To veteran Atlanta-based wedding and event planner, Michelle Gainey of Lemiga Events, the story of Black love is one of resilience. “From the time Blacks were slaves in this country, the greatest protest was to love,” explains Gainey. “Even when it was illegal to be married, slaves found a way to create a family and have a ceremony by jumping the broom to signify their commitment to one another.”
Meet the Expert
Michelle Gainey, owner of Lemiga Events, is an event planner and designer with more than 15 years of experience in the wedding industry. She is based in Atlanta, where in addition to owning a nationally recognized company, she is a wife and mother.
Even when Black Americans were allowed to legally wed, many still had to face the struggles and restrictions of Jim Crow—as Gainey says, the power of love has carried couples through the most adverse of times. “Black marriages carry the legacy of love from our ancestors and now we have become our ancestors' wildest dreams,” she says.
In 2020, once COVID-19 hit and her event planning businesses shifted, Gainey started thinking about diversity within the wedding industry and how she could influence people to rethink their limited idea of what “love” looks like today, feeling particularly inspired to, as she explains," challenge the negative stereotypes that Black families only stemmed from broken homes absentee parents or generational trauma."
For her project, Black Love Matters, Gainey invited four couples to take part in a photoshoot and share their personal stories (including her own) on video and, later, with us. It all came together in two weeks, as she found the couples via word-of-mouth, and, of course, followed health safety protocols (think masks, temperature checks, and social distancing) to ensure everyone's safety on set.
By sharing our Black love stories, we hope to create a shift in how we are portrayed and understood.
“By sharing our Black love stories, we hope to create a shift in how we are portrayed and understood,” she explains. “Once you change hearts, then you change minds, then people act differently. If I could start something showing these beautiful stories and the couples to draw people in, maybe it might give them a different view of Black couples, Black love, as well as how they see Black people. This beauty truly deserves to be shown.”
Below, a visual poem of what Black love means to four unique couples, who have been married between six months and 40-plus years.
John and Karen Clinkscales, Married 41 years
John and Karen Clinkscales eloped in 1979—on April 19, 1979, to be exact. Since then, the couple has raised four daughters together and admit that they have had to make many sacrifices, including John being gone on the road to provide for their family. After 41 years of marriage, John says he "would do it all over again in a heartbeat."
“She was very sweet, a genuinely good person with a very good heart, easy to get along with, and someone I could trust," recalls John of falling in love with Karen. "She was also someone I wanted to take care of, and willing to take a chance with me. Not to mention her good looks!”
What Black Love Means to Them: “To me, Black love has a unique quality because of the world we live in, both past and present," Karen explains. "Black love is the acknowledgment of making sacrifices. We as a couple have to adapt to one another, along with outside forces which affects one’s everyday life. Black love to me can be affectionate, caring, passionate, strong, difficult, painful, cherished. Black love has sustained the test of time.”
A Love Lesson They've Learned: “Because of the jobs I had over the years, I traveled a lot, only home on weekends. Not being home on a day-to-day basis made it hard to be close as a couple should be," John admits. "On the positive side, true love allowed me to be away for periods of time and not worry about what was going on at home...knowing that I have love waiting for me once I returned.”
Relationship Advice: “The only advice I can give new couples is to 'be true to thyself as much as you can—and accept change gracefully,'" Karen says. "Do not marry someone hoping they will change into your idea of a perfect mate. You need to embrace that you are both different people with different opinions and that’s okay. Compromise is the defining settlement.”
Dewayne and Michelle Gainey, Married 20 Years
Twenty years ago, on December 30, 2000, Dewayne and Michelle Gainey became husband and wife after six months of dating. “I fell in love with the way he cares about me and others," she says. "He’s always the first person to offer help and genuinely wants to do anything he can to make me happy."
Today, after more than two decades together, Michelle says they are determined to "keep falling in love as the seasons change." "We have matured together and we continue to push each other to become the best versions of ourselves," she says.
What Black Love Means to Them: “It’s amazing to think of everything our grandparents and great-grandparents had to overcome," Dewayne says. "And, in spite of how hard life was, they always had love. Black love is a reminder that you have a safe place to land and someone else in this life to accept you exactly as you are.”
A Love Lesson They've Learned: “Being young and only dating for six months when we got married, we had to learn how to grow up together," Michelle recalls. "To push each other to become the best version of ourselves while still trying to grow together in the same direction. In 20 years, we’ve dealt with births, deaths, financial hardships, highs, and lows, but we always have each other’s backs and have been there for each other."
Relationship Advice: “Never stop dating! It may sound cliché. But with work, and kids, and life demands, it’s easy to start to feel more like roommates than lovers," says Dewayne. "It’s so important to keep the spark alive by taking the time to invest in your relationship and dating allows you the time to focus just on each other.”
Karl and Ashley Nsonwu, Married Four Years
Karl and Ashley Nsonwu said "I do" on October 15, 2016. “I don’t believe there is one specific thing that made me fall in love with my partner. I fell in love with the total sum of her," Karl admits. "Things such as her kindness, loving nature, beauty, and drive. As we continue to grow together, I fall more and more in love with her [daily] and it’s an amazing feeling.”
Over the past four years, the couple works to blend their American, Jamaican, Indian, and Nigerian roots into their marriage, celebrating their differences as they choose to live a life filled with "love, laughter, and abundance."
What Black Love Means to Them: “There is nothing like Black love," Ashley says. "You can't go your entire life without feeling the raw emotions tied to being a Black person in a racially-biased world. Throughout it all, nothing beats having the safe space to share those emotions with someone who gets it. I know I can express how I feel to my partner without judgment or apathy in return. And, I appreciate being able to learn from the thoughts, feelings, and wisdom that come from his beautiful mind, heart, and experiences. I cherish those moments dearly.”
A Love Lesson They've Learned: “Communication was probably our biggest obstacle," Karl admits. "I communicate with more logic than emotion. Sometimes that can keep you blinded from understanding and acknowledging someone’s point of view. As we grow and involve, we both learn to balance out our communication skills with each other and it brings us closer as a couple.”
Relationship Advice: “A piece of advice I like to give that can apply to almost any area in life is: ‘It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survives. It is the one most adaptable to change.’ Marriage will change you in the most beautiful ways if you lean into it. Human beings are in a constant state of evolution throughout life. Release all pride and ego and allow yourselves to learn from each other and grow together—not just a couple, but as individuals. You're two people who independently are incredible, but together have the potential to be unstoppable.”
Andrew and Nakia Means, Married Six Months
COVID-19 may have canceled their big wedding celebration, but Andrew and Nakia's love persevered when the couple, who were friends first, wed in the bride's family backyard on April 26, 2020. "Getting to know the true Andrew—and for him, the true Nakia—before dating was what made us fall in love with each other!" she says. "It took us completely off guard, but that’s what made ‘falling’ feel so seamless.”
What Black Love Means to Them: “The heritage, the history and the flavor of it!" explains Andrew. "Black love is powerful. When you see it, you cannot help but be inspired.”
A Love Lesson They've Learned: “Although we have only been married for three months, navigating the changes to our wedding was a huge obstacle," Nakia says. "Even now, we are making big decisions together regarding our reception. We have learned a lot about each other just by going through the pandemic together.”
Relationship Advice: “Be patient. Love is not built overnight—it is built over time," Andrew advises. "It only gets stronger and sweeter with time for those who are willing to put in the work.”
As a newlywed myself, to see love, particularly Black love displayed in such a vulnerable way is a rarity. Outside of my parents and a handful of married friends, seeing love, tenderness, and long-term commitment between two people who look like me isn’t frequently portrayed in the media or even captured in bridal publications. (As a brand, Brides is committed to changing this, and you can read more about the Brides Diversity Pledge here.)
Simply put, Black love matters because all love matters.
The sentiment, representation matters extends beyond self-love, also serves as inspiration for others to understand what is possible despite what is presented to us. Simply put, Black love matters because all love matters.
Planning & Design Lemiga Events
Photography Inije Photography
Videography Iris Films
Venue The Carlyle
Stationery Papered Wonders
Floral Design Akeem Clayton
Rentals Peachtree Tents; Sejour Events; Nuage Designs
Custom Décor Indaglow Productions
Balloon Décor MomsKloset
Neon Sign Narwall
Hair + Makeup Scoobie West & Company
Gowns Marchesa (Nakia); Said Kobeisy (Michelle); Walid Shehab (Ashley), from Elite Pour La Vie
Men’s Attire The Modern Gent
Hair Accessories Tyra Wedding Accessories
Jewelry Misayo House
Entertainment Ala The Heartist; Yung Vokalz