Cover image for A love supreme : real-life stories of Black love
A love supreme : real-life stories of Black love
Stovall, TaRessa.
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New York : Warner Books, [2000]

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xv, 220 : illustrations ; 21 cm
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HQ536 .S769 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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From celebrities to everyday people of varying ages, professions, and backgrounds, this inspirational portrait of African American love offers deep and personal insight into the life-enhancing bond of marriage. This celebration of Black love spotlights couples whose passion and devotion have inspired those around them and offers examples of how sweet, satisfying, challenging, and enduring committed love can be.

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Booklist Review

With definitions and images of the Andinkra symbols from the Akan people of Ghana, West Africa, the Stovalls write about the wisdom and the longevity of 20 African American couples. Generally the couples are well known (nationally recognized actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis; former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff General Colin Powell and wife Alma; and former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and husband, Oliver) or well connected (from Spelman college, Rev. Norman Rates and wife, Laura; and former Spelman college president Johnetta Cole and husband, Arthur Robinson). The foreword is written by Ruby Dee. The Stovalls have admirably accomplished their goal to "reveal . . . that in the midst of racism and other stresses of being Black in America, our men and women are successfully loving one another and surmounting all kinds of hurdles to build strong marriages and families." A worthy addition to African American biographies and history collections. --Lillian Lewis



Chapter One A Bridge Between Cultures Marcia and David Arunga Seattle, Washington, and Nairobi, Kenya They first exchanged vows in his native Africa and then in her homeland of the USA. They live and work on two continents and are rearing their four children with roots in both worlds. They make the blending of their very different cultures look easy. But Marcia and David Arunga have crossed many bridges and built a few as well to make their marriage and family strong. David Otieno Arunga, a member of the Luo tribe, was born and reared near Kendu Bay, Kenya, a small town on the shores of Lake Victoria. Marcia D. Tate hails from a multicultural neighborhood on Seattle's Beacon Hill, not far from Lake Washington. "Our love is one of the few that I'm aware of that so far has survived the different cultural nuances of the African American and the African African," David says. "We are committed to ensuring that whatever barriers exist are surmounted." Marcia agrees. "The forging of two people together from two different cultures--who are really one people--that's very important and fundamental to our existence, even though we didn't intend it to be that way." She didn't know a great deal about African people or culture when she entered the University of Washington in 1977. When they met, David, a junior, was campaigning for student body president and Marcia was running for the Minority Affairs Commission. Her first impression of the tall, ebony Kenyan was that he was suave and classy, with a smile that went straight to her heart. David was enchanted by the petite, honey-colored dynamo handing out fliers on the campus quad. But their first conversation hit a snag. "I told her that she was the most beautiful lady I had ever met, and she got very mad at me." "He told everybody that," Marcia said with a laugh. "There's no woman Dave ever met at that time that he didn't say was 'the most beautiful lady.'" "I referred to every lady as 'beautiful lady,'" David admits, "but I told her she was the most beautiful lady I had ever met." Though smitten, Marcia told David she wouldn't join his flock of female admirers. But her feelings for him grew. When David was elected the first Black and the first African student body president of the University of Washington, she recalls, "It was my victory, too. I didn't even care that I'd lost." The first time they were alone together, David told Marcia that he loved her. "It was very fast for me to hear that he loved me. I didn't have many boyfriends before that time," said Marcia. "So for this man, who's seven years older than me, to tell me that he loved me, was kind of hard to believe." Still, it didn't scare her away. Their romance blossomed, interrupted by occasional arguments. A major breakup occurred after the couple argued over Marcia's right to speak during a student meeting about the university ending its investments in South Africa. When she shared her views, David arrogantly ordered her to stop talking. Later in the meeting, she did the same to him. He left the meeting, she followed and he showered her with angry words. Although they no longer considered themselves a couple, they remained friends and eventually patched up things. "We were always challenged in our relationship, trying to figure out where our boundaries and parameters were," Marcia recalls. "Dave and I argued a lot. I was young. It was my first relationship and I was trying to define who I was as a college student and as a woman. He was older, he was student body president and he was from a culture where men dominate. I was busy trying to gain my own identity separate from Dave's. At the same time, I was attracted to him and wanted to be with him, but not in his shadow. Even when it came to phone calling, I was very old-fashioned: 'You have to call me.' But here was a man who didn't call because he was spoiled by all these women who were running after him. Plus, Dave always said that he was going back home, so 'don't get too close.' Knowing he was leaving, I wasn't sure how much of my heart to put in it." There was never any question in David's mind that he would return to Kenya. After earning a degree in political science from UW, he worked at various jobs around Seattle, saving for the fare home. His romance with Marcia continued, and she put her cards on the table. "Ever since I met Dave, I always said, 'Let's get married.' He'd say, 'Let me not cheat you. I cannot marry you. I'm going to go back to my country and I don't want you for a green card; so no! So don't get too attached to me, because I'll be gone.'" David nods. "You see, at that time most Africans got married to American women because they were under duress financially and they wanted to have a green card. I didn't want to live with that. "If I were to marry somebody, she had to know where I came from. She had to know who my mother is, who my father is, who my people are. Because sometimes we get married to people on the basis of their being exotic, with African accents, like maybe they're sons and daughters of kings and queens." Marcia had heard of African men who had misled women with made-up tales of royal backgrounds. Nevertheless, after two years, David had reached the point where he was ready to accept Marcia's perpetual proposals. "After the fifth time or so, it was kind of like a joke," Marcia says. "He'd say, 'I want to marry you, but before we can be married, you'll have to come and see where I came from and if, after that, you still want to marry me, that is cool.'" Before Marcia had a chance to visit David's homeland, he asked her father for her hand. The Tate family celebrated with champagne toasts but did not want to lose their daughter to another culture, Marcia recalls. David returned to Kenya, where, despite his announced engagement to a young American woman, he faced intense pressure to select a local bride. "That he would consider marrying an American woman was a big taboo," Marcia explains. "Not just an American woman, but a non-Luo. My in-laws are sometimes concerned when they talk about other children in the family marrying a non-Luo, even someone from another tribe in Kenya, or even a Luo who's not from their area. There are major family meetings about that. When Dave asked me to marry him, he had to consider that, in his tradition, you are never considered divorced." Even if they divorce and remarry, when the wife dies, her body is shipped back to be buried outside the home that was shared with the first husband. After Marcia graduated, she became a minority affairs counselor at UW and saved her salary for a trip to Kenya. Then, just before Marcia was slated to leave, she wrote to David saying they should break up forever. The reason, Marcia says, is she felt that "life was changing very fast. At only twenty-one, I didn't know if I was ready to pick up and leave the country, or if I was ready to be tied down. I had really developed my identity and I just got cold feet." David was devastated. He wanted to see Marcia again, to learn whether they truly had a future. "By this time, I was still of the opinion that she had to come and see for herself if she could feel comfortable fitting into this life. If she didn't feel comfortable with it, I was not going to demand that we be married." They remained on good terms. "We were friends first, second and always," David says. "Even when we broke up." In the year that followed, David bowed to tradition and considered becoming engaged to a Kenyan woman, a Luo, like himself. Then, Marcia wrote to say she was coming to see Kenya, to visit the motherland, which had been a longtime goal of hers. David, who had hosted many friends and colleagues from the United States, let her know that he was looking forward to showing her around. And Marcia wanted to see him--as a friend. When she first saw him at the airport, she was flooded with emotion and the desire to be with him again. David had instructed his prospective fiancée to make herself scarce during Marcia's visit, and he told Marcia about the woman right away. When the Kenyan woman hung around David's office asking to meet Marcia, he introduced the women, who spent a day together. Later, Marcia told him, "If she was really your type of person, I wouldn't bother to intervene, but I don't think it's a good match." David searched his soul over whether it was better to marry a woman from his own culture or the outspoken American he could not forget. After acknowledging that their feelings hadn't changed, Marcia and David agreed to marry. But first, Marcia had to meet his family. David's eldest sister, Beldina, served as an interpreter as their parents questioned Marcia about where they would live and whether they would have a lot of children. Her answers--and natural charm--won them over. Two days later, the bicontinental couple married in a Kenyan courthouse. Their witness was David's eldest brother John, who had seen few African/African American marriages succeed. While John was initially skeptical about the couple's chances of making it work, he became one of Marcia's closest friends. David was optimistic about his relationship with his new bride. "We had courted over a long period and we knew each other beyond just girlfriend and boyfriend," David says. "I was friends with almost her entire family. I knew that if Marcia could meet my family halfway, then they were not going to have problems with her. I knew that, for all practical purposes, it should work." Marcia says David warned her that a marriage has to be for keeps, that it was permanent. And they agreed that they would never raise a hand against each other. Marcia returned home to fulfill her two-year contract as a minority affairs counselor with UW, and David remained in Kenya as the first employee of the newly created agency to develop the Lake Victoria area that was his home. They didn't see each other for nearly a year and a half. In June 1982, David came to Seattle for their formal church wedding, which was held on July 18 at Curry Temple CME (Christian--formerly Colored--Methodist Episcopal) Church. With both ceremonies complete, David considered whether they should live in the United States, but Marcia wanted to begin their married life in Kenya. "Most of the people I knew who had gotten married in the U.S. took marriage so lightly, it was like there was no chance to be married here. I knew that if we lived in Kenya, we'd have a better chance of staying married because marriage is really important to people there." While packing to leave Seattle three weeks after the wedding, Marcia learned that she was pregnant. Conditions in Kenya were tense in the wake of an attempted coup. It was a difficult time to be pregnant; she coped with violent morning sickness, culture shock, homesickness and loneliness as David traveled in his work to develop the region. Eventually, Marcia met more people, learned the Luo language and adjusted to the varied rhythms of Kenyan life. She absorbed the importance of rituals and tradition. "In the village, each time you prepare the food to serve to people, you are more and more a part of the family. As you have children, you become ingrained in the family. Even if Dave and I split, even if I'm not married to him, I'm married to the family. When I die, there's a place for me to be buried in his home. You forge that relationship and it's no longer just me and Dave anymore, it's the two families coming together." Marcia remembers that it didn't take long for her to feel the embrace of her ancestors' homeland. "The first time I felt I was welcomed in Kenya was at the funeral of my sister-in-law's mother. My sister-in-law's father was crying because his wife had died. Then he looked up and said, 'Who is that?' "And Dave's relatives, who were still getting to know me, said, 'This is nyar Negro--the daughter of the Negroes.' The man stopped his crying and he said, 'Oh, welcome home! Welcome home!' He was so happy that his face lit up. That was the first time I had been really received as somebody who belonged in Kenya." David later took Marcia to meet an old woman in the hills. "This is my wife," he explained. "She's from America and she's come to live with me here in Africa." When the woman predicted that the American wouldn't make it, Marcia confidently had David translate her reply. "This is my home, my people are from here and I have come back." In between having four babies, Marcia, a multitalented stage performer, founded the Kisumu Drama Conservatory, where she trained Kenyan children in the theater arts. She never stopped feeling homesick for Seattle. But when they returned eleven years later, she longed for Kenya as well. "Both places are home. I now come to realize that I'll never, ever really feel comfortable about being away from either place." Their family business, Seaweed International, bridges the divide. While living in Kisumu, Kenya, Marcia and David sought a way to bring their people and cultures together. Building upon Marcia's interest in fabric and fashion, they founded a factory to manufacture clothes she designed. "This business evolved as a way of developing the economy in Kisumu, giving people jobs, opportunities and some stability," Marcia explains. "We wanted to come up with products that my people, African Americans, would appreciate, so I could share some of the jewels that I'd discovered in my life and time in Africa." When they moved back to Seattle in 1991, they opened Seaweed International, an African clothing store, near Marcia's childhood home. The striking colors and vibrant designs of the motherland flow from the shop into their home upstairs, where woven clothes and batiks enliven the walls. The Arungas enjoy impromptu family jam sessions and sing-alongs, with other family members sharing African drums and a nyatiti (harp) as eldest son Owuor plays jazz/blues trumpet and harmonica. A bookshelf with photos of extended family members lets everyone know, Marcia says, "that they belong in the house." The Arunga children, all Kenyan-born, bear names that blend the languages of their ancestry with traditional references to their time of birth: Owuor Obi Otieno, sixteen, is named after his fourth great-grandfather on David's side and Marcia's grandfather, respectively, with the additional name Otieno indicating that he was born at night. The middle name of Ebonny Atieno, fourteen, indicates that she, too, was born at night. Nia, eleven, has a first name meaning "purpose" and a middle name, Akoth, after David's great-grandmother, that means "born during the rainy season." Geneiva Abigail, nine, is named after her maternal and paternal grandmothers, respectively, with the name Achieng meaning "born when the sun was up." When it comes to child-rearing, "We do everything by seniority; that's an African trait," Marcia explains. "The oldest child gets the first pick of everything, then the next child, then the next. We try to give equally to our children. But that's the pecking order and we're pretty strict with it." Sharing is emphasized, and when Marcia or David buys the children a treat such as candy or soda pop, they buy a single large serving that is to be divided equally among the children. "The older you are, the more responsibility you have in the home and to the Luo tradition," Marcia says. Owuor and Ebonny are expected to keep abreast of news in Africa, particularly Kenya, by reading newspapers and talking with their father. They are encouraged to write their Kenyan cousins about family history and current events. If the family lived in Kenya, Owuor would be building a simba, a little house of his own, that would become his ancestral home. Though they are not planning any such formal rites of passage in Seattle, the Arungas work to ensure that their son embodies the best of both African American and African traditions by conducting himself as a gentleman, always careful to honor and respect girls and elders. Marcia and David acknowledge that in the United States it's hard to maintain the African tradition of having children who are seen and not heard, but they do not allow their offspring to disrespect adults or address them by their first names. The Arunga children, typically American in many of their interests, worked hard to shed their Kenyan accents when they arrived in the States. While they fit easily into their culturally diverse neighborhood and schools, their proud bearings and strong home training make them stand out. During the holidays, the Arungas host and take part in community Kwanzaa celebrations and honor Christmas in the Kenyan way--as a family gathering that emphasizes togetherness rather than gifts or trees. Moreover, in the spirit of Kenya, "where we always had visitors for lunch and dinner," Marcia says, "my home is open to everyone. If they find us at the table, they're welcome to join in." They often eat with their hands rather than forks or spoons, which calls for the Kenyan ritual of some serious premeal hand-washing. Marcia has mastered the art of making ugali, a bread made from white cornmeal in boiling water that is a daily staple among the Luos, though she's just as likely to serve the rice she grew up eating, thanks to her father's Louisiana roots. Collard greens are also a favorite, steamed with onions and tomatoes rather than boiled with pork. Blending traditions, foods and values seems to come naturally to Marcia, who describes herself as "a Pan-Africanist, a Diaspora person, well aware of Africans living all over the world and adapting to various cultures." In everything they do, Marcia and David are committed to communicating the truth of African life to Americans. "We always try to share that richness of African culture and diversity of the culture practiced by Africans all around the world," Marcia says. "We want people to know that Africans are not a 'backward' tree-swinging group of people, but people who are very dignified." These self-styled ambassadors are a study in contrasts. David combines a regal bearing with the deft diplomacy of a natural politician, each word uttered with the richness of an official proclamation. Marcia retains the scene-stealing effervescence of her youthful forays into the performing arts, her observations punctuated by dramatic flourishes and a husky laugh. They watch each other with subtle affection. "When I look at him and he's not aware, I admire him and I see the part of him that I fell in love with," Marcia says. "But we never do goo-goo eyes together. We don't hold hands. He taught me very early that he doesn't do physical contact in public. It's cultural. And I really resisted that." "It has nothing to do with my feelings," David explains. "My feelings can be totally different. I may want to be totally animalistic in public." Their ability to recognize and respect different traditions is central to the strength of their marriage, they agree. Like all couples, however, they have their conflicts. Marcia tries to curb her tendency to erupt in an impassioned barrage of words; David fights the impulse to withdraw into silence. She has learned to wait until he is ready to hear what she has to say. "In a relationship, who wins is not important," David says. "What is important is to carry on." They take the Kenyan view of marital discord. "It is recognized that families have developed and strengthened through conflict," David explains. "Conflicts have to be resolved on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, and you cannot spend time looking at conflict as a thing which should draw you apart. Rather, it should draw you closer because you have to be strong for the next day. "Your success is measured by your ability to stay together through these conflicts. So nobody asks, 'Oh, are you still married to so-and-so?' That is not a question. In the U.S., if you tell somebody that you had some conflict, he'll end up suggesting that you get rid of her. In our situation, nobody talks about getting rid of him or her." Their love, they say, is embedded in their friendship. David explains that the Luo word that translates into friendship is osiep--the highest level of commitment between two people. "You can love food or the way somebody dresses or how somebody behaves, but you can't be friends with how somebody behaves or how somebody looks. You can't be friends with food. You can only be friends with the person you have chosen to be your friend. So in terms of a cultural definition of joining together, it is only the word 'friend' that supremely defines what the West defines as 'love.'" That said, he turns to the woman he describes as his best friend and proclaims, "I love her very much!" SANKOFA Go Back to Fetch It Symbol of the wisdom of learning from the past to build for the future. Sankofa is a constant reminder that past experience must be a guide for the future, to learn from or build on the past. AUTHOR'S NOTE: This symbol, called the heart, is an Adinkra symbol for love, goodwill, patience, faithfulness, endurance and consistency referring to love from the spiritual heart. Adinkra symbols, which represent images that the Akan people of Ghana, West Africa, have used for thousands of years, are used to symbolize the each couple's relationship in A LOVE SUPREME. The symbols in the book are adapted from The Adinkra Dictionary: A Visual Primer on the Language of ADKINKRA by W. Bruce Willis and used with the kind and generous permission of the author and his publishing company, The Pyramid Complex, of Washington, D.C. Copyright © 2000 TaRessa Stovall and Calvin Stovall. All rights reserved.