This piece is part of a 28-day series celebrating modern black love among millennials. It was created by Chuck Marcus and Michelle Nance, exclusively distributed by Blavity.

Her: Sherika | 29 | Creative Director & Cultural Organizer

Him: Steven | 28 | Filmmaker & Creative, Militia Design

Relationship Status: Dating, 5 Years

Sherika and Steven met during their early days of undergrad in Tallahassee, Florida. She studied at Florida State, while he attended Florida A&M, and were brought together by a circle of mutual friends. Their connection remained fairly superficial until the two made it official in 2012. Now, they’re raising their daughter together in Brooklyn, and working to transcend what they were shown while growing up by developing a love and a life that works for them as a couple, and as parents.

Q: What does black love mean to the black community?

Sherika: When I think about love, I think about the definition laid out by Bell Hooks. Love is “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own, or another’s, spiritual growth through a mixture of various ingredients: care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment and trust, as well as honest, open communication.” Black love is what’s gotten us so far as a community. Yet, we have so much further to go. Love for ourselves and each other is a necessity for liberation of black people, and really the liberation for more than just our communities.

Steven: Love is the connective tissue for all humans and the force that binds us together, despite all of the fear that is trying so hard to polarize and keep us apart. In our community, love is leading a global movement and has sparked a renaissance of black culture that acknowledges, values and publicly loves on all of the details and nuances of what it means to be black. We are so blessed to be living and experiencing this moment.

Q: Do you think there’s sufficient/significant representation of black love in media? Are you encouraged or discouraged by those you see in real life or in media?

Sherika: I think there is a significant amount of black love. Does it all look like the Cosbys? No. But we’re seeing self-love, new forms of family, love stories in hip-hop and so much black motherhood and fatherhood, too. I mean, we’re seeing masses of people fall in love with being black! Growing up, I often felt like I had to seek out my reflection in the media, and it often felt like a speck of chocolate in a glass of milk. My daughter won’t experience that.

Interviewer: Who else do you look to other than mainstream media. 

Sherika: Alex Elle, her and her boo. She's a poet and I follow her on Instagram, and right now, she's pregnant and has a baby girl. They seem so heartwarming. 

Steven: It’s 2018 and if you’re intentional, you can find any representation that you want across all of the channels, streaming platforms and websites out there. We love shows like Black-ish, that show big families, and TV shows like Insecure and Atlanta that have more complicated examples of black love. It’s all good. And Black-ish isn’t a perfect relationship, it’s real.

And that takes me to my next example, 4:44. I think coming clean and telling that story is an example of maturity that’s happening in hip-hop culture and having a ripple effect. The cool shit now is to be in a relationship. I think that’s dope and is influencing younger people. I’m encouraged by the king of hip-hop taking that stance and transforming from, “I got a girl and she’s bad,” to “I’m in an honest relationship.”  

Q: What’s the hardest part about being a millennial in a relationship?

Sherika: Relationships now seem like a simple thing. There’s Valentine's Day, cuffing season, that one picture you have to post of you and your boo so you both, and others, “know it’s real” and so many other silly things that, in a lot of ways, have boiled being in a relationship down to seem simple — like an accessory that you just have to have. We’re also in a time of expectation and manifestation. We want more and we are conjuring and manifesting those things. All of this can make being in a relationship seem more like an item on each individual's list of achievements or expectations. Like, folks are fascinated with the idea of a relationship, but not really what it offers and, most of all, requires. A relationship is hard work. You are deciding to be with this other person that has led a completely different life than you, and has different family experiences. Like Bell Hooks says, we’re really signing up to “extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own, or another’s, spiritual growth.” I think this way of thinking, this instant gratification, is a challenge for millennials. But what makes it all worth it is the love that develops the growth you see in the other person. The support, respect, care and affection that you are able to express and receive. The growth you see in yourself and knowing that it’s the fruit of this other person’s love for you, and how they are expressing it in your life.

Steven: There’s so much going on each day, and often, the most important thing you can do in your relationship is just be present and make ordinary moments special.

Q: Previous generations had clear and specific gender roles. How do you two define each other’s roles in your relationship, if at all?

Sherika: We strive to have an anti-patriarchal relationship and think that gender roles are oppressive. Yet, we find that we are both inclined to opting into mainstream gender roles, the stuff we’ve seen all our lives. I think we’re doing a great job of challenging ourselves and each other to think bigger, broader and more spiritually. It’s important to us both to be who we were outside of the norms society has placed on us, and to hold on to that for our daughter to see.

Steven: There’s a lot of blending in our house. Sherika and I have an incredible daughter, and I chip in a lot in taking care of her — more than I think the narratives about manhood visualize the father being in the home. I'm very nurturing and I help out a lot. It’s not just kiss the kids on the forehead when I’m headed out the front door to go to work in the morning. We’re in this together.  

Q: Are there any individual relationship struggles that you had to overcome?

Sherika: For generations, on both sides, my family has had very strong matriarchs. The family I was raised around was mostly women. Women raising children on their own, women working hard and women making it happen because they wanted to, because they had to and because they could. I had very few examples of a team, of a man and woman working together to raise a family, and to lead a life they were both fulfilled by. So, for a while, that was my default. If it got hard, my response was “You can bounce. I can do this all on my own.” What was scariest about having a child was raising her with her father. I don't have any close examples of what that looks like. In my opinion, of the examples I did have, the women were always losing out on something. I’ve had to do a lot of work on changing this narrative and what’s actually possible.

Steven: I had an interesting, really challenging, upbringing, and my experiences shaped me in a way to become very independent at a young age.

There’s such an intense push out in the world that encourages us to keep working on ourselves and advancing as individuals towards our individual dreams. There isn’t much of a guide on how you can do that with someone you love, while providing them with the care and support to do the same.

As I got older, this independence shifted into a, sometimes, selfish streak in my relationships, that is most evident in relationships with people I love the most. In my relationship with Sherika, I’ve had to grow a lot to expand my worldview from being "me-centered," to seeing Sherika and my daughter as the center of my life, as well.

Q: Do you feel pressured by your family to be with someone who looks like you?

Sherika: No, I never have. Jamaica’s national motto is, “Out of Many, One People.”

Steven: No. Actually, my father is white and my mother is black. I’m a lot more militant when it comes to race than they are.

Q: What is it about having a black significant other that impacts you the most?

Sherika: Culture, culture, culture! I mean, it’s really about what doesn’t impact me. Granted, Steve is from the West Coast and I’m from the East Coast and the South, by way of Jamaica. Yet, there is still so much that doesn’t need to be said or explained. Living in the US today, there’s so much that is fucked up. We don’t have to have sweaty palms asking each other, “So, what did you think about X?” It’s more along the lines of, “Did you hear this shit?”

Steven: I get to be in a relationship with a black woman! You know how dope that is? Everything they said about black girl magic is true. Yep, all of it.