This Is Black Love: 24 Beautiful Photos, 8 Adorable Couples and Countless Relationship Gems

The Art Hype

In part one of ESSENCE's two-part digital photo series on Black love, we look at the meaning and maintenance of Black love through the eyes of a diverse group of couples.

Charli Penn Feb, 14, 2018

Black love is absolutely beautiful in every shade, at every age and stage and in every form. It’s just that simple. How we love is about who we are, what we value and why we love our partners so fiercely and so deeply. It’s why we cherish our bonds, make vows to each other and proudly build upon these legacies of love. Falling in love ain’t easy and staying in love is even harder, but when we do (and oh do we!), the results are powerful, and magnificently beautiful in every way.

Today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, the holiday on which we celebrate our love stories, we pay tribute to the beauty of Black love. We asked one of our favorite photographers, DC-based visual storyteller Dayo AKA Mr. Hype, of theARThype, to capture Black love as he sees it.

Each couple who stepped in front of his lens opened up to us and got candid about how they met and fell in love and how they stay that way.

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Autumn, 27, and Kelsei, 27
Status: Committed Relationship
Autumn is an executive director at a global foundation and Wharton is partnerships management for a political foundation

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Their Story: “We’ve actually known each other for almost ten years,” says Kelsei. “I was a prospective freshman at Stanford and Autumn was a freshman and a campus host. We were friends as undergraduates and went on to work together at the same company in Washington, D.C.” The way they met was refreshing, Autumn says. “It’s nice to get to see the different aspects of a person before you’re even dating,” she adds. “As friends and colleagues, we were each other’s biggest advocates and learned about our hopes and fears. We also learned about our habits and how to work together.” Her love couldn’t agree more: “All of this made our relationship stronger because dating was an opportunity to build on what we already knew about each other.”

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Their Best Advice: Kelsei: “There’s never a shortage of fun to have with the person you love and care about. The world’s filled with infinite possibilities both near and far and it’s important to find ways to step out of your comfort zone from time to time. Autumn and I enjoy finding places to visit for the weekend, new restaurants to check out in the city when we have free time, or even ways to have interesting cultural experiences without breaking the bank. I’m lucky to be with someone who isn’t afraid to do something new even if we decide that we wouldn’t want to try it again.”
Autumn: “Don’t expect your partner to be able to read your mind. Express gratitude. Many of the practices I’ve learned from our relationship also improve my friendships and work relationships. I think it’s really easy for us to support each other’s endevours because they’re similar. We work in different parts of the world, but we’re both working to dramatically change the status quo. This type of change-making work can be really taxing, so I think it’s also important to take care of each other.

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Tanya, 46, and Don, 48
Status: Married
Don is a contractor and Tanya is an award winning author and healthy relationship expert

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Their Story: “We met on Tanya’s first day of work and my first time visiting her doctor’s office. She likes to say it was no coincidence. We dated for about one month and then called it quits. That December, we reconnected again via a phone call to her doctor’s office, where she still worked, and we were married by that June. We have been married 18 years now, have three great kids and a brand new grandson. Our marriage has not been without its challenges, from homelessness to several moments of unemployment, but we made a commitment to keep our marriage intact.”

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Their Best Advice: 1. Be honest - We were able to survive an emotional affair that would have taken other couples to the divorce court. We had to both be honest to see how this happened in our marriage. This taught us that we both have to take responsibility when something is broken in our relationship and to always be honest about our feelings. 2. Listen without judgement - In overcoming the emotional affair, we made a commitment to give each other the space to be vulnerable and to provide a safe space for us to share our raw truth. Sometimes it is not easy to hear but it brings us closer to supporting each other and loving each other. 3. Forgive - We truly believe no marriage can survive if forgiveness is not in constant operation. We aren’t talking about forgiving a spouse who habitually takes advantage or abuses you. We are talking about forgiving mistakes and even those hurtful words that may have been said that the other person is truly apologetic for. 4. Have fun - At the end of the day, you have to have FUN! Date! Be silly! Try new things. You have to have fun and be engaged with your youthful side to keep the spice in your marriage. We often go out on dates in the middle of the day or maybe even first thing in the morning for brunch at the spur of a moment. Having fun keeps your marriage from getting stale and boring.

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Tia, 26, and Olu, 27
Status: Commited Relationship

Tia is a marketing associate for an online fashion magazine and Olu is an Olympic Track & Field athlete and fitness entrepreneur.

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Their Story: “Tia and I actually met two years before we started dating, even though she doesn't really remember it (read: she swerved me). A mutual friend reintroduced us in early 2016, and we went on a few dates. I was preparing to compete in the Rio Olympics at the time, so I was focused on training and admittedly didn't show her much attention. Tia says this only further piqued her interest, and we started seeing each other more consistently. After a few months, I found myself thinking about her often, even when I was away traveling. That's when I realized I should show her my appreciation before I lose something good. God and His universe work in mysterious ways. Sometimes the blessing you've been asking for is right in front of you… you just have to open your eyes to see it. “

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The Art Hype

Their Best Advice: 1. Be friends. As cliché as it sounds, friendship really is the strongest foundation your relationship can be built upon. Passion and romance are great qualities to have in your relationship, but everyday is not going to be a 50 Shades of Grey moment. On those off days, it helps to know that you have someone to laugh with, cry with, and be absolutely silly with. 2. Focus only on your relationship. Relationships are hard work! It’s so easy to look to the left and right of you at other relationships and think #goals, but you never know what couples have gone through to get to where they are. The truth is, there is no such thing as a "perfect relationship". And the deeper things get, the harder they become. It’s nice to get advice from family and friends from time to time, but at the end of the day it's your relationship — no one else should matter. 3. Communication is vital, and it takes work. It's so easy to get lazy with communication, especially when a situation is uncomfortable. But the underlying emotions that you don't share can and will affect how you relate to one another. If your partner doesn't know what those feelings are, it can lead to unnecessary misunderstandings and conflicts. 4. Respect your partner, but don't take yourselves too seriously. Any day could be your last, so make your moments together lighthearted and worthwhile.

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Kristina, 31, and Sam, 33

Status: Married

Kristina is a budget officer at a popular HBCU and Sam is the Founder/President of an athletic educational program and an author

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Their Story: “I worked with Sam's best friend Kathy. She and her now husband introduced me to Sam, and two months later Sam and I picked out my wedding ring. Five months after meeting I bought my wedding dress, and three weeks later, Sam asked me to be his wife. We got married 10 months after our first date. Four years, two houses, and one baby later, our marriage was the easiest decision we have ever made.”

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The Art Hype

Their Best Advice: 1: Pray - Pray over each other out loud daily. Your partner will hear negativity on a daily basis and you need to be a safe place. Also, it's impossible to stay mad at someone while they are speaking life over you. 2: Be Intentional with your love - Decide to be in love with your partner everyday. Love is work and it can be one of the most rewarding jobs you'll have. 3: Write down your expectations- Both you and your partner need to be very clear about what you expect from each other and from your marriage. Stating expectations early in the relationship lays the groundwork for a strong and sustainable marriage. 4: NO SNITCHING - What happens between you and your partner stays between you and your partner. You can't let people know all the gritty details of your relationship, every argument, etc. You will just open your relationship to criticism and be forced to continually defend yourself or your partner. Unless there is an unsafe situation happening you owe it to your partner to talk TO them and not ABOUT them.

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Eddie, 33, and Candyce, 33

Status: Committed Relationship

Eddie is a recruiter and entertainer and Candyce is an event planner and producer

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Their Story: “We originally met through mutual friends back in college but years later we reconnected via those same friends. She wasn’t checking for me at all. But I eventually wore her down. There were a few hiccups in the beginning but at the end of the day our paths always led back to each other. Five years later and we’re still going strong!“

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The Art Hype

Their Advice: 1. Have fun with each other! Laugh, try new things, go out on dates! We are each other best friends. We love hanging out and even staying in and chilling. Never forget to take a break from life and have fun! 2. Speak in love. We don’t always agree or see eye to eye and in those moments its important to always remember to speak in love when addressing each other. Don’t let the heat of the moment get the best of you. Remember that this is your person and above all else there is love there. And if/when the mark is missed...apologize. Acknowledge that there was an absence of love in the discussion and strive to do better the next time. 3. Figure out your love languages and work to love the person in their specific language. Remember you are in a relationship with him/her not yourself.

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Courtney, 29, and Brandii, 33
Status: Married

Courtney is a server and bartender and Brandii is a bartender and flight attendant

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Their Story: They met on the job. Brandii was bartending and Courtney was training to be a server. At the 2015 Christmas party, we broke all of the cliché dating rules: “Don’t date your coworker! Don’t drink too much at the Christmas party, especially when there’s open bar and karaoke, and don’t fall head over heels too soon. Fast forward to a 2017 trip to Vegas, and they are now happily married with a lovable dog named Bruh.

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Their Best Advice: “Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Show love each and every day, from when you wake up to [when you] go to bed. Set realistic, achievable expectations for your partner and your marriage.

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The Art Hype

Maaden, 34, and Louis, 34
Status: Married
Madeen is a community organizer and Louis is an IT network analyst

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Their Story: “We met doing what we love. Volunteering + connecting with our community. We weren't necessarily looking for love at that season of our lives; we were looking to live well and help people. Our organizations had partnered up for a community outreach project to serve local families, we met doing that work, and have been working together ever since.“

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The Art Hype

Their Best Advice: Black love is special. Being black is love. The food is love, the music is love, the culture is love. What’s more, blackness is synonymous not only with love, but with family and community. And it's universal, no matter where in the diaspora we come from it's the love that keeps us all connected. 1. Marriage is a partnership. Play to your strengths.
2. Marriage is work. It's good work and it's totally worth it, but it takes two willing and active partners.
3. Marriage is communion. It's a covenant not just between two people but between two people and God.

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The Art Hype

Kimberly, 35, and Brian, 35
Status: Married Bridal Bliss alums

Kim is a freelance makeup artist and consultant and Brian is a photographer


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Their Story: “We met in Feb 2011 while working. Brian took a break from a photoshoot nearby and I was managing a boutique. Our initial meeting was a simple exchange; Brian stopped in with a few friends from the shoot and I was busy at work. We exchanged contact information for possible work in the future – since I was working the thought of interest didn’t cross my mind. A few months passed, I left the boutique and took another job. Expected and unexpected events took place in the days leading up to my first day of work, however I pushed through. The morning of my first day of work arrived and I was running late. I promised to take my mom to work - so I could borrow her car to get to work myself, get gas, and head to training. By God’s grace, I parked my car, with five minutes to spare. When I got to the conference room, I opened the door and saw one seat right in front of me. I immediately sit, place my belongings under the table, and notice a familiar face next to me, and it was Brian. From then we talked all the time - in class, at lunch, and at the end of each day. When training was complete, we took a drive downtown to the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and talked for hours. We spoke about everything, things we wanted to do and where we saw our lives going. I began to feel that Brian could see me; not just as a friend but much more. Our night ended with a kiss on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the beginning of a new relationship.”

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Their Best Advice:
Kim: “It’s ok if you aren’t perfect!  It starts with a decision, it starts with the individual. Kim had to be real with Kim! I knew the changes I needed to make and because I love me, I fought for me! I set my mind to change things in order for me to have peace, love, and the desires of my heart that God has and wants me to have. While deciding to change, forgive yourself for your mistake and those who’ve hurt you. Forgiveness brings freedom and the past will no longer keep you in bondage.”

Brian: “Ask yourself do I see this person or do I perceive this person. Seeing is about the current state of that person, but perceiving is the God given ability to have a glimpse of who God made that person to be. Perception will allow you to give grace to your spouse in the hardest of times. You must also be willing to let selfishness die in marriage -“I” must leave your vocabulary completely! Marriage is a team effort to reach one goal and if you do not have a goal I wouldn't suggest marriage. Love is not enough; you must have a vision to be successful in marriage.”