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    Finding Their Village

    Though they married only recently, Courtney and Sheena Reid have been together for four years. They met while both working as account executives at BET, where Courtney remains to this day. Sheena moved on to ESPN and The Walt Disney Company, where she is now multimedia director of sales.


    With a common background at Historically Black Colleges and Universities—Courtney graduating from Howard University with a degree in advertising and communications, Sheena earning a degree in English and mass communications from Lincoln University—the pair found shared interests and then something more when they worked on the same BET team.


    Now parents of an 8-month-old daughter, Sai Marie, the couple spoke with WayMaker founder and WayMaker Journal publisher Louis Carr about their lives and families. Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


    WJ: Why did you decide you wanted to get married?
    SR:
    For a long time, for me getting married wasn’t something that I wanted. I was actually quite negative about it because, growing up as a child, I didn’t have that many married folks around me that were positive examples. I knew a lot of married people who stepped outside of their marriages on a continuous basis. Honestly, I just felt like it didn’t mean anything.

    Also, in dating I never really met someone that I saw myself with in that long-term way. [When] my relationship with Courtney took on a new life it was important to me to show her how much she meant to me in ways that were very different than any other person that I had been with before. I feel like it was a culmination of a coming of age for me, where I learned a new definition of what marriage was and what it could potentially look like with her.

    At the end of the day, we all come together when we need each other.

    CR: I had grown up appreciating marriage, with an expectation that that’s kind of what you do. I had actually been married before, so in our relationship I realized similarly that all marriages aren’t equal. My previous husband, we had been together since we were really young. I feel like for me in this relationship, it was actually making an active choice to be married and not just following the norm of, “This is just what you do after a particular point.”

    It was very much intentional: like, we want to build a life together and we are on the same page… Obviously we’re not in a traditional marriage, so there’s things that come with that. But I feel like that’s what makes it even more special because we’re kind of choosing each other in spite of all of those things.


    WJ: What does family mean to you?
    CR:
    Family definitely supersedes blood, to me. I think that family represents your village, whoever that might be, that you can lean on in good times and bad times. They celebrate you, they encourage you. My mom used to always say, “Your family’s gonna tell you the truth.” As I’ve gotten older I have really understood what she was saying, because it’s that safe space where people can be honest with you, transparent with you… people that you can depend on in any situation.

    SR: I think all those things and would add the word unconditional. When I look at my own family through the ups and the downs, at the end of the day, we all come together when we need each other.

    WJ: With all the problems we have in our communities, how important is family in providing some of the solutions we need?

    SR: It’s the impetus of trying to change everything that’s gone wrong in the Black community. I think if more people had strong foundations, if more people had people they could call on when they were in need, when they were just down and out, if people were better equipped to handle their emotions, I think that you would find that so much would be different. There wouldn’t be the world that we’re living in, where people are walking around and they’re so angry, they’re so hurt… a strong family could change all of that, I think, at the drop of a dime.

    CR: I would add security… I grew up in a Houston Baptist church family, so once we were serious, Sheena’s big question was, “How do you think your family is going to react to this?” She’s the only woman that I’ve actually dated, so that wasn’t something that my family knew of me. I remember telling her, “Honestly, I don’t know,” but I felt so deeply that my mom and my family would love me, even if they didn’t fully agree, even if they didn’t fully understand, that they would love me enough to not ostracize me. And to see that actually happen for me was amazing… to know so innately that your family is going to be there for you, no matter what is going on, it’s really empowering.

    There is no way… we can live in communities that are predominantly not us.

    WJ: What about your family, Sheena?
    SR:
    I remember vividly having the conversation with my mom and my stepfather (who was really my dad). [I told them that] my then girlfriend and I, we were “more than friends.” And my dad was like, “We know that already.” It took my family a while to get comfortable when I started to date women more seriously, because I was still actively dating men. I feel like my mom was holding her breath, like “She might actually get a husband!”
    When Courtney and I were getting really serious and talking about kids, I was wanting to do things in a traditional way because I’m sort of traditional in some ways. I never wanted to have children and not be married, and all of those things. I wanted my family around me. I thought they were going to stick with me and thankfully they did and, and we’re here and we’re able to celebrate every momentous occasion with family, which is great.


    WJ: What is your plan for your family?
    SR:
    We have had to plan everything, obviously… we went through IVF. So from the very beginning of the process, we were thoughtful in what we were looking for in our donor. Education was key; that was really important to us… Then, as we were going through the process, we learned that we could actually hear from the donor, we could hear their thoughts on their family values, the way that they were raised, all of those things.


    CR: My mom was an early education teacher and so my whole life was rooted in foundational development. That’s what my mom believed in. That’s what she preached. That’s how she raised me… I think the biggest key for us is education, but also fostering a sense of self… believing that she can go and figure something out and giving her the leeway to do so… building up a strong child who believes in themselves.

    I don’t know that I personally have like a career mapped out for her, because I don’t want to do that to her. I don’t want to put my dreams onto her. I want to give her just belief, that she can do whatever she wants… fearlessness to be able to try different things, because really life is about trial and error and figuring out what didn’t work as much as what will work.

    You’ve got to have these honest conversations about what it is that you need.

    WJ: What type of community do you want your child to flourish in?
    SR:
    Post the 2016 election, post the direction of the world and it’s ugly downfall, I think we’ve both concluded that there is no way in hell that we can live in communities that are predominantly not us. Ultimately, we’ve decided what’s most important is being in communities that are truly communities, being amongst people who are open-minded, people who are educated, people who aren’t going to try to make anyone feel like an outcast.

    CR: I think, unfortunately, Black families have done themselves a disservice for so many years. Affluent Blacks move into these predominantly white neighborhoods under the umbrella and the guise of, “This is what success looks like, so we want to go over here,” and then you see this newer generation of the children who get raised up in that environment being completely disconnected with who they are because they’ve been having to reduce themselves and change themselves and shift themselves to fit a mold that wasn’t created for them. It makes you wonder, Did you even really need to do that?

    I went to Howard and there’s a lot of people who will try to tell you things about HBCUs, like, “Don’t go there. You’re so smart.” But I truly believe in HBCUs and I think it speaks to that community, that family, because it does the same thing. It gives you such a foundation of who you are… where you felt such pride in who you were and an understanding of what your people have contributed to this world… even when you’re not around your own, you still feel grounded and rooted in who you are. And I think that’s what Black kids need, that’s what Black families need.

    SR: I had a similar HBCU experience… I remember it never wavered. I always felt like I belonged. It didn’t matter [when I started working] if I was the only Black person on the team; “I’m here for a reason.” That’s what you get when you grow up in a strong community.


    WJ: Final question: can women “have it all”?
    SR:
    I think it’s tough to achieve everything without true support… You’ve got to have these honest conversations about what it is that you need. It’s about having a partner who understands you, understands your needs and who can give you the opportunity to shine when you need to.
    CR: Also, it’s important to define what having it all is for you… somebody else might want to be at home with their kid a hundred percent. We’re very lucky to have hybrid work—the world is shifting to where women actually have more opportunity because now I can pop in and give Sai a little kiss in between meetings if I’m working from home that day. Even five years ago that wouldn’t have been the case.

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