Here at ESSENCE, we’ve been celebrating the beauty of Black love since our inception. From our pages to our stages, we’ve always honored and explored the inner-workings of Black love, and in doing so, we’ve had the unique honor of getting to hear and share some amazing love stories. When you ask a couple how they met, fell in love and decided to spend forever together, the answers you receive are often both moving and insightful. This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re digging deeper and asking some of our favorite couples to sit down and retell their love stories—from their own unique individual perspectives. To kick things off, we called upon married pastors and authors Gabby and Andrew Wilkes, who have devoted their ministry to inspiring people to love each other to their greatest capacity. “Black people have been conditioned not to love each other. We’ve been conditioned to be in opposition to each other,” shares Gabby who first met her husband Andrew when they were students at Hampton University. “We’ve been conditioned to think that only one of us can win or only one of us can thrive. Even going back to slavery, they would separate the man from the woman, the family from each other. So, to choose Black love, to choose to love each other, is a radical act. To choose to love each other is radical.”

Today they’ve been married for eight years and together for 13 and together they own and operate the Wilkes Advocacy Group, which is an organization they founded to work alongside individuals and their community to advance racial equity, economic democracy, and promote the a care-based ethic of human relationships. Together they serve as co-lead pastors at The Double Love Experience church in Brooklyn, New York. Previously, Andrew was the Associate Pastor of Social Justice and Young Adults at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York (GAC), where he served on the pastoral staff for five years. Gabby, who is a licensed minister whose work is situated at the intersection of faith and culture, began her career as a gospel music publicist and event planner. Get to know the couple and their love story a little better!