list. On a baecation, you are able to unwind from the daily Zoom meetings and experience another culture together. It's also another way to really take your intimacy to another level and grow closer to your boo mentally, physically, and emotionally.
One couple who prioritizes their love for travel and love for each other are digital creators LaNaiza Kelly and Mahdi Gaines. Originally from New Orleans, LaNaiza and Mahdi met each other at work when Mahdi noticed LaNaiza around the office and attempted to get to know her. One day, Mahdi joked that whenever she was around him, that there should be a smile. This exchange turned into an authentic relationship where they'd go everywhere together, including traveling the world.
As their love for each other grew, they created their own platform, Love at First Flight, where they share their journey of love and travel. This is a couple that knows how to put the bae in baecation. After three years, LaNaiza and Mahdi are still showing up for each other through amazing global experiences and smiling every step of the way.
In this installment of xoNecole's How We Met, LaNaiza and Mahdi share how their love story is based on honesty, authenticity, and unlearning bad habits.
How We Met
Mahdi: I was in marketing and she was in sales. I actually transferred over to the sales department and that's when we met. LaNaiza used to walk around with this mad look on her face. She is not a morning person. One day I asked her, "Why do you look so mad in the morning?" And she told me, "Don't worry about it." My response was, "Well, you need to make sure you smile when you're around me," and she told me she will make sure she smiles next time.
LaNaiza: Yeah, I think it was a pretty well-known thing at work that I was not a morning person, so I never looked happy in the morning. Then this guy tried to tell me to smile, and I was like, "OK." I am super-sarcastic, so every time I saw him after that I had the biggest smile on my face. That's really how things got started. It was just a bunch of sarcasm with each other.
Mahdi: Usually LaNaiza and I would hang out, but it was always with a group. But one day, we decided to go to this place called Barcadia. She came over that evening to my place and she was all dressed up. She blew my mind when she showed up. I felt I was underdressed. We had a really good time that night. It was amazing.
LaNaiza: I was a ball of nerves that night. I was actually really nervous and tried to avoid any kind of feelings toward him. I wasn't looking to be in a relationship, but he was very persistent. We hung out a lot already, but I felt that this time was different and it was turning into something more. I started freaking out. But that night was a really good night at the end of the day.
LaNaiza: I think the moment when I started to like him, I was thinking to myself, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' But I couldn't deny it, you know? I would notice myself feeling salty if I couldn't hang out with him sometimes, so I had to be honest with myself that I was ready [for a relationship].
Mahdi: It was pretty early on for me. Even when we were hanging out, I noticed that I stopped wanting to hang out as a group and more one-on-one with LaNaiza. At a certain point, I kind of knew that a relationship with her was where my mind was going. One night we were hanging out at this club and I told her, "You know what, what's going on here? I'm interested in you for real.'" I kind of laid it out on the table.
"At a certain point, I kind of knew that a relationship with her was where my mind was going. One night we were hanging out at this club and I told her, 'You know what, what's going on here? I'm interested in you for real.'"
LaNaiza: I love that Mahdi is super goofy. He has a great sense of humor and can make friends with anyone you can imagine. I really admire that about him because sometimes I can be a little standoffish. He still embraces that inner child in him. I believe that's the core of who he truly is.
Mahdi: LaNaiza has this hard outer shell that everyone knows about but she has the biggest heart ever. She cares about people, animals, you name it. That is something that really attracted me to her. Earlier on when we were dating, I noticed that soft heart. That really means a lot to me.
The "L" Word
Mahdi: I think it was a couple of months into the relationship for me. We moved so organically and I had strong feelings for LaNaiza. We were so close and she was my best friend. I could talk to her about anything even before we became a romantic relationship, so when we finally got together, it just clicked. This was everything I ever wanted and I have never felt this way about anybody. I started thinking about my future and she was the only person I wanted to be in it with me.
LaNaiza: For me, I knew I loved him but I didn't want to admit it. When I started to feel my walls coming down and I was comfortable to just be myself around Mahdi, that was when I knew. I used to never think about the future with someone and it just felt right with him. It was just one of those things where when you know, you know.
"I knew I loved him but I didn't want to admit it. When I started to feel my walls coming down and I was comfortable to just be myself around Mahdi, that was when I knew. I used to never think about the future with someone and it just felt right with him. It was just one of those things where when you know, you know."
Mahdi: What I've learned about love is that when you love somebody, you give that person the real you. A lot of people like to put up a front or try to be someone else in order to fit this ideal partner. But with LaNaiza, she is unapologetically herself. She reminds me all the time (laughs). I love that because that makes me want to be unapologetically myself too.
LaNaiza: I have learned that love is a job. It is a continuing thing that you have to work toward every day. There are times where we butt heads, but if you really love someone, you have to put in the work and the effort to keep the love alive—to show up for one another.
LaNaiza: In the beginning, we were both coming out of serious relationships. We were both in unhealthy relationships where we developed bad habits. We had to unlearn those habits in order to be with each other. We were honestly figuring out how to love essentially and learning how we would want to receive love. One habit I had to unlearn was communication. I am not good at communicating (laughs). I am very quick to express when I am angry. But for me it was learning how to express how I'm feeling when I am feeling it. Instead of holding it in and blowing up later.
Mahdi: For me, I had to unlearn a lot of things. I felt that I had to take care of everything like I did in my previous relationship, but LaNaiza taught me that I don't have to do everything. We are a team. With her, I feel like I am in a true partnership. I have never felt like this before. I remember we went on our first trip to Puerto Rico. The room was in my name and we were checking in. At first, I was going to take care of everything, but then LaNaiza stepped up and handled the check-in—honestly, better than I would have. As I watched her, I thought to myself, "You know what, I like this!"
LaNaiza: We both have busy lives, so I think it is important to carve out some time for hobbies. One of my favorite things to do is salsa dancing. It's a time for me to be social and it's also how I like to unwind. Mahdi and I spend a lot of time together so we try to carve out our alone time when we can.
Mahdi: So LaNaiza is a night owl and I'm an early bird. So I like to get a morning workout [in] at around 6 a.m. It's a good start to my morning and it helps me clear my head. Then when night comes around, I'm already tired but LaNaiza is still working on emails and things. It just works because she knows I'm out for the count anyways.
LaNaiza: I think one shared value is just being honest with each other. I think that should be the foundation in any relationship.
Mahdi: We also talk about our life goals a lot to each other. We keep each other motivated and focused on what the end goal is. We have meetings about it and everything.
For more of LaNaiza and Mahdi, follow them on Instagram @loveatfirstflight_.
Featured image via Love at First Flight
Y'all remember the show Girlfriends? It was my first introduction to what my 20s could possibly look like with my closest friends. For me, it was a nice dream for little ol' me to look forward to when I grew up. Now that I’m grown, honey, adulting is not a joke. There are many responsibilities to have, mistakes to make, and breakups to recover from. It is a struggle but a beautiful one. Today, there are a few shows that still highlight amazing Black women living their lives and navigating the ups and downs with their day-ones by their side.
These are the types of shows that remind us that while we all have our not-so-good moments, our girls are there for support, making life just a little bit easier. If you haven’t heard, there's a fairly new Amazon Prime series, created and executive produced by Tracy Oliver, called Harlem. This series is a comedy narrated by a character named Camille (played by Meagan Good) and includes her three best friends as they navigate their 30s in Harlem, N.Y.
One of the three best friends is Tye, a queer woman who left the corporate world and created her own dating app for LGBTQAI+ people of color, and she's played by the vibrant and loving actress, Jerrie Johnson. I figured it was only right to have a chat with Jerrie for an exclusive xoNecole interview and get to know the woman behind the Harlem series' tech entrepreneur.
xoNecole: [In 'Harlem'], we definitely see Tye's development throughout the show in her portrayal of what it looks like to show up for yourself and your friends. What's an important lesson you’ve learned about showing up in your own personal life?
Jerrie Johnson: Well, I’m a very drop-everything-for-someone-who-is-going-through-something type of girl. Literally last night, I was preparing to wash my clothes. My friend was having some issues and I felt she wasn’t in the best headspace. I got dressed, met up with a couple more of our friends, and we all went down to Brooklyn to see her. Now, mind you, I live in Harlem. People ain’t just hopping over to Brooklyn any given day. Now the thing with [my character] Tye is, she's really good at setting boundaries.
She mentions in a scene that she is not comfortable to share her business contact with her friend. For me, I would have been quick to text it for my friend without even thinking about it. Not to say that what Tye did in that moment was wrong or right. It’s just something that I am incorporating into my life now. Showing up for people differently than they show up for you doesn't make you a bad friend. You may not always be able to just get up and go to Brooklyn when your friend is in trouble. So, I am learning to show up by setting more boundaries.
"Showing up for people differently than they show up for you doesn't make you a bad friend. You may not always be able to just get up and go to Brooklyn when your friend is in trouble. So, I am learning to show up by setting more boundaries."
The show also talks about the trope of being a strong Black woman. There's a moment where we see Tye not wanting to be seen as weak by her friends. Are there moments during your day where you put self-care at the top of your to-do list?
There have been multiple moments in my life where I have learned to prioritize self-care. One example is when I was in undergrad, I was in a lot of activities. The amount of things I juggled with the amount of time I had still baffles me to this day. This was around the time of the Michael Brown incident, and I personally couldn’t even get out of bed. It was probably a combination of exhaustion and depression. There is a thing that happens with my body when I am exhausted. I start to lose my voice, so when that happens, I [know I] need to slow down.
What is real for me is that I like to show up 100 percent in every room I am in, but sometimes I have to gauge the amount of energy I can realistically give. I say to myself, 'Alright Jerrie, we only have 20 percent to give right now.' My body has been trained to go to that 100 percent level, but I have to reel it in and only give the 10 out of the 15 percent or just the 20 percent.
Admittingly, there is a guilt that we, as Black women, feel when we practice the act of self-choosing. What advice do you have for other women who struggle with saying the word “no”?
When a person first starts to create boundaries, guilt is a normal response, so don’t feel guilty about feeling guilty. I would say the first thing you should do is forgive yourself for the moments that you didn’t put yourself first. The second thing I would say is to recognize what the [reason] is for feeling that you cannot set boundaries. I am one of eight children—seven who are still alive—and I grew up in a household where my mom didn’t hug me. My mom didn’t come to my shows or give me that kind of support others seek from their parents.
Because of that, I overcompensate support and do not want people to feel the way I felt growing up. I leave myself on the line for others more than I should. It’s really about healing those childhood traumas to understand why we do the things we do. We like to celebrate people who are caregivers and people-pleasers. There is nothing wrong with tending to other people’s needs, but if it means leaving yourself in the dust, then it does turn into something that’s not okay. Lastly, empower your 'no.' Be proud of your 'no.' Practice saying 'no,' and revel in that good feeling you get after you say it.
"There is nothing wrong with tending to other people’s needs, but if it means leaving yourself in the dust, then it does turn into something that’s not okay. Empower your 'no.' Be proud of your 'no.' Practice saying 'no,' and revel in that good feeling you get after you say it."
In the series, we see how important it is to have a sense of community as you navigate through life. How important is it for you to have your main tribe or crew?
Growing up, I didn't really have a clique nor was I ever a cliquey person, so, when I was in undergrad, I yearned for that. You hear the stories from other people stating that they have been friends since their freshman year of college or they go on vacations together—you know, stuff like that—and I didn’t really have that. Now I have friends. But most of my friends already have their friend groups, and I’m like the plus one. So to be a part of the group now, with the friends I mentioned before, allows me to really appreciate adult authentic relationships. It is near and dear to my heart.
Life isn’t always easy, especially when you are juggling a career in the entertainment industry. When you feel overwhelmed, or you don’t feel at your best, how do you usually handle it?
Well first, I listen to a ton of Abraham-Hicks videos and that gets me in my bag! Then I like to listen to a playlist of my favorite songs that I know are going to get me out of the funk. I also try to write things out since I’m a writer as well. But if there’s any resistance to the first few things, I practice tapping, and I recite affirmations for myself. I will say things like, "I am feeling really unbalanced right now, but I love and accept myself." After that, I feel so much better.
Let's talk about the importance of wellness and self-care again. How has practicing self-care helped you become a better person as well as a better actress?
My favorite type of self-care is watching my campervan shows. I like to light my candles and maybe indulge in some vegan ice cream. I love HGTV, interior design videos, and I am obsessed with watching people create their own campervans and go off the grid. I think, when it comes to self-care, when we do certain things because it works for other people and it doesn’t necessarily work for us, we get further away from our true essence. If my first instinct is to go on YouTube and watch a campervan video, I can’t judge myself for it. I can’t say, “Jerrie, you can’t watch a campervan video for self-care. That is so weird. You should be taking a bath instead, or [to] do some yoga.'
If I end up doing yoga, I know deep down it’s not my truest desire. My philosophy is to always follow my desire. If I do what I desire for self-care, when I get a script or I’m on set, I’m not judging my instincts or desires for my character, either. It just helps me not to put restrictions on Tye or any other character I play. People do weird things. I know I do weird sh*t all the time and that’s okay. If I were to put limitations on Tye, it would have closed the box of all the possibilities there are for her to be.
"My philosophy is to always follow my desire. If I do what I desire for self-care, when I get a script or I’m on set, I’m not judging my instincts or desires for my character, either. It just helps me not to put restrictions on Tye or any other character I play."
What is your motivation to keep working toward your goals?
I do this for my hood n****s. I feel like I haven’t seen a lot of people just doing it for the 'hood. Because I have transcended into different areas in my life, people assume that I have this certain way of living, but in reality, when I go back home, I go back to the 'hood. My main goal is to really heal the 'hood. There are so many things I have learned from where I came from.
We are so used to being consumers and there are people who still do not know how to economize or capitalize off of their gifts. We can really branch out into fields that we didn’t think were possible, similar to what Tye is doing in Harlem. We are so used to having limited resources, [so] we have been forced to be creative in so many different ways. I don’t care to make things for rich people. I care to be an inventor or a creator for my people in the 'hood that are trying to find a way to be better but keep getting pulled back into the same cycles.
What does success mean to you versus happiness?
I think success and happiness are directly correlated. I feel like success for me is living in my authentic truth. Success for me isn't attached to any worldly possession. All of that comes and goes. I’m interested in figuring out how I can elevate the human species, spreading light and joy, and getting to the truth about what our purpose is. When I reach that level of seeing the results of my manifestations, then that is what happiness means to me. I am able to share the information I have learned to others. I want everyone to know everything that I know.
Reflecting on where you are in life right now, what would you say to your younger self?
I would say that everything is going to be alright. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and allow yourself space—room to breathe. I didn’t have the luxury when I was growing up to not be in survival mode. People would also say I was "too much" of something. So I would internalize that and be cautious about how I came off to people. I didn’t want people to criticize or judge me for simply trusting my own instincts. I'd encourage her to give herself grace and to understand that she is not responsible for other adults' feelings or behaviors. In my adult life, I have been reparenting myself.
I would [also] say to my younger self, I love you. There are so many people who love you and will love you. Everything will happen for you and don’t be stressed out about the how or when. Celebrate the now!
For more of Jerrie, follow her on Instagram here.
Featured image by Cecile Boko
Money Talksis an xoNecole series where we talk candidly to real women about how they spend money, their relationship with money, and how they get it.
As the year comes to a close, I know many of us have been doing a lot of reflection on what we did and didn't do in order to reach certain goals. We have created to-do lists and vision boards, prayed on a daily basis, cut people off who hinder growth, signed up for masterclasses—the list goes on, honey! Whether you feel you have seen any progress or not, if you've done at least one of the things I listed, sis, you're doing a good job. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to have all of those amazing dreams and not put any action behind them.
In order to reach your goals and live a fabulous life, I spoke to the expert herself: Cheryl Grace. She's no stranger to corporate life and became a full-time "fabulosity coach" after more than 25 years climbing the corporate ladder. Cheryl knew she wanted to become the person to others that she felt she needed in her early 20s. In 2017, she created Powerful Penny, a lifestyle brand for women at work, in love, and at home.
Courtesy of Cheryl Grace
Through her platform, she empowers women to show up in all the areas of their life at work, in love, and at home, which equals the ultimate fabulosity. "There is this myth that women do not have any power when it comes to money," she said. "I named my company the Powerful Penny because people discount Black people, especially Black women, the same way we discount pennies. But what people forget to realize is that pennies add up. So, pennies can be powerful when you make the decision to collect them and not toss them away. You can do whatever you set your mind to when there is intention behind it."
In this installment of Money Talks, Cheryl talks about how trusting your gut, setting intentionality, and asking for help as the keys to being financially free.
On what she makes in a month:
"Powerful Penny was founded in 2017 and I started it as a side hustle. I went full-time starting at the top of 2021 and I generated $30,000 in the first month. My next goal is to make my first million within the year, so for me, March 2022 is my deadline to see if I reach my goal."
On pivoting to full-time entrepreneurship:
"I think the pandemic helped me. I know a lot of people went through challenges during 2020, and rightfully so. But for me, 2020 was my most productive year ever! I wasn't traveling like I usually do for work, so with the opportunity of staying still, I was able to focus on the products I wanted to create and the courses I wanted to teach. I was ready for a change. I was very intentional about moving out of corporate America into my new role."
On the definition of “wealth” vs “success”:
"I think everyone needs to define success for themselves. For some people, success is strictly monetary. They are trying to reach that six-figure-a-year job. For me, success is owning a cottage by the water. I've collected furniture and decor for the last 10 years and manifested my cottage, [which] for me is mainly a place where my family can gather and keep for generation after generation. Wealth, for me, is being able to build a legacy. Things you have accumulated and can pass on to the next generation is a priority."
On the lowest she has ever felt when it comes to money:
"The lowest I've ever felt when it came to money was when my car got repossessed. During that time, I was going through a divorce and it was a reality check that I could not depend on my then-starter husband to take care of things. I had to figure out how to take care of things myself. That was when I started being intentional about my financial choices instead of living in the moment."
On educating others on the importance of setting intention with money:
"Let's say a person walks up to you and they say they want to be rich. You question them and ask, 'What does being rich look like for you? How are you going to get there?' We have these big audacious goals for ourselves—which is great—but if we do not know how to take small bites or understand what it will actually take to get to our goal, then we are not setting intentions. We can't assume that we can think of big goals and expect them to come true just because we put them on our vision board. It's also about the actions you take and the choices you make to get there. We have to take things one bite at a time."
Courtesy of Cheryl Grace
"We can't assume that we can think of big goals and expect them to come true just because we put them on our vision board. It's also about the actions you take and the choices you make to get there."
On having multiple streams of income:
"I wanted to continue living the same lifestyle I was living when I was working in corporate. So right now, with the Powerful Penny, I have products and services. I have my journals, affirmation cards, online courses, and executive coaching sessions. A book called The Miracle Morning helped me figure out who my core client would be.
"At the end of the day, I make sure that I keep my products at affordable prices for my clients and consumers [in order] to sustain my multiple streams of income."
On unhealthy mindsets about money she had to let go of:
"A few years back, I had no problem dropping $2,000 to $4,000 on a handbag, but if you would have told me to drop that same amount into an investment product, that would have been another story. I really started to look at less material things and more at what was important for me internally. I started learning how to invest in myself and stop being afraid of what my reality looked like. How you organize your money in your purse says a lot about how you respect it."
"How you organize your money in your purse says a lot about how you respect it."
Courtesy of Cheryl Grace
On the money mantra she swears by:
"My mantra is always, 'Trust your gut.' I don't think a lot of women trust their gut when it comes to money."
For more about Cheryl Grace, follow her on Instagram @iamcheylgrace.
Featured image courtesy of Cheryl Grace
What is a healthy example of love? If you really think about it, how was love shown to you growing up? Do you even know how much your childhood affected your love life as an adult? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves because, let's face it, we all want that love story we've seen on TV or in the movies—even if we aren't saying it out loud. But who's to say we are making the right moves to find not just a relationship, but a healthy one?
Whether you are team Love Jones or team Martin and Gina, how we perceive a healthy love can be based on so many things. And that is not excluding our upbringing. While love can look different for so many people, as long as we can all acknowledge that love should not feel like a challenge, then, we are on the right track. With the right person, love should be beneficial for both partners physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Periodt.
I recently chatted with someone who believes he grew up with healthy examples of love, which has helped him with how he approaches love and dating today. And that person, my friends, is actor Arlen Escarpeta. Arlen was born in Belize and moved to the United States at an early age with his mother. He pursued his acting career after college and landed his first movie role in Playaz Court in 2000. After that, he secured several TV roles including one in the legal series Boston Public, as well as police dramas The Shield and Boomtown. He also starred as Bobby Brown in the Lifetime original film Whitney.
Image courtesy of Shamayim
His most recent role is on OWN's coming-of-age drama series David Makes Man, a show created by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight). The drama centers around a teenaged prodigy named David who lives in the projects but tries to navigate his way between his neighborhood and his prestigious school. A newcomer to the series, Arlen plays JG, David's brother, who brings grounding to the young man. He's a rising businessman facing an opportunity that will change him and his community forever. (If you haven't checked out this OWN series, you should. It's so good!)
For this second season, Arlen's bringing the jokes and realness, and he's making the audience feel all the feels. At the same time, in his personal life, Arlen is making sure that he is making time in his love life to be the best human he can be and exude that healthy example of love he learned about while growing up.
xoNecole: In 'David Makes Man,' we see a time-lapse between younger versions of the characters and the older version. If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Arlen Escarpeta: Well, something I have learned over the years is that procrastination is not the way to go. I am still learning that now. I consider myself a healthy procrastinator. I recognize the faults of it now whereas before, I would just tell myself I have more time. Since then, I have learned I can get a lot more done when I give myself enough time in the upfront to get things accomplished. When you realize that procrastinating is not the way to go, the better off you'll be.
When you were growing up, who was the most influential person in your life and why?
It sounds so cliche and I am sure a lot of men say this, but it is definitely my mother. My father died when I was very young and my mother moved from Belize to the States. Growing up, my mom was the sole provider and she kept the whole family above water. Her tenacity, drive, faith, and her whole spirit is intertwined in everything that I do.
Do you believe that societal pressures of what a man is supposed to be have affected how men and women date nowadays?
I think the pressures of social media have definitely affected the way people approach one another when it comes to dating. Back in the day, the guy that had the best pickup line got the girl. Nowadays it's about sliding in someone's DM and hopefully, you get a response. Even though things have changed, I still believe people are still looking for that real connection with someone. It's just wrapped in a different package.
"Back in the day, the guy that had the best pickup line got the girl. Nowadays it's about sliding in someone's DM and hopefully, you get a response. Even though things have changed, I still believe people are still looking for that real connection with someone. It's just wrapped in a different package."
Did you have healthy examples of love growing up? If so, what did you learn about love that you apply to your own relationships?
I think I had plenty of healthy examples around me growing up. I am a hopeless romantic. I was influenced by TV too and would see all these romantic gestures. I'm the type of guy that will go out and get you flowers just because. I want my girl to feel special. But what I have learned about gestures is that the simple ones are just as important as the big ones. It doesn't have to be a grand scale gesture all the time. Something as simple as loading the dishwasher can be received and appreciated the same as a bouquet of flowers. My current partner taught me this as well. Love can be simple.
Another thing I have learned from healthy examples of love is knowing when to walk away in a relationship. I learned that from my mother. When my mother divorced my stepdad, she knew that she deserved more. And now she has more. It is about setting boundaries for yourself and knowing when letting go of a person is better than just holding on. You have to do what makes you happy and [know] what is a better situation for the both of you.
Is it important for you to feel safe within your own relationship? If so, what does feeling safe look like for you?
It is absolutely important to feel safe in a relationship. Feeling safe for me is me being able to say whatever I want to say and trust that my partner hears and understands me. Feeling safe is having effective communication. I know we are going to bump heads sometimes. So being able to have a disagreement with my partner one moment, talk it out, and still be able to kiss them on the forehead, later on, is healthy to me. I honestly believe that if you are not having those uncomfortable discussions in your relationship, then you are not growing.
"Feeling safe is having effective communication. Being able to have a disagreement with my partner one moment, talk it out, and still be able to kiss them on the forehead, later on, is healthy to me. I honestly believe that if you are not having those uncomfortable discussions in your relationship, then you are not growing."
Image courtesy of Shamayim
What is one thing you think a man should work on for himself before he's ready to be in a relationship?
Having accountability. Men are not always held to the highest standards and can get away with some things sometimes. So, while we are quick to judge others, we really have to look at ourselves and call out some of the things that we do. I think accountability can help men receive what they want to receive and communicate better what's on their mind when they enter a relationship.
What advice do you have for single women who may overthink what it means to impress a guy in dating?
If I am speaking just to women, single or in relationships, I would say that it is important to not misrepresent yourself and let it lead the way. What I mean is, that mask that you put on in the beginning, you are going to have to keep that up. The longer you keep that mask on, the less the man is able to really know you. I know we put on masks mainly to protect ourselves. But when you are comfortable with yourself, it is easier to be comfortable with a potential partner. So you are better off being honest and allowing them to like you/love you for who you really are.
In your opinion, what are your three best qualities that you bring to a relationship?
Just three?! I mean I have a long list! Well, I know I mentioned accountability earlier but I think it is a very important quality to have in a relationship—like being aware of what your flaws are. The other quality I have is to be able to trust. You have to trust your partner and you have to be able to trust yourself. For the third quality, I would have to say I am passionate. You need to have passion in a relationship to keep it going. Passion helps keep the spark alive.
What is one thing that people do not notice about you right away that you wish they did when it comes to love and relationships?
I come across as a "glass full" type person. But honestly, I can be a big old baby. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I don't think a lot of people know that about me.
What would you say is your biggest fear about relationships?
Because I am a hopeless romantic, God forbid the relationship ends and my partner no longer views me as a good person. I ask myself, 'Are we able to be friends afterward, or do they see me as the bad guy in the end?' I never want to be the bad guy.
Even when you try to do everything right, there are still circumstances that you have no control over that could lead to a relationship ending. So, with this fear of mine, I try to remind myself it's not about being the good guy or the bad guy. It is about staying true to yourself and putting your best foot forward.
To learn more about Arlen, follow him on Instagram.
Featured image courtesy of Shamayim