The Beautiful Struggle: Kehinde and Nadia Gaynor share their journey in love

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It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Monday night and my husband, Andre’, and I are pulling up to New Horizon International Church on Ellis Avenue. I look around through the windshield, as my husband contemplates where to park, and memories of my youth begin to seep in. I remember traveling to this same building and this same parking lot – although this one is newly paved – to buy groceries with my dad and my neighbor, Mrs. Sandra Purvis, when it was Sack-n-Save. 

The building where the now defunct grocery store was housed saw a revitalization when it was purchased by Bishop Ronnie Crudup, Sr. of New Horizon Church in 2009 – its purpose changing from selling ingredients that made soul food to spreading the Gospel of Christ as food for the soul. The church was originally founded in September 1987. Bishop Crudup was instructed by the Holy Spirit to, “go establish a church that would be on a new horizon,” and the church has sustained itself for 33 years, becoming a staple in the South Jackson community well before its “Jesus year”.

As I look back up to the 8,000+ square feet behemoth, I see two doors and wonder if we will go into the doors on the left that lead to the sanctuary or through the doors on the right that lead to the church’s administrative offices. I call Kehinde Gaynor, who I’m meeting there along with his wife, Nadia, and he informs me that he’s pulling up and will let us in through the administrative offices. 

Once they arrive, Kehinde strides towards the building as if it’s a second home. Which, over time, I believe that it has become just that to him. Kehinde moved to Jackson from New York in 1997 – 10 years after New Horizon was established. His father, Alim Gaynor, was dedicated to educating Black children and so he, his twin boys – Kehinde and Taiwo – and his wife and his sons’ stepmother at the time, Nancy Gaynor, sojourned to the Deep South to work along Bob Moses and the Algebra Project. 

Nadia Gaynor held the door open for me and Andre’ with an inviting smile. As the second oldest child of Bishop Crudup, she has grown up alongside the church from its infancy. We travel through the foyer of the administrative wing and take socially distanced steps up to the second floor. Andre’ and I are lifted up, courtesy of the elevator, and Kehinde and Nadia take the steps up. Our paths meet at the dimly lit hallway and Kehinde guides us from left to right until we reach a conference room. 

As we search to find the right location in the room to set up the camera and lights, I’m struck by the thought of how much time has gone by. In full transparency, I’ve known Kehinde since I was in elementary school. When he moved to Jackson, he started working at CompUSA, becoming the first African American certified Apple technician in the state. 

My mom, Alice Tisdale, happened to need help with computers and was so taken by his expertise that she offered him a job working for the Jackson Advocate. He and his brother, Taiwo, began doing layout and design for our publication, and I became Kehinde’s biggest fan, especially of the music he and his brother produced –  a claim acknowledged by Kehinde and envied by my mother. 

I was in high school when Kehinde met Nadia. She was 19 and he was 22. And I knew then that I would have to give up being his number one fan. That spot would from then on be held by the love of his life. As we sat down to record, I was excited to understand this couple’s trajectory over almost two decades. 

This is a story about Black love told by the two people who’ve experienced it together. It’s not about rainbows and butterflies. It’s more along the lines of learning how to revel in the awesome and mystifying lightening when it strikes and rolling along with the thunder when it follows. It’s a story about commitment just like Kehinde experienced when his father dedicated his life to his love of enlightening young minds to understand that knowledge is power. It’s a story about growth and cultivation just like Nadia experienced through the work that her family has been able to achieve through New Horizon Church, taking buildings and houses that others had abandoned and create new purposes for them and seeing and welcoming broken souls searching to be made whole through a relationship with God in Christ Jesus. It’s a story about a beautiful struggle. 

Kehinde and Nadia have two distinct versions of how they met and began dating. They were both looking to see each other at church that day and a phone call sealed the deal. 

Nadia: We actually met at the old church on Belvedere Drive in 2001. Yeah. And so that was the summer and I’d just finished my freshman year in college. Then, our church was a little smaller, and during that time if somebody was new, you were like, “Okay, who are these new people?” So, I noticed him. I think I asked my mom, “Who were they?” And she was like, “They just joined the church.” As time went on, we were kind of looking at each other.

I noticed him kind of looking at me. I was kind of looking at him. So one day after church, we just smiled at each other. I wasn’t going up to him to say anything. I was too shy. And we just kept going. Then, the next Sunday, I said that I was going to worked up the nerve to just speak and say hello. I remember I went to church at eight o’clock that morning, and then I went home to change my clothes. I was going to go back up there for 11 o’clock service, because I knew most time  he came to 11 o’clock service. 

I went home and actually fell asleep. By the time I got up, I was like, “Oh my goodness. Church is almost over. So, I’m headed out the door and then the telephone rings. I answered the phone, and it’s him on the other line. He’s like, “May I speak to Nadia? And I’m like, “This is she.” And so from that day on, it’s been Kehinde and Nadia.

Kehinde: The first time I saw Nadia, she was dancing because she was on dance ministry, and I was really engaged. I wasn’t being perverted or anything, I was just watching her really being involved in what she was doing. She was not paying attention to anyone. She was just worshiping to God. And I was drawn to it. I didn’t really see young ladies that focused on ministry. I was really attracted to that., I asked a friend of hers what her name was. Then, I got her number out of the White Pages and called her up. The day I called he was the day she was actually coming to the church to speak to me for the first time. So it worked out.

Principles of a relationship we learn from our parents 

Nadia: For me, just sticking together and staying committed. That was something that I saw from my parents. They’ve been married now for 46 years. Growing up and seeing them work through things and sticking together. That was really important to me to have a partner that I felt like I could depend on.

Kehinde: I would say for myself, I grew up totally opposite. A lot of the families that I saw didn’t stay together. They were divorced. My mother and father divorced when I was around four so I didn’t really get to see that father/mother relationship in the home. And that’s something that I think I’ve always desired. It was just a dream of mine. I know most guys don’t say I want to have a wife and a family, but I think that’s something that I’ve always wanted because I didn’t really get to fully experience it as a young person.

The first date

Kehinde: We went to the movies and then afterwards, we went to eat at Waffle House. *The couple remembers that it was a Jet Li film, most likely Kiss of the Dragon, which was released the summer of 2001. 

Nadia: You paid for the movie, and I paid for the meal. 

Kehinde: Yeah, she insisted that she paid for it. 

Nadia: I actually picked Kehinde up.  

“That just goes to show how bad you want it to be with me,” Kehinde jokes. But there is validity to his claim because Nadia would partake in a lot more driving over the course of their courtship. That’s when she knew it was getting serious. 

Nadia: The whole summer, we were pretty much together. Then I went back to school to start my sophomore year of college. Just being away from each other was hard. I was like, “I really love this guy.” And, I knew it was getting serious. I was coming home every weekend to see him. We were talking on the phone all day and all night. 

Kehinde: Nadia was working in the children’s daycare at the church. And I would see her dealing with the children and she was just really good with kids. She just had this spirit that, and I just knew that’s going to be my wife. I told my mother that before I even met her. I said, “I found my wife” because it was an aura around her I was drawn to. I was the new guy at church, so when you’re new, you’ll usually get more attention. Especially if you’re serious about coming to church. I think that’s kind of appealing to women, but she wasn’t chasing after me. She wasn’t in my face. She wasn’t trying to know who I was. She would smile and keep keeping moving. And I was chasing after her.

The seriousness of their relationship was taken to another height when Nadia found out she was pregnant the next year. They both had to mature in various ways, even going to the lengths of apologizing in front of their congregation for having pre-marital sex. 

Kehinde: We had a child first, which is the backwards way of doing it, but it’s life. It was one of those things that we don’t regret, but we definitely don’t say, “Hey, you should do this this way.” I think there’s a way to do things. 

Nadia: And we worked through it. 

Kehinde: And a lot of people don’t make it that way. They’ll have kids and don’t stay together. I think we were blessed to be able to still stay together.

When Nadia found out that she was pregnant, she remembers feeling nervous and scared. 

Nadia: I was 20 years old, so I was very nervous. I’m in college, and I didn’t know what the future was going to be. Just thinking about how my parents were going to react was nerve wracking. I had to tell Kehinde and I just didn’t know what it was going to be, but it was hard. We made a choice to have our child.

At the time, school was still important to me and I made a decision that I’m still going to school. I think I sat out one semester when I had Amari.

I had the support of my family, and Kehinde would come over to the house since I was still staying with my parents. He would come over while I was at school at night to watch Omari for me and on the weekends so I could study. We really worked together during that time to get through it.

Kehinde carried the weight of figuring out what bringing another life into the world really meant, even contemplating if that life was even meant to be brought into the world.  

Kehinde: I remember when she told me that she was pregnant, I was actually driving from DC back to Mississippi and she said, I got to tell you something. I was like, “Oh, she’s going to break up with me.” I don’t even know what I did. And then when she told me, I was like, “Okaaaay, that’s it?” I knew that I wanted to be with her.

I even asked her, “What if we get an abortion?” Because we can’t take care of this child. We mulled over it for a little while. And I remember vividly God speaking to me. He gave me a whole poem out of it. He said, I don’t need to do that because if I run from this, I’m going to keep running from everything else. So it was just one of those decisions that even though it was hard, even though I couldn’t forecast what it was going to look like or feel like, I knew I loved her and I want it to be with her. You don’t quit when it gets hard. 

Nadia: We both had to grow up. And we just made a commitment to stay together. We were always friends first and having that friendship was important.

Kehinde: Yeah. I agree with that. There were times when it was really challenging because I grew up in a single parent home, even though my father was very active in my life, I was afraid of repeating this cycle, and I didn’t want to do that. I had to learn, and I’m still learning, as I go, because I didn’t have the role models, the people, and the guides to show me how to be this husband or be this father in the home. It was really tough for me, I’m glad she stuck with me and was patient.

You were too young to understand, 

Just a child back then. 

I know you love me deep inside, 

And its extra hard without a man.

Within life, we make choices, 

And you had to take your stand.

But I don’t want to die, Mama. 

Why is there blood on my hands? 

Just abort me?

 Like I was never part of your plan. 

I had dreams and aspirations, 

But now they’re slowly fading, like my heart, and it’s a scary.

 I wish that you can hold me

Or look into my eyes. 

Tell me words that will console.

 It was love. And I felt it when you placed

 headphones on your stomach.

And I got my first taste of hate when you said, this was never what you wanted.

 How can you constantly pick 

from a tree and never plant one seed? 

A man hiding behind his fears. 

I see right through your fatigues. 

What I’m asking for is time. 

Must I beg and I plead, 

not to die inside this womb, 

Before getting a chance to breathe. 

*A poem Kehinde wrote for his unborn first child

The next step for Kehinde and Nadia was solidifying their bond and their promise to cultivate a life and a family together through the covenant of marriage. 

Kehinde: I went and bought a nice ring. I went to her dad’s office, and I told him that I wanted to marry his daughter. He was very welcoming. I didn’t want to make it a spectacle. We were at my house for Mother’s Day. And she came by, and Amari was there with us in the car seat, so it was just us three. And I just proposed her right there. And she laughed at me. 

Nadia: I did not laugh at you. It was like a nervous laugh. 

Kehinde: I was expecting her to cry, all that kind of stuff. And she laughed and I was just like, that’s not what I expected. 

Nadia: It was random. We went out somewhere that evening, and I think I dropped you off at the house or something. And you were like come in. And I’m trying to get this baby to the house and put the baby in the bed. And he said, I have some for you. He gave me an envelope with a card. So I take out the card out and I’m like, okay, it’s a nice mother’s day card. And he said, you missed something. So I looked down and I see this ring. Then, he’s on his knees proposing. So I didn’t laugh at him. It was a nervous laughter. 

Preparing for a wedding can be stressful for the most down-to-earth couple living among us, but on top of trying to finish school and providing for Amari, the road to the union of Kehinde Gaynor and Nadia Crudup was a bit bumpy.

Nadia: If I’m completely honest. We didn’t have the wedding I wanted to have. I would say that it was a hard day for me. In a sense, I felt like I had to do it, especially being a preacher’s kid. I really wanted something smaller. I felt like I didn’t really have a voice. And in the midst of that, Kehinde and I were arguing so much during that time. He had his way of wanting to do things, and I had my way of wanting to do things and it was just a rough time. 

We weren’t even speaking to each other on our wedding day. We actually had an argument the evening of the rehearsal dinner. Like we were, we were arguing. I remember I called him the day of, and I was like, “What is wrong with you?” And he wouldn’t even talk to me. And I’m thinking, “Oh my God, I’m about to marry this man, and we ain’t even talking each other. What is going on?”

 So walking down the aisle, I’m thinking my dad is trying to get me to somebody who ain’t even talking to me. I got to leave the comfort and the security of my daddy to go to somebody that I’m honestly not even knowing if he’s going to be able to take care of me, if he’s going to give me the same security. 

Yes, I loved him. I honestly can say he is my best friend. But I had my doubts. The wedding was not a good day for me. It was all a blur.

Kehinde: It was hard for me too. On our wedding day, I was nervous. Me and my brother actually got into a physical fight right before the wedding at the house. It was crazy. And then my best friend, he slapped me because he was trying to slap sense back into me. And I thanked him for that afterwards because I needed it. It was just a lot of anxiety. 

And I always thought for the longest time that a lot of the problems that we had in our marriage was because we didn’t have this perfect wedding. It seemed like for years that we were always arguing around our anniversary. That was my thinking, but the wedding wasn’t cursed; the marriage wasn’t cursed, but if I could do it over again, I definitely would do it over again because I wasn’t present. 

Sixteen years later, Kehinde and Nadia have stood by each other through the inevitable ups and downs of married life and they note that commitment is one of the things that has kept them through the rough patches. 

Kehinde: Nadia has become my mirror. I would see the way I treated not only my wife but the world and the way she reacted to me. So I had to make a decision. I couldn’t continue to hurt the person I love. I couldn’t continue to be someone offensive or not show empathy. I had to make changes and it’s hard. Marriage is probably one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done, but it’s also one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. 

I’m going to do whatever it takes, even if it’s uncomfortable, to try to work at making sure that this is a unified home. I have to things that I said I would never do that I’ve ended up doing, and things that she says she’d never do, she’s ended up doing. It wasn’t about what we thought at the time’ it’s about what is going to work for here and now, and you have to compromise to get to that place. 

Nadia: It was challenging because when I grew up, and I saw marriage everywhere. On the flip side, he didn’t really see that. My expectations were different coming in. A lot of things that I expected for him to know or to do, he didn’t know. It really forced me to learn how to communicate my needs because it wasn’t something that he didn’t know how to do.  

That was something that I really had to come to peace of out. We don’t have to be like anybody else. My expectations may not be met, but at the end of the day, we had to work through that and work together. We were coming together from two separate households and creating a new home for us in our family. 

That process took The Gaynors about seven years of their marriage to work out. 

Nadia: It was hard. 

Kehinde: I think I packed my bags twice.  

Nadia: I packed mine too, but we always came back together. I think the thing for us was we were never ashamed to ask for help. Before we got married, we were going to premarital counseling, and even after we were married, we were still going to seek wise counsel from couples. That was one of the things that I think really helped us. We were struggling, but we had wise people that we could call. We had people that were really there to support us and people that really wanted us to stay together and grow. Just having a couple be honest with us and say some of the things that you all are going through are normal and you all are going to make it because we made it. That was something that really helped us know that we could work through anything that came our way.

Kehinde: I think there’s a phase where you’re kind of trying to figure out where are we going from here? Are we doing the same thing over and over? Are we growing? And you kind of analyzing where you started and where you are. It’s a really funny kind of phase where it doesn’t feel like there’s growth, but that time is creating growth. You just really don’t see or readily identify it. 

And I think there was another phase after that where I started learning empathy. I started hearing things that she had been telling me for years. I remember vividly a time when something clicked and I was like, well, maybe I need to approach this differently. And I saw a shift in her. It was one of those things where I had an aha moment where you’re hearing me. I’m actually healing, and we’re moving past this. It gave us a boost in our relationship. We can get through things – things that seem like we may not be able to ever get through – we can get through them and grow and move along. So that was encouraging. 

We actually renewed our vows. To celebrate 10 years, we went away to Jamaica, and we did it the way that we wanted to do it. It was just us. Nobody else, just us committing to each other. That was something that was really, really special.

Kehinde: The vow renewal was perfect. 

In addition to their individual and relationship growth, Kehinde and Nadia have also added to their familial unit. 

In addition to their individual and relationship growth, Kehinde and Nadia have also added to their familial unit. 

Nadia: We have three children., We have of course, Amari. He’s our oldest. He’ll be 18 soon. Then, we have Ayinde. He’s our baby boy. He’s 13. And then, we have Alora, our baby girl. She’s seven. Personality wise, they’re very creative. They got it from their father because I do not have a creative bone in my body. I enjoy seeing like their creativity. They can all draw like Kehinde. They’re musical; they can do a lot of things. At the same time, they have both of our traits. Amari is very warm-hearted. He’s sensitive like me. Ayinde is too; he just does not always show this to other people. Alora – she’s like her dad; she can kind of just pop off. And Kehinde is very, very funny, and Alora can tell jokes. she’s the one in the house that has everybody cracking up.

I love our children. I love our family. They’re all so different. but that’s what makes them who they are and what makes them special. We created them together, and we’re taking the time out to make sure that we put everything in them that they need. Of course, we’re not perfect parents, but we try to do our best with them. Just seeing the fruit of them come from our marriage, that’s something that I’m really proud of. 

Kehinde: My hope is that they do what they love and choose something that gives them purpose. I don’t want them to ever just feel like they want to go work somewhere just to get a check. I want them to find that thing that they love and I’ll support it. My youngest son Ayinde is building a keyboard from scratch. And he wants a computer that he wants to build from scratch. It will cost a lot of money, but those are the types of things that are important investments for our children. So it doesn’t matter what it costs. My oldest, he likes wearing Jordans and I told him that he’s going to buy that with his own money. So he works hard for his money. He saves his money. He wants to actually get into reselling sneakers. As long as he’s thinking in a way where he can not just be a consumer, but be a producer of things, I’m going to support that. 

Kehinde: I want them to just choose somebody to be real with them. Don’t look at the outer appearance and just fall in love with that. You have to fall in love with everything because these things are going to fade. They’re going to be times where you’re not going to look your best and feel your best. So you’re going to have to have something that is real. I  hope that they’ll choose someone that’s going to really love them for them and not for something that is superficial.

Nadia: I hope that they just stay true to who they are as people, because I met Kehinde when I was young. And so I didn’t always know who I was prior to us becoming married and then even after we were married. So it took me a long time to just be comfortable with who I am. And so I just want them to be comfortable and confident in who they are. I work hard to like instill confidence into my children so that they can know, without a shadow of a doubt, who they are as people. A lot of times, people think, “Oh, when I become married, I’m going to be whole or this person is going to complete me.” That’s not true.

You have to be a complete and whole individual before you decide to spend your life with somebody. I just hope that they have that confidence and that they choose people who are kind to them; they choose people who love God; they choose people who love them, people that they can be friends with. I think a lot of times people don’t understand the importance of just having a friend. We’re married. We’re spouses, but at the end of the day, Kehinde is my friend. That’s my guy. I hope that our children have somebody they enjoy being around who they like.

Kehinde: And just to add on to something specifically she said, people don’t always know who they are before they get into a relationship. So, you definitely want to be with someone that is patient enough to wait on you to develop into that person that they need you to be. 

Nadia: And be okay when you do change. Because, of course, we are not the same people we were at 19 and 22 when we met or 22 and 25 when we got married. We’re different people. We have grown and we have changed over the 16 years that we have been married, which is a good thing. You have to learn to grow with your spouse. I think a lot of times people marry people and they think, “Oh, they’re going to stay this way forever.” Being okay with who you are, but also being okay with growing and having a spouse who is willing to be okay with you growing and not feeling intimidated by your growth. 

And in their careers, Kehinde and Nadia have been able to see each other grow and compliment each other.

Kehinde: I think what we do has been complimentary to one another. I do graphics, marketing, and all types of media design. So I’ve been able to help her develop some of her marketing needs. She’s helped me with my photography and giving me opinions on my graphics. The name of my business is Exsail, and the name of Nadia’s business, which is a counseling business, is New Life Goals. We’ve just been able to work together on things, build together and assist each other. 

Nadia: Kehinde has been self-employed since after the first year we were married and so he’s been doing this for a very long time. I am a licensed professional counselor, and I actually opened my own private practice last year. And so now, I’m a full-time entrepreneur. We are really having to depend on each other, trust each other, and trust in God. God has been really good to us. There’s been a lot of hard seasons of not knowing sometimes how are we’re gonna make it, but we really had to work together as a team. Those early years when he was building his business, I was working full-time and just being supportive of him. Now, I’m building my business and he’s supporting me. It’s just been a blessing just having somebody who understands the ups and downs of building something. And it’s great to do it together.

Another blessing in disguise for The Gaynors was the pandemic. 

Kehinde: I would say COVID-19 has afforded us the ability to spend a lot of quality time with our families. We’re able to do hings that we put off because we were so busy and occupied. We’re able to sit together as a family, eat dinner together, talk to each other at the table. Those are those things that really matter. Those are those things that really count, as our family grows.These are the things that they’re going to remember, and they’re possibly going to do with their families. So I think I’m just realizing that you’ve got to take time to just slow down and be intentional.  I think that’s what COVID has showed me in respect to the family. 

If the Lord is willing, Kehinde and Nadia still have a long way to go in their life’s journey together. Summing up their 16 years together, the words perseverance and long-suffering are the words that they would use to describe their marriage thus far. 

Kehinde: It hasn’t been easy. We have gone through the fire, even though people might look from the outside and say, “Oh, this is a perfect marriage.” It has been very tough. We have fought individual battles within ourselves – my own, her own – to try to come together. We’ve had our own internal battles. We’ve had couple battles. So just persevering through all of that to still stay together – that’s a powerful word. 

You have to be long-suffering. And long-suffering is not a bad word. It is a very good word because that means for me, sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do, say things that you don’t want to say for the betterment of your partner. It might just be an apology. It might be your sympathy. It might just be you listening, and it’s amazing the results that can come from it if you just do it. But a lot of times you want to go with what we want to do, and we want to be in our feelings and say the things that we want to say, and it can hurt more than it can help. 

I call our relationship to the beautiful struggle because it’s beautiful, but it’s a struggle.  I think perseverance is one of those things that allows us to keep going forward. 

DeAnna Tisdale Johnson has stepped into the role of publisher of her family legacy, the Jackson Advocate. Since March 2020, she has led the publication to once again become an award-winning newspaper with a new logo and website to boot. She is a Jackson native, graduating from Murrah High School and Tougaloo College. She is also classically trained in vocal performance, and, though she’s never broken a glass, she’s known to still hit a high note or two.

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The Beautiful Struggle: Kehinde and Nadia Gaynor share their journey in love

By DeAnna Tisdale Johnson
February 11, 2021