Nia Henry and Shakeel Luke first met in their hometown of Brooklyn, New York, but didn’t make it official until they landed on the same campus at Howard University. They connected as friends, unaware they’d both chosen the same school. What started out as a friendship rooted in familial ties turned into a beautiful romance.

Now, Nia and Shakeel are engaged and planning to wed in August 2020. Their relationship journey is deeply embedded in the memories they shared at the historic HBCU – ones they look forward to one day sharing with their children.

Here’s what Nia and Shakeel told ESSENCE exclusively about their HBU romance.

Photo: Jarrett Hendrix

How did you two meet?

Nia: Shakeel and I initially met in high school, as we both attended Benjamin Banneker Academy in Brooklyn, New York. We were nothing but great friends. He was on the basketball team, I was on the cheer-leading team, we had mutual friends and he always visited my kickbacks at my parents’ house. I graduated high school not having the slightest clue that we both would be attending Howard University that Fall. Summer of 2009 came and went, and not before long it was freshman week at Howard. I was walking on to the yard with my roommate and ran into Shakeel. He was wearing his burgundy Cleveland Cavalier’s fitted (Lebron was his favorite player). I was so excited to see him because he brought a sense of home during my time in Washington, DC away from family. My roommate (who was also from Brooklyn) and I would find ourselves homesick freshmen year. Shakeel would stop by our dorm and play Fabolous and Jay-Z. During our first three years at Howard, we remained great friends. Once again, we had a lot of mutual friends that became family. It was not until our senior year that we decided to move forward in our friendship and begin dating.

Photo: Arnold Martinez

How did you decide you wanted to stay together after graduation?

Shakeel: By graduation, we had been together for over a year. We knew we wanted to stay together because we had no intention to move back to New York At the time, we were finishing school and looking for jobs. We spent a lot of time together and we knew we had more great things to experience together.  

Photo: LaQuann Dawson

Were there any obstacles you faced in your relationship that made you two stronger?

Nia: Of course. We started with a genuine long term friendship. We knew each other since we were 15 years old and we began dating just before we graduated from college. With that being said, we had a lot of individual growth and improvements pending for our future. Much of our growth did not happen at the same time, both personally and professionally speaking. That caused some peaks and valleys in our relationship. We both were responsible for making sure that our individual goals were not interrupted by our relationship. We wanted to make sure that nothing took a backseat – not our career and not our relationship. Both were priorities. This made us stronger as a couple and made our friendship tighter. We learned each others’ love languages and how to communicate at a young age. Our journey was beautiful and it continues as our relationship matures and flourishes.

Photo: Jarrett Hendrix

What makes your love story special?

Shakeel: Our love story is special because we come from the same city, went to the same high school and attended Howard University. We were great friends for years up until we started dating, which gave us enough time to truly know and respect each other. Our relationship always comes first and we value our friendship. 

Photo: LaQuann Dawson

Nia: Our history makes our love story special. I had the honor of seeing the growth of my fiance from high school, to Howard University, and now his success as an IT professional. Our relationship has encouraged us to be our best selves. We love hard, have fun together, travel together, cook together and enjoy quality time. But on another note, being together through our journey has taught us to hold each other accountable. We’ll get to share endless stories with our children about our friendship in Brooklyn, our relationship at Howard and our journey dating as young adults. God is good.

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