A Union That Felt Like ‘a Love Letter to Black Culture’
“Black love is a form of resistance.”
The phrase became a mantra for Tristan St. John Thompson, who is an academic and culture dean at DREAM Charter High School in the South Bronx.
He frequently talks about “places of resistance” with the students “who look like me and are from where I’m from,” said Mr. Thompson, 31, who was born and raised in the Bronx. “Even education is a form of resistance in a world that is sometimes telling you that you aren’t enough and you aren’t doing enough.”
As his relationship with Tyla Jenel Wade, 29, developed, he began seeing their love, too, as a form of resistance.
“We are going to do whatever we have to in order to make sure that we support each other and the people around us,” Mr. Thompson said.
In December 2021, the couple decided to make a podcast together about Black love, music and art through the lens of two millennials. When they were thinking of a name for the podcast, a friend joked that they should name it “Black love is a form of resistance.”
“I was like, ‘Yes! It is!’” Mr. Thompson said. He and Ms. Wade, an associate director of multicultural marketing at Horizon Media, an advertising agency in New York, ultimately named their podcast “Black Love Is Resistance.”
The two first met in January 2015 at a bar near Grand Central Terminal. Ms. Wade’s best friend, Kidan Kinney, invited her to a gathering with several former students of the Posse Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to high school students in the U.S. Both Ms. Kinney and Mr. Thompson are Posse scholars.
When Ms. Wade walked into the bar, another one of the Posse scholars sat her next to Mr. Thompson because she thought the two would be a good romantic match. But both were in relationships at the time. It was “awkward and uncomfortable,” Ms. Wade said, and they left the bar without thinking about the other.
But on Sept. 5, 2015, they crossed paths again at a pregame event at a mutual friend’s apartment in Philadelphia before the Made in America festival, where Beyoncé and J. Cole were performing. This time, the two, each now single, hit it off.
“She had me dying of laughter,” Mr. Thompson said. “Even though it was packed, it just felt like it was only Tyla and me in that room.”
It just so happened to also be Mr. Thompson’s 24th birthday, and his friends had planned a surprise birthday celebration. In the middle of Mr. Thompson and Ms. Wade’s conversation, his friends started singing “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder, while walking toward them with a cake.
“We were surrounded by 20 plus people singing, and I was standing next to him with cameras in my face awkwardly smiling and also singing ‘happy 24th birthday’ to my future husband,” Ms. Wade said.
When they arrived at the festival later that day, they were attached at the hip. When their friend group started splitting up after a performance by the rapper Future, she asked him if he wanted to go see De La Soul, a hip-hop group formed in 1988.
Mr. Thompson, a lover of ’90s hip-hop, was impressed by the suggestion.
After the festival, Mr. Thompson went back to Jacksonville, Fla., where he lived at the time for a job as a high school English teacher with Teach for America. Ms. Wade had just graduated from Assumption University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and marketing and was living with her family in Staten Island, where she is from. Mr. Thompson graduated from Lafayette College with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
They both had just gotten out of serious relationships when they connected at the music festival, but she wasn’t ready to jump into a relationship with Mr. Thompson and risk bringing any baggage. She wanted to take her time with him and develop more of a friendship. What followed for the next year and three months was a slow burn toward romance.
They saw each other whenever he traveled to New York to visit family. In October 2015, they went to see a play called “Barbecue” at the Public Theater, starring Lupita Nyong’o, for what Mr. Thompson considers to be their first date. “It was two friends who like each other’s company hanging out,” Ms. Wade said. (She said they started dating in December 2016, when they had their first kiss.)
Despite being from New York, Mr. Thompson got lost on his way to the play and showed up after the intermission. “The entire M.T.A. was working against me,” he said. “He still can’t take the train by himself,” she said playfully in response.
After the show, they went to a street fair and bought their first vinyls together, which included “Rapture” by Anita Baker and “The Birth of a Legend” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Now they have 72 vinyls in their joint collection.
“That first date consisted of music, food and exploration,” he said. “After that, every other date kind of followed that same formula.”
In June 2016, Mr. Thompson moved to New York. “He immediately was like, ‘What are we doing?’ And I was like, ‘We’re continuing a friendship,’” she said. That fall, he said he would start dating other people. “Tristan was definitely getting tired of me prolonging it, so he applied the pressure,” she said. And it worked.
On Dec. 2, 2016, they had their first kiss at a friend’s birthday party. And on Dec. 31, 2016, right before the ball dropped at midnight, he asked her, “Will you be my girlfriend?” at Troy Liquor Bar in New York. At the first minute of the new year, she responded, “Of course.”
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They moved in together in an apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in March 2020. Currently, they are staying in Mount Vernon, N.Y., with Mr. Thompson’s family, and in August, they plan on moving to Los Angeles.
Both value community and the celebration of Black culture, and in January 2020, they started a group called the Legacy Network. The group consists of eight people — four couples, all of whom are now married — to discuss wellness, social justice and entrepreneurship.
In April 2021, the group had a summit at an Airbnb in Danbury, Conn., where the members spoke about their goals and their vision for the future.
Mr. Thompson had been trying to come up with the perfect proposal, but during the summit, he shifted gears. “I was basically saying to myself, ‘You’re having all of these conversations about the future, and your future includes Tyla every step of the way,’” he said. “‘Why are you waiting for some grandiose moment to ask her to be your wife?’”
Though he didn’t have a ring, he decided he would propose during the summit. At the end of the trip, as they were packing, his best friend told Ms. Wade that Mr. Thompson had lost something and needed help finding it. So she helped him look for the lost item, until she came across a wall on which they had been sticking Post-it Notes with ideas and goals. There was one Post-it Note left. She grabbed it and read it: “Tyla, will you marry me?” Mr. Thompson was behind her, on one knee.
Within the next week, he got her a diamond ring.
On April 23, the couple wed at the New Orleans Botanical Garden. The Rev. Richard Griffiths, a minister of Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene, officiated.
“It was important to us to bring the 166 people that RSVP’d ‘yes’ to an experience that will honor their Blackness,” said Ms. Wade, who added that she wanted to create a safe space where their guests could “be who they are, eat the food they enjoy and listen to the music they enjoy.”
During the ceremony, guests sat in chairs arranged in a circle that surrounded the couple, who stood on a circular stage, to “signify our love being fluid and endless,” Ms. Wade said.
The couple also sat in wicker rattan chairs and recreated a photo of Huey P. Newton, who helped found the Black Panther Party, sitting on a rattan chair. “We look like royalty in those chairs,” she said.
“It was a love letter to Black culture, it was a love letter to our community,” Mr. Thompson said of their wedding, “and it was a love letter to each other.”
On This Day
When April 23, 2023
Where New Orleans Botanical Garden
Who’s on the Aux? There were four DJs at the reception; each played different genres of music: house, hip-hop, New Orleans bounce and soca and reggae. Three of The DJs were Mr. Thompson’s longtime friends. “When they first started DJing in college, I was the one that was carrying their equipment,” he said. “To see their love for their music grow in a way that they were able to make a living out of this thing, and to have them DJ at our wedding, it just came full circle.”
Musical Medley Cotton Melody Choir performed an eight-song medley, arranged by the couple, as everyone walked into the ceremony. “People were sobbing, crying, everyone was singing together,” Ms. Wade said. “The rest of the night, we felt like one big family.” The medley began with “Joyful, Joyful,” by Lauryn Hill. They both processed out to songs by Chance the Rapper, he chose “Blessings” and she chose “How Great.” The couple also hired a brass band that played during the final hour of the wedding.
Buying Black The couple allotted 35 percent of their wedding budget to Black-owned businesses. One of them was Johnny Nelson, a New York artist who makes rings with the faces of famous Black people. Mr. Nelson made Mr. Thompson two cuff links. One was of Martin Luther King Jr., and the other was of Malcolm X. Ms. Wade wore earrings from L’enchanteur and a purse from Brandon Blackwood that says “End systemic racism.” And they both wore stylized grills by Underground Grillz. Ms. Wade said that guests told them, “‘This is the blackest wedding I’ve ever been to.’” Mr. Thompson responded, “That was the point.”
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