For Black Marriage Day, Charlotte couples share lessons in love and marriage

Each March, the national initiative puts a spotlight on marriage in the Black community.
Kallan-Katrina-Louis

I was 18 when Kallan and I met, 20 when we started dating, and 25 when we got married. This year, we’ll celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. Being one of the only in my immediate family and close friend groups to say “I do” at the time meant that my circle of advisers was limited. In 2012, mere months into being a Mrs., I learned about Black Marriage Day.

Created in 2003 by Wedded Bliss Foundation, Inc. founder and executive director Nisa Muhammad, Black Marriage Day is recognized annually on the fourth Sunday in March. The national initiative highlights the benefits of marriage, pays tribute to successful marriages, and promotes marriage in the Black community. 

Muhammad says that marriage has always mattered to the Black community, and this celebration lets the world know.

“Much of what we hear about marriage in the Black community is a blues song about low rates, out of wedlock births, escalating divorces and how somebody done somebody wrong,” she said in a statement. “We are replacing that blues song with a love song of joy.” 

Kallan and I have come a long way from the college freshmen who met in the National Association of Black Journalists chapter at the University of Florida. I’ve learned a lot about compromise and sacrifice, but also I’ve experienced having a partner support me through my highest highs and lowest lows. 

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In recognition of Black Marriage Day, QCity Metro talked with Charlotte married couples about memories from their wedding day and the biggest lessons marriage has taught them. 

Jamal & Shawna Cook

Wedding day: July 17, 1999

Jamal, 43, customer service technician
Shawna, 42, early childhood education assistant

Jamal-Shawna-Cook
Photo courtesy of Shawna Cook

Wedding day memory
The couple was in a long-distance relationship during their engagement. While Shawna was living in California, Jamal was in North Carolina. He joined Shawna in California two days before their wedding.

“We talked to each other so much throughout our wedding ceremony that the pastor gave us the ‘be quiet’ look. We were elated to be in each other’s physical presence again after being apart for months. This was before FaceTime, so a long-distance relationship was even more challenging than it is now.”

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it? 
“Jamal has been diagnosed as a sex addict, and we’ve dealt with infidelity in our marriage, which negatively impacted trust and communication.

“We managed it by having honest conversations, going to counseling, praying, focusing on what we want for ourselves as individuals (super important), as a couple and as parents. 

“This has been the hardest challenge of our lives, but we’re both grateful for where it brought us. It wasn’t easy, and it’s taken us a long time to be able to say those words. We’re better because of it.

“We currently coach couples who are struggling in their marriages, and we’re able to do that effectively because of what we’ve gone through.”

Biggest marriage lesson learned? 
“Include God always. We consider God a part of our union. We pray individually and together.

“Also, staying friends has been important. We liked who the other person was, even during our hardest times. That’s been hugely important, especially when we didn’t “like” the kind of husband and wife we were to each other.”

Roderick & Karen Morrow

Wedding day: Sept. 9, 2002

They’re both podcasters.

Roderick-Karen-Morrow
Rod and Karen at a live taping of their “The Black Guy Who Tips” podcast in 2018. Photo courtesy of Rod Morrow

Wedding day memory
“We went to the justice of the peace downtown. It was Labor Day, so we had the day off work. Then, we went out to eat with our parents and back to the apartment we had just moved into that weekend.”

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it? 
“Losing our jobs over the years. Struggling through our finances together forced us to rely on discipline, hard work and communication while creating a budget. It eventually led to us starting our own business together.”

Biggest marriage lesson learned? 
“No two marriages are the same. People are always growing and changing. You either grow together or you grow apart. If you want to grow together, then it takes communication and teamwork.”

Thomas & Tamika McTier

Wedding day: Sept. 3, 2005

Thomas, 40, commercial lending division manager
Tamika, 41, BSA compliance officer

Thomas-Tamika-McTier
The McTiers enjoying a cruise vacation. Photo courtesy of Tamika McTier

Wedding day memory
Thomas recalls the fun they had at their reception, particularly Tamika smashing wedding cake in his face. She remembers seeing him cry as she walked down the aisle. 

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it? 
The McTiers said faith and communication was necessary for a big move from their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. 

“We moved to Charlotte in July 2012 after my husband received a job promotion that came with a relocation,” Tamika said.

Biggest marriage lesson learned? 
“Communicate, communicate and over-communicate. No topic is off-limits — finances, sex, in-laws, goals, date nights, vacations, kids, you name it. 

“When there’s something that makes either of us uneasy, we’ve found it easier to just put it out there and talk about it. As we continue working as a team, communication for us provides clarity without assuming what the other person is thinking or feeling.”

Kirk & Shavon Louis

Wedding day: Feb. 14, 2006 and May 20, 2006

Kirk, grad student
Shavon, pastor

Kirk-Shavon-Louis
Photo courtesy of Kirk Louis

Wedding day memory
Kirk remembers losing the wedding ring and having to replace it an hour before the ceremony.

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
“Mental health and infidelity. We overcame it with good therapy and prayer.”

Biggest marriage lesson learned?
“Healing and growth are essential and should each be a pillar.”

Brandon & Tempestt Adams

Wedding day: May 22, 2010

Brandon, 33, banking analyst
Tempestt, 33, college professor

Brandon-Tempestt-Adams
Brandon and Tempestt during a photo shoot celebrating their eighth wedding anniversary. Photo: Aerial7 Photography

Wedding day memory
Tempestt got a flat tire on her way back from running an errand, which led to sheer panic. The limousine had to pick her up on the side of the road so she could get dressed for the ceremony.

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
“Early in our marriage, we had to really work together to figure out our financial future. Our backgrounds and approaches to money were so different that it was sometimes tricky to get on the same page. 

“Discussing long-term goals and desired positioning, having ‘business meetings,’ and making the finances visible with paper spending plans helped us overcome our challenges and chart a strong course together.”

Biggest marriage lesson learned?
“Marriage is only as hard as you make it.”

Brandon & DeLauren Everett

Wedding day: Aug. 31, 2011

Brandon, 35, senior web analyst
DeLauren, 37, corporate event planner

Brandon-DeLauren-Everett
Photo courtesy of DeLauren Everett

Wedding day memory
“Sitting at the back of the yacht taking pictures, watching the sun set into the ocean with Brandon’s arm over me. I knew in my entire being that I had made the right decision,” DeLauren said.

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
“Learning how to effectively communicate the good and bad and having respectful conversations that are open and honest. 

DeLauren says they attend couples therapy every few months as a ‘checkup.’

“It gives us a chance to share things we may be feeling that we might avoid discussing in the moment,” she said. “I look forward to that time together with him, and it’s proven to be very helpful in our marriage.”

Biggest marriage lesson learned?
“It’s important to make intimate time for one another. Just the two of you. Put the phones away, find a sitter, and be completely distraction-free so that you can give your spouse the undivided attention they deserve. 

“The times we didn’t make unconditional time for each other, we found ourselves misaligned and disconnected, plus we would bicker a lot. We didn’t talk to each other and found ourselves in an uncomfortable space.”

Gerard & Eboni Littlejohn 

Wedding day: Oct. 15, 2011

Gerard, 35, nonprofit leader and entrepreneur
Eboni, 34, entrepreneur 

Gerard-Eboni-Littlejohn
Photo courtesy of Gerard Littlejohn

Wedding day memory
“The peace we had about the entire situation and to see our families together and everyone happy. Everything went right.” 

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
“Bringing both of our baggage to a marriage — without having worked on ourselves first — eventually came to a head, having us face a tough stretch of wondering if we’d make it. With the help of counseling and hard work, we’re better than ever and have a new normal.” 

Biggest marriage lesson learned? 
“People often say marriage is 50-50, but each spouse has to put in 100% for the marriage and family to work.”

Daunte & Tonya Bruce

Wedding day: March 24, 2012

Daunte, 36, VP – Enterprise Real Estate and Marketing at Bank of America
Tonya, 38, VP – Digital Strategy and Platforms at Bank of America

Daunte-Tonya-Bruce.
Photo courtesy of Tonya Bruce

Wedding day memory
Daunte says everything flowed that day despite the rain. There was even a double rainbow. 

“For us, that represented my deceased mom and my wife’s deceased dad. It was a magical night,” he said.

Tonya looked at the double rainbow as their parents’ blessings for the marriage. 

“We’ll never forget that day. I believe in my heart that our parents were there with us in spirit, even though they weren’t there physically,” she said. “It was bizarre and weird but special at the same time.”

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
“Opening up about our fears as it pertains to being married,” Daunte answered. “We got counseling and discussed our childhood messages. We agreed to do our best to work on letting a lot of the pain and fear go. It’s a process though, and we’ve agreed to give each other grace.”

Tonya added that surviving the loss of a child has been one of their most recent challenges.

“I was pregnant and experienced a miscarriage at home with him,” she said. “I could tell he didn’t know how to support me. It was a painful time. We’re still overcoming, but we trust that God has a plan for our lives and our family. Everything happens for a reason, and I know we aren’t done growing our tribe.”

Biggest marriage lesson learned? 
“Marriage is work. Just like everything else of value — seed, time and harvest still applies.

“Also, much like the world around us, your marriage will also have seasons. Sometimes you are happy, sad, peaceful and exercising faith. You have to stretch yourselves even through change and ride the waves of life together.”

Brian & Tasha McKnight

Wedding day: April 27, 2013

Brian, 40, sales representative
Tasha, 45, business analyst

Tasha-McKnight
Photo courtesy of Tasha McKnight

Wedding day memory
Brian remembered Tasha’s face as they took pictures on the boardwalk.

“She had a look of happiness,” he said.

For Tasha, “That kiss in the Lord’s house…ooooweeee honey!”

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
“Understanding (or misunderstanding) each other’s communication style and expressing our needs in an effective and honest manner. We overcame it through couples counseling.”

Biggest marriage lesson learned?
Brian says that he’s learned to be selfless instead of selfish.

Tasha explained that “you can talk to your partner until you’re blue in the face, but if you are not using proper communication, he/she will never understand what you really want to express to them.”

Justin & Kiara Harlow

Wedding day: May 25, 2013

Justin, 31, dentist
Kiara, 31, lawyer turned legal recruiter 

Justin-Kiara-Harlow.
Photo courtesy of Justin Harlow

Wedding day memory
They recalled Justin’s “uncharacteristic tears” as Kiara walked down the aisle to the song “Ave Maria.”

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
“Navigating life and creating our own unique family values that bring to bear the best of our vastly different upbringings and leave the toxic parts behind — even if we didn’t recognize them [as toxic] growing up.”

The Harlows shared how they overcame the challenges through counseling — individually and as a couple — as well as a willingness to unlearn bad habits and consider what’s best for each other.

Biggest marriage lesson learned?
“Seasons and schedules change, especially when you throw children into the mix, but finding new adventures and things to enjoy as a couple draws you closer to your best friend and reminds you why you chose to do life together.”

Ken & Gwen Harris 

Wedding day: Jan. 30, 2014

Ken, 36, realtor
Gwen, 35, mental health therapist

Ken-Gwen-Harris
Photo courtesy of Gwen Harris

Wedding day memory
“Braving the great Southern snowmageddon of 2014 to fly into Chicago to get married on Steve Harvey’s talk show. Every moment was memorable.” 

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
“Miscarriages. We got through it by talking about it. Not only about the incidents, but also all of the emotions that come with it at the sporadic times they come. Sometimes, those thoughts and feelings may seem harsh, weird, self-critical or unrealistic, but we share them to be sure that we’re working through this together.” 

Biggest marriage lesson learned?
“Never get in the business of trying to change your spouse.”

Mark & Charlitta Hatch

Wedding day: April 4, 2015

Mark, 36, senior disability case manager
Charlitta, 35, consultant

Mark-Charlitta-Hatch
Photo courtesy of Charlitta Hatch

Wedding day memory 
“The best part of our wedding day was having all of our family and friends in the same place. At some point, it was an overwhelming feeling of how much love there was in the room for the both of us and the lives we were uniting together.”

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it? 
“Transitioning to becoming parents to our toddler son, Mark III, was a game-changer for us and our marriage. We had many conversations around family values and parenting styles. It was very rough in the beginning because we seemed so far apart in the process but so aligned on the outcome.” 

Charlitta shared that talking to a marriage counselor helped them see that they weren’t doing anything “wrong” when it came to parenting.

“We needed to focus on the result and allow the other parent the space to get there in their own way,” she said.

Biggest marriage lesson learned? 
“We are still learning, but communication is more than just key, it’s critical. Having open lines of communication directly impacts finances, sex and more.

“In order to make sure we’re growing together and not apart, we think it’s important to talk about everything in hopes that we don’t wake up one day to look at the other person and say, ‘Who are you?’”

Jerome & Erika Shorty 

Wedding day: Sept. 12, 2015

Jerome, 36, technical support engineer
Erika, 34, life coach

Jerome-Erika-Shorty
Photo courtesy of Erika Shorty

Wedding day memory
The pair first met in 2008 and nicknamed each other “co-pilot.” It was only right to exchange vows at the National Air and Space Museum in their home state of Virginia.

“I truly got to marry my best friend, my rock and my co-pilot,” Jerome says. “As I watched her walk down that aisle, she literally took my breath away.

“Our reception was the definition of lit! We were introduced as husband and wife while the DJ played Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s ‘You’re All I Need to Get By.’ It was priceless.”

Erika remembers the tender moment when Jerome swept her away to the highest level of the museum to look down at friends and family celebrating their union. 

“He wanted a moment alone with me, just the two of us,” she said.

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it? 
“Marriage is work! Combining lives so that two people can become one is a task when you’re still committed to learning your spouse. (Jerome says that he’ll never stop studying his wife.)

“We’re constantly perfecting the best ways of communicating with each other. We’re different people than we were five years ago, so it’s very important to us to keep those lines of communication open.”

Biggest marriage lesson learned?
“We’ve learned that you seriously get back what you put in,” he said. “If you half-ass your marriage, your partner will feel it, and it’ll affect your connection. When you give it your all from both ends, it makes marriage better than ever imagined.”

Erika explained that they’ve navigated the waters of marriage “simply by being willing.”

“We choose us every day, even if some days we may not be at our best. Being willing and committed to choose us is our secret sauce,” she said.

DeMychael & Shabriea Robinson

Wedding day: Aug. 4, 2018

DeMychael, 28, solutions service representative and motivational speaker
Shabriea, 28, financial analyst

DeMychael-Shabriea-Robinson
Photo courtesy of Shabriea Robinson

Wedding day memory
“Our first dance was magical,” DeMychael recalled. “Things went wrong that day, but in that moment, I didn’t care. I couldn’t stop smiling because I couldn’t believe I was dancing with my wife! I whispered in her ear and made her laugh. I even thought I could sing. It was perfection.”

Shabriea said her memory was a little less fairytale.

“I was so focused on making sure things went off without a hitch that I felt like I was constantly thinking of the next thing instead of being fully present. I hope I’m not the only bride who felt that way,” she said. 

“I consistently reflect on looking at his smile throughout the day, feeling his exuberance and feeling at peace despite my surroundings. His smile as I came down the aisle reassured me that this was destined to be, no matter what. It represented what I wanted our future to look like. Despite the ups and downs, we’ll walk in the light filled with joy.”

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it? 
“Learning how to be married,” they shared. “We thought we knew what it meant to be married. We had been living together for three years and thought we had it figured out. Not!

“We didn’t have many examples of successful marriages growing up and thought we had created a foundation of our own, but it quickly reared its ugly head to show us that we weren’t prepared for all that marriage entailed.” 

Shabriea added that deaths of loved ones, career changes, internal burdens and finances all came rushing in at once.

“Woooo chile, we were NOT ready!” she exclaimed. 

“We sifted through the challenges and continue to do so. It took a lot of self-reflection, therapy and gaining an understanding of ourselves to learn to be better partners, she said. “We fought a lot, but eventually realized we were trying to relay the same thing, ‘I want to be understood by the person I love.’ We just needed to communicate more effectively.” 

Areas they’re focusing on in their second year of marriage include focusing on making room for God and tolerance for each other’s whole selves.

Biggest marriage lesson learned?
“Listen to understand, not to respond. Take time for reflection before responding and saying something you can’t take back or will escalate the situation.” 

Marc & Carrie Cook Wilson

Wedding day: June 21, 2019

Marc, 36, renewable energy project manager at Duke Energy
Carrie, 36, executive director at Greenlight Fund

Marc-Carrie-Cook-Wilson
Photo courtesy of Carrie Cook Wilson

Wedding day memory
“Being able to celebrate with 100+ friends and family on a private island in beautiful Aruba.”

Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?

“Figuring out how to turn our long-distance relationship into one where we’d eventually be together in the same city. We agreed that whomever found a job first in each other’s respective city would be the one to relocate.”

Carrie says although Marc made the move, it was a sacrifice they were both willing to make. 

Biggest marriage lesson learned?
“Learning how to love and appreciate your spouse in the manner they want is a process and takes work. However, it’s certainly worth it and makes for a very healthy and enjoyable relationship.”


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