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14 Feb

Let Me Count The Ways: Celebrating Black Love In

Let Me Count The Ways

Kadar R. Small

This story appears within the January/February issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now.

Let Me Count The Ways Amid economic turmoil, political unrest, public health crises and general global strife, love—especially Black love—is a grounding force.

Each time we express love, we honor our ancestors who dared to like deeply and fearlessly. Even with the specter of being forcibly separated from one another, and with the lack to ascertain comfortable homes, our people embraced each other, with the singular faith that things wouldn’t all the time be so bleak. Their decision to make room for hope and heat has grounded and sustained us.

I’ve experienced the total spectrum of Black love—from arranging flowers with my grandmother in her backyard to riding with my father on his tandem bike within the afternoons to catching up with my mother on our every day homegirl phone calls. I also know love’s tougher side, as I launched into the merry-go-round of a romantic relationship that always left me riddled with despair. I’ve listened to quite a lot of Keyshia Cole and Toni Braxton. Two tracks, specifically—Keyshia’s “Shoulda Let You Go” and Toni’s “I Love Me Some Him”—helped me navigate my emotions, heal and, later, self-soothe. After surviving the highs and lows of Black love, I comprehend it intimately; and the familiarity deepens my appreciation.

Now, make no mistake, it’s work. Lord, it’s work. Consistently selecting someone can get difficult, especially when egos come out to play. But that’s just the thing: It’s a selection. You get up on daily basis and choose to like in your mate. Despite the fact that painful love could also be a thing of the past, we are able to’t pretend like some days aren’t get-out-of-my-room-and-hit-the-sofa type days, with a you-a-mess cherry on top. Still, we show up and take a look at again, since the I-need-us days outweigh all.

Apart from encompassing strength and resilience, our love may also be intentionally tender. Although Black love may be complicated and nuanced, at its core it’s joyful. Even in terrible times, it’s luminous, forcing out the grim realities of being Black in America and bringing the sunshine. Today, as we honor the past and create space for the longer term, we count all of the ways by which we proceed the legacy of Black love.

Let Me Count The Ways: Celebrating Black Love In All Its Forms

Black love isn’t monolithic.


Black couples have been engaging in this tradition at weddings for the reason that 18th century. Tyler D. Parry, Ph.D., the creator of Jumping the Broom: The Surprising Multicultural Origins of a Black Wedding Ritual, noted that our enslaved ancestors weren’t free to marry legally, so many adopted the tradition of jumping the broom. As Parry shared in a 2022 Latest York Times article, this rite was once practiced by marginalized communities in Europe. It was later introduced to enslaved people in America by White plantation owners.

In The Journal for Southern Living, Patrick W. O’Neil features a chapter called “Bosses and Broomsticks: Ritual and Authority in Antebellum Slave Weddings,” which observes that the majority slave owners used the broomstick to deem Black marriages transitory and unimportant—and to claim authority and dominance over enslaved households. But for us, jumping the broom signifies a recent starting; sweeping out the old, if you happen to will. It respects the families of every partner while acknowledging the holy union the newlyweds have undertaken.

Over the past several hundred years, the tradition has endured; it continues to be a feature at Black American nuptials. After the newlyweds exchange vows and kiss, they hold hands and hop over a brush to seal their union. A member of the family could make the broom, or it might be an heirloom passed down through generations.

My mother was the designated broom creator for jumping-the-broom rituals in our family. I’d watch her meticulously apply white and silver ribbon, custom-made satin bows and fabric to the broom handle. She would then adorn the broom’s base with dried lavender, pearls and eucalyptus. It normally took her three days to brighten it. With pride, she would deliver her creation to the bride and groom, hopeful their love and bond can be everlasting. For Black families today, jumping the broom marks the leap of religion needed to embrace Black love fully.

Let Me Count The Ways: Celebrating Black Love In All Its Forms

Kadar R. Small


Black nail art may be traced back to 3000 B.C., with Queen Nefertiti painting her fingernails and toenails red to mark her royal status. In keeping with Nails: The Story of the Modern Manicure, some Egyptians adorned their nail beds with artificial extensions product of ivory and bone. Nowadays, getting our nails done serves as a rite of passage to womanhood. Every Black girl who has stepped right into a nail salon remembers the primary time she went along with her mother, grandmother or auntie. Having the creative autonomy to pick out nail designs which can be true to you is liberating—each design encapsulates a selected cultural aesthetic while accentuating Black women’s personalities.

But when our nails make a private statement, that declaration may be quite pricey. A full set of gel nails, for instance, can easily go for $50. So when someone pays for a whole set of nails for us, it demonstrates love—by honoring our culture and accepting our creative selections and personhood.

Let Me Count The Ways: Celebrating Black Love In All Its Forms

How do you and your partner show one another love? Tell us by posting about it with the hashtag #LetMeCountTheWaysESSENCE.


Wedding rings are an emblem of devotion. The symbolism behind them has much to do with their circular shape, which represents wholeness and timelessness. Circles don’t have any starting or end and, like love, are limitless.

As with nail art, ancient Egyptians pioneered the marriage ring. They believed the band represented everlasting life, love and, ultimately, a spiritual portal. Thus they might exchange rings of affection product of woven reeds or leather.


Soul food is a staple in Black households. We whip it as much as have fun special occasions—or simply to encourage togetherness amongst family and friends. From collard greens and macaroni and cheese to candied yams, cornbread and catfish, each dish proves that the strategy to anyone’s heart is thru their belly.

In his book Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America, Frederick Douglass Opie points out that our enslaved ancestors within the South needed to make do with the food provided, which influenced our current eating traditions. The rations normally included discarded meats or dairy products—nothing may very well be wasted. They decided to take those scraps and create a phenomenon. With modern soul food, we have fun our foremothers’ culinary creativity. Out of great struggle has come wondrous innovation. With each intentionally crafted plate we fix, we deepen our love and respect for each other.

Let Me Count The Ways: Celebrating Black Love In All Its Forms

PDA is an ongoing series about BIPOC queer community normalizing displays of affection in public and domestic spaces. Photographer Kadar R, Small, who captured this glad scene, explores tenderness and intimacy inside various relationships.


Nature’s Blessings was the name of the hair pomade my mom used on wash day every Sunday. It was emerald green and smelled like a mix of rosemary, sage and peppermint. After blow-drying my hair, she would sit me within the kitchen, pull out a mustard-colored rat-tail comb, part my hair into sections, after which grease my scalp.

This was a sacred ritual for us. Every week can be the identical routine. There was a way of closeness and intimacy as my mother applied the grease to my tender head and smoothed my edges. It was a loving gesture, meant to nurture the health of my hair. Many Black kids experienced the identical custom growing up.

Without access to their usual herbal regimens, our enslaved ancestors were forced to innovate recent treatments that might moisturize and protect their hair from harsh weather conditions, fleas and parasites. Lots of them used bacon grease on their scalps. Centuries later, Madam CJ Walker created a pomade that was a modernized version of the hair grease our ancestors had invented. Her twentieth century scalp-healing formula led to hair grease developing its own identity and category—and generated a marketplace for a Black beauty boom.

Just like braid take-downs, hair greasing, because it pertains to romantic love, may be artful and sexy. Your partner not only signs up for an act of service but shows their willingness to see and accept you in your most bare state. It’s an invite to deeper connection through a non-public act of intimacy, one which may be erotic even. Black women don’t play on the subject of our hair, and for us to trust our partners with helping to take care of our tresses means every little thing.

Let Me Count The Ways: Celebrating Black Love In All Its Forms

Libation ceremonies are a strategy to honor family and friends who’ve passed on. Within the midst of demonstrating a pair’s love through a marriage, we’re sure to recollect those that should not here to have fun—especially after they’ve profoundly impacted the couple’s lives.


Although wedding ceremonies are joyous, they may also have an air of somber reflection. As partners have fun their union, additionally they honor deceased family members who passed away before the special occasion. Through a libation ceremony, Black couples pour out a liquid as an offering to a departed person’s spirit, deity or soul.

The observance isn’t limited to weddings and romantic ceremonies. Spiritual-libation occasions are sometimes held amongst close friends to honor family members who’ve passed on. On Tupac’s 1994 track “Pour Out a Little Liquor,” he describes how he’s selecting to recollect his lost family and friends by performing this rite.

This tradition exists not only in our communities but globally. It’s practiced in Africa, Israel, Greece, Rome, Asia and South America, to call a couple of cultures that share within the ritual. As with all expressions of affection in motion, the libation ceremony is a call for uniting. On this case, the deceased and the living unite again through love.

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