How do your write a whirlwind two year love affair between two African-American men? Some would say it’s already been done. A few years ago, Noah and Wade, the leading love interests of the beloved and now mourned cable series, “Noah’s Arc” became the archetype for two African-American men growing into slow-burning, sexy love. But what if you knew your love in an instant, literally at first sight? Well that is just how it all started for Michael Cole and Jamil Smith. They met while attending an event at the In the Life Black Gay Pride celebration in Atlanta on September 1, 2007. Michael saw Jamil or Jamil saw Michael. Well no matter who saw who first, it started with that first unwavering eye contact and when they finally spoke that day the attraction was instantaneous and they have been inseparable ever since.
“Three summers ago, I saw this stunning man but I couldn’t find the words to say hello. Now, Michael would never admit this, but I remember seeing him at Detroit’s Black Gay Pride. We had talked a little bit and I was giving him my best game, and I also remember it not working,” Jamil said. “Anyway back to the Atlanta’s black gay pride event, I was standing there with my friends when he and his friends started walking towards us and I told them, ‘That’s the guy, that’s the guy’ and they were all like, ‘Talk to him,’ but I couldn’t say anything. It was like a fairy tale where birds and bells are going off in front of your eyes and everything moves in slow motion.”
“This was not the first time someone had stared at me and not said anything, but in this case it was starting to wear on my nerves. It was just like he said, when we were walking toward each other our eyes met, we kept walking and I was just waiting for him to say something, and he didn’t say anything, So I was walking and I kept walking and it got to the point that I had to either turn around, break my neck or run into something,” Michael said. “So finally I said, ‘Are you going to say something? Or just stare?’”
The two exchanged numbers and later met up in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. Michael, who lived in Minnesota, was already dating another man in Detroit, where Jamil lived. He had planned to let Jamil down easily, but Jamil wasn’t so easily let down. Clearly he and fate had other plans. “We talked and I gave him my best game, again, because I was not going to let him pass again,” Jamil said. Eventually Michael relented, he was intrigued and wanted to know more, so he took Jamil back to his hotel room to continue their very engaging conversation. The two soon combined households and Jamil moved from Detroit to Minneapolis.
“That was the day our lives ended,” Jamil said. “Your single life you mean,” Michael corrected. “Yeah, you’re right,” Jamil said. The two Minneapolis residents have now been in a committed relationship for a little over two years and were recently married in a lavish, show-stopping wedding. The wedding photos stand as evidence that this was the ceremony that Noah and Wade might have had if only Alex could have had a bigger budget in “Jumping the Broom.” They were literally married just a few days past the anniversary of their first meeting two years ago on that beautiful day in Atlanta.
Jamil is twenty year’s Michael’s junior and yet the age difference has never posed any issues in their attraction or their relationship. “To be honest we haven’t had any struggles with our age differences. Michael has stayed youthful by surrounding himself with youth, and I have always had an old and mature soul, which makes it easy for us,” says Jamil.
Jamil and Michael are both hairdressers and own The Talk of the Town salon in Minneapolis. The subject of a commitment ceremony had come up on a few occasions during their first year and half together. One morning Michael and Jamil were driving to work together, Keyshia Cole’s “You Complete Me” played in the background as Michael turned to Jamil and asked if he would like to have a ceremony. Without hesitation Jamil said yes. They made the decision to have a modest ceremony at their home. Before they knew it the modest ceremony had blossomed into an event, some would say the event of the year. The guest list has suddenly grown from 100 guests to 300 guests.
According to Michael, “The event only took 5 months to plan from start to finish.” They custom designed their own dual groom’s attire for the ceremony. To make their self-designed outfits, they solicited the aid of two theatrical costume designers from the Guthrie Theater of Minneapolis, Leighann Gustafson and Stephanie Molstad.
Michael had designed his suit with a long detachable train that trailed behind and according to some he had hair extensions added for the occasion. “It’s my real hair!” “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” laughs Michael. “It took a little convincing with Jamil regarding the hair, but I have worn extensions on and off for over 20 years now. Jamil had only seen photos of me with long hair. This was going to be my big day; I was pulling out all stops. I was going to live out all my fantasies, knowing I could be walking a thin line between hot ghetto mess and fabulousity, I think fabulousity won out,” he laughs again. There were 245 people physically attending the event and 350 people who watched via “Hello World” (for Oprah viewers) also known as Skype. The cost of the ceremony was reportedly estimated at $55,000.
They incorporated a unity sand ceremony in the exchange of vows. Similar to the unity candle ceremony, the sand is used to embody the uniting of the grooms. Their separate lives are symbolized by two vials of sand (usually different colors). After the exchange of rings, the officiant explains the meaning of the ceremony. The grooms then come together, and pour into one vial, the two individual vials. Their flowing together symbolizes the joining of the couple as they share their first experience of unity as husband and husband. The newly formed union is represented by the intertwined pattern of sand created by the couple. This symbol is then a keepsake of their wedding day.
“Michael doesn’t have any biological children, but he does have a stepson that he took a big part in raising. He is now a 24 year old police officer who is engaged and expecting his first child next month. “I have a four year-old daughter who we have taken a big in her life. The only challenge is Michael likes to spoil her and I have to be the disciplinarian, but in the end she is okay”, says Jamil. So during the wedding when it came time to perform the sand ceremony, Michael was emotionally overcome due to the absence of their young daughter. She was supposed to play an important role in the sand ceremony. “When it came to the part of the ceremony where she was to pour her pink sand onto ours, her not being there was just too overwhelming for the two of us,” Michael said.
After months of planning, accomplishing and finally enjoying their big day, Michael Cole and Jamil Smith, have taken on one another’s last names, they are now Mr. Michael Cole Smith and Mr. Jamil Smith Cole. It’s a lovely and befitting end to a 5 month trial by fire ceremony/event planning process.
All’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. When it was time to plan their event, they shared their wedding ideas on Facebook and let their friends weigh in on which options they should choose. Once the wedding was over, it was only natural they would post the photos on Facebook for friends and family to view. To their horror and surprise, someone had downloaded their Facebook photo album without permission. An email chain containing more than a dozen of the couple’s wedding pictures with the subject “The WTD:) of the week!!!” started circulating across the country. The photos from the Sept. 13 ceremony had made their way to blogs like dlisted.com, and several dozen African-American sites like bossop.com, who had posted the photos without permission. They eventually found their way into the email accounts of staffers at Morehouse College and the social commentary and mockery began.
The photos began circulating between Sandra Bradley, an administrative assistant in the Morehouse College President’s office, and another coworker. The following is an excerpt from that email: “I can’t believe this wedding. It’s 2 men. They don’t smile in a lot in any of the pictures and they look like a few brothers I’ve seen in the streets looking STRAIGHT. Black women can’t get a break, either our men want another man, a white woman (or other nationality that’s light with straight hair); they are locked up in jail or have a “use to be” fatal disease. I’m beginning to believe Eve was a black woman and we Black women are paying for all the world’s sins through her actions (eating the apple).”
From there, the email chain made its way to Fulton County government employees, and then to the newspaper The Southern Voice, which made an inquiry to Morehouse College’s President Dr. Robert Michael Franklin. Dr. Franklin runs the all-male historically black college, said they “were investigating and would take appropriate and prompt action.” He said in a statement: “It is my sincere hope that the gay and lesbian community, and most specifically Michael Cole Smith and Jamil Smith Cole—whose wedding photographs became the subject of an unkind and intolerant email sent and forwarded by a Morehouse College employee—will accept my official apology on behalf of the College community.” Miss Bradley has since been fired.
Rather than becoming victims of the mockery and ridicule the couple took a stand and have recently spoken at Minnesota’s state capital in St. Paul in support of Marriage Equality on behalf of OUTFRONT Minnesota. OUTFRONT Minnesota’s mission is “to make our state a place where GLBT Minnesotans have the freedom, power, and confidence to make the best choices for their own lives.”
“I was truly pissed at first for the simple fact that, I wanted this, our wedding, to be something special for us. Someone tried to take that from us and twist it and turn it into something negative, a gay bashing. But in the end even the taunts have made us stronger as a couple,” says Jamil. “Nothing can break us, as long as we stay strong as one. What the devil meant for evil is going to be used for good, more and more African American gays and lesbians are starting to think about love and commitment and the possibility of marriage. Our future is bright as long as we stay true to our love, the vows we shared that day and the respect and admiration that we share for each other nothing is impossible,” Michael said.
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