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: Denequa | 28 | Entrepreneur, Lit Brooklyn

Him: Khiry | 28 | Artist

Relationship Status: Together 10 Years, Engaged

Brooklyn residents and natives, Denequa and Khiry's love all began with a lie. I'll explain. At 18 Denequa frequently road tripped with her cousin to an upstate college campus to get away from NYC. There she befriended Khiry. Both fresh out of relationships, they weren't looking for love, but love had plans for them. After a while, Denequa took Khiry up on an offer and decided to move upstate, enroll in college, move in with her boyfriend all without ever clearing any of this with her parents. Headstrong and determined, the two grew their love while pursuing education together. Ten years later this couple is engaged and stronger than ever.

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

Denequa: Love is the most transformative energy that exists. Black love holds the power to empower, if it's displayed and received correctly, it leaves no room for hate or fear. It's beautiful, inspiring, important and necessary. It's the prototype and the foundation. We, as black people, inspire the world, and it's entirely important for the generations above and after us to see this displayed as a norm and not as a rarity. It changes the way our children look at themselves, the way that we are perceived and also the way that we look at one another when choosing a partner.

Khiry: Black love to the black community is essential to our growth as people. To me, black love shows us the true definition of longevity. I watch my grandparents, my parents, uncles, aunts and friends all share one amazing trait — longevity. I think longevity shows that black love is a continuing process that shows the strength and hope for our people of color. It shows us that no matter what the circumstances is, black love always prevails.

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?

Denequa: The representation of black love in media is definitely improving. Especially with shows like This
Is Us and Black-ish, that show us in a way that isn't undermining or disrespectful, and still manages to be very real. In general, media can do a better job, but I'm happy with the direction that it's heading. There is some progress being made. We are becoming more visible, and not in a negative way. I think projects such as this one is important. We are reclaiming our voices and taking back control of our narrative.

Khiry: I think there is a representation of black love in the media, but of course it’s always that we want more. It’s an encouraging process, but needs to be out at the forefront. Black people have spent their lives adapting to harsh realities or negative circumstances, but always has found their way to prevail. As for as the media, with all that’s going on, black love is the fuel that drives us.

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

Denequa: The hardest part about being a millennial in a relationship is having parents or family who don't see love and life the same way that you do. Som sometimes having them understand becomes a bit of a struggle. One, because the times have definitely changed and our access to resources and overall outlook has been modified. I believe our relationship has been so "successful" because there is no advice or influence from outsiders. You can't administer on what you are unaware of or have no expertise in. We always did things our way, on our terms. We lived together our entire relationship, went to college together, graduated together and still give each other space and allow each other to be our own individual, free of judgment and criticism. As black millennials, we have a responsibility and that is to dismantle this jargon about our peers, and kill all of that noise that "black women are too [much]" and "there are no good black men." Black love deserves to exist.

Khiry: The hardest part about being a millennial in a relationship is probably giving a little piece of your love life in this time and age. We live in the era of social media, where it’s hard enough to keep private, but doing so as a millennial is even harder. Understanding that what we have is sacred, and shouldn’t be played with. Sometimes living in this age makes you lose sight of that, but black love is golden, and we as people will grow and adapt as usual. 

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

Denequa: Gender roles don't exist in our relationship. The only roles that we have are to love, listen, honor and protect one another.

Khiry: I don’t believe in gender roles, I believe in partnership. My parents are very old school, and you can’t blame them in the time that they came up in. I do believe that with all these powerful women of color, gender roles are not as relevant as it used to be. More of our black women are becoming more independent, self-sufficient and don’t have the weight on their shoulders as far as gender roles go, like we did once upon time. I feel like going into all your relationships with an attitude that says, "Let’s both give a collective effort in all situations," is important. Me and my fiancé try our best to think as a team, and it works.

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

Denequa: Never felt pressured at all.

Khiry: I don’t feel pressured, but I do feel like it’s very important to me as a black man to keep black love going. Now, this doesn’t mean to discredit interracial couples, because love is love, but as far as me and my significant other, I think we both agree that we just want to love each other unconditionally, and being black is the sprinkle on top.

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

Denequa: I would have to say communication. I come from a family that doesn't know how to communicate effectively, at all. If someone says something that you don't like, or you may have offended them, no one speaks about it. They just stop speaking to each other entirely. Being in this relationship, it has taught me the value of talking through things with people that care about you and your relationship with them. It has changed my perspective on life, and made me more aware that you do not have to become a victim to your environment.

Khiry: I think the biggest issue was learning how to communicate about how you feel as soon as you feel it. Now I know that it can be tough to act on your feelings, and probably not always the smart choice, but learning how to communicate without any strife is important. Learning how to understand someone else’s feeling and being able to work on our issues together. We grow so fast as people that it takes some people years to learn how to understand themselves, now imagine falling in love. Not only do you have to understand yourself and what ticks you off, but also learning about your significant other. It’s all a part of our growing process, and I love the challenge. What’s better than love that’s always growing, especially when they from the same hue as you?

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

Denequa: Having a black significant other is magical. This is in no way to discredit or undermine interracial or non-black relationships, but it's something about having a black significant other that makes my heart sing. We are descendants of Kings and Queens, we are literally royalty in every sense of the word. When I see him, I see me. He nourishes my dreams and reminds me of my greatness everyday, and I am inspired by him daily. Being with Khiry is refreshing. He is hands down one of the most positive people that I have ever met, and I am forever grateful to get to spend the rest of my life with him.

Khiry: Well, I was an African studies major and one thing I learned is that our skin is our history. Looking back at all my studies, you had families being ripped apart and sent to two different parts of the world. They would then risk their lives to find their families, to continue what we call today “black love.” People were risking their livelihood just to embrace their significant other. It’s important that we keep this love going simply because of all we had to deal with as black people.