Brick City Love: Power Couples who are helping to shape Newark

power couples new tableuAll photos: Tamara Fleming/Tamara Fleming Photography

This Valentine’s Day, we wanted to celebrate just a handful of the many couples who are shaping Newark together, using their love for both the city and for each other to power their efforts.

Below are our conversations with a few Newark couples who are doing just that. They’re making their impact on the city as small business owners, civic workers, educators, environmentalists, artists, professionals, social workers, and community advocates. Some are Newark natives, and others are new to the city.

We asked each couple how they met, how Newark factors into their love story, and what Newark has to offer couples. Single and looking? Fear not — we also asked them for a few date night recommendations.

We’re calling the lovebirds featured below “power couples.” Our contention is that power couples don’t have to be marquee names known coast to coast (though we wouldn’t put it past any of these couples to get there eventually). They can also be the homegrown duos working sincerely, tirelessly, and together on behalf of the city they love.

All couples portraits were taken for this feature by Tamara Fleming of Tamara Fleming Photography.

“Kaimara”: Kai & Tamara Campbell

Native Newarker Kai has worked to attract business to Newark, and Tamara is a marketing pro and entrepreneur who has worked extensively with local restaurants, founded the local website, and is working to create networks for information sharing, support, and fun for Newark mothers. Together, the parents of two young children recently launched Burger Walla, an Indian cuisine-themed burger joint, on Halsey Street.


BCL: How would you define a power couple?

Kai: My definition of a power couple is a bond shared by two [people] that makes both of them better, bringing out the best in each individual for the good of the work. A power couple does things together, pushing forward, with a positive influence.

Tamara: It’s also a couple that is a part of their community, can influence their community, and is helping make changes for the better.

BCL: How did you meet, and how does Newark factor into your love story?

Tamara: Newark is our love story!

I was hired by the city to coordinate Newark Restaurant Week, and Kai was working for the city. We spoke for the first time at the launch party for [the local blog] GlocallyNewark, and as I was falling for Kai, I was falling in love with the city too.

Some of our first dates were around the city, like lunch at Assaggini Di Roma, drinks at Blue Mirror, and picnics in Branch Brook Park. We lived on Halsey Street (where Kai had lived for years) and had a very Newark wedding downtown. As business owners and residents, we are strong proponents of supporting local, and for our wedding we used over a dozen Newark businesses, venues, and talent. We are still very much Newarkers and are raising our two daughters here.

Why did you choose to launch this venture together?

Tamara: I have always believed a strong relationship is similar to a successful business partnership: to run smoothly and effectively, each one must have their strengths and weaknesses, and strong communication is the key. We have each other’s loyalty and support in all we do – opening Burger Walla was just another venture.

Kai: Tamara was the inspiration behind me going out and starting companies. She is my business North Star in a way, as a confidante, mentor, and partner. To have such a strong businesswoman – she’s had her own marketing agency for 16 years – as a resource, it was and is a blessing. We work so well as a couple, it would be foolish not to try to beg her to be a partner in everything I do.

Business is just who we are at the end of the day. We see needs and our passions, and try to match them always if we undertake a venture. Business is an extension of our marriage.

What does Newark have to offer young couples?

Kai: We are at an interesting time, where there are opportunities all over the city, whether in education, living, or creating. We are creators, strivers, and pushers, which is what couples naturally are.

When you’re young, you have so much energy, and that needs outlets. Bring that positive energy here and express it in any way that you can. Even children count – they’re the fruits of such glorious labor and energy!

Tamara: In the fall, we hosted a Newark couples social to get to know other young couples that have made Newark home and hope to continue that this year. And two years ago after becoming a parent, myself and a friend started Newark Mommies to create a community of moms to share resources, plan playdates, and more. It’s been a great way to introduce those new to Newark to other couples as well so they know they’re not alone.

BCL: Where are your favorite places to hang out in town?

Tamara: With our time being tied up with [their new venture] Burger Walla and having two kids under 2, we don’t really get out in a traditional sense. However as a mom, I’m a big fan of all our green spaces in the city during the summer – the splash park and orange boardwalk at the Riverfront in the Ironbound, Military Park, and the farmers markets. With cold weather, we frequent the Newark Library system. If time allows we – especially Kai – enjoy the arts, music, and indie scene downtown.

Kai: Since Skipper’s closed, I would have to say Halsey Street or Newark Airport. Halsey Street represents the past, present, and future of our city, while the airport is a constant reminder of how we take Newark with us around the world.

Besides Burger Walla, in what other areas have you worked to influence Newark?

Kai: I worked in economic development under both Sharpe James and Cory Booker, in real estate development, as a leader in the Halsey Merchant Association, and as a board member in what was once Newark Screens (now CityPlex12).

Tamara helped the city run the first Newark Restaurant Week, coordinated the largest Halsey Street block parties, started, ran three ShopLocal campaigns, serves on the board of the Friends of the Newark Library, is one of the founders of Newark Mommies, and volunteers in many more committees and organizations.


“Jherick”: Jheryn & Alturrick Kenney

Jheryn and Alturrick’s relationship happened because of chemistry, shared values, and one incredible stroke of luck in an airport. Alturrick, manager of port activities for the City of Newark, and Jheryn, a corporate sales professional, have actively corralled a social network of like-minded young couples in Newark. And move over North West, get back Blue Ivy Carter — the couple’s young daughter, affectionately known as “BK” (Baby Kenney), has become something of a local celebrity as the couple shares highlights of her development with friends on Facebook.


How did you two meet?

Jheryn: We met at the Blue Mirror. I was at a scholarship fundraiser costume party for the National Sales Network around Halloween 2008, and I had recently become single. My friend Kwabena, who was the president of the organization at the time, said he had someone he wanted me to meet. He called Alturrick, who was his childhood friend. He happened to be on a date…

Alturrick: …I wasn’t on a date at the club. I was on a date in another location.

Jheryn: Yeah, so he ended his date early and came up to the Blue Mirror. I saw him when he came into the room, but I didn’t want to seem overly interested. Keep in mind that everyone in the room has a costume except him. He sticks out his hand and says, “Alturrick Kenney. Nice to meet you.”

I said, “Nice to meet you. Who are you supposed to be?” because he wasn’t dressed in a costume, but he seemed so official.

And his response was, “Working black man.” And that was fine by me.

Alturrick: She had on a pageant outfit that said “Miss Congeniality.” [To Jheryn: You thought I forgot that!]

[Jheryn to Alturrick: I did.]

Alturrick: When the party was over, I asked if she wanted to connect. She said yes. When I asked what she was doing the next day, she said she had to wake up at 7 in the morning.

Jheryn: He asked me if I needed a wake up call, and I wanted to test if he was going to be true to his word, so I said “sure”.

Alturrick: I set my alarm for 6:57 a.m., and at 6:59 I started making the phone call. At 7 o’clock I pressed “Send,” and of course she woke up. We started dating.

Jheryn: I always thought he was a great guy, but [over time] I had concerns that we might not work because I’m Christian and he’s Muslim, so we broke up a few times. After the last time, I was coming back to Newark from Phoenix and had a layover in Charlotte. There were like five people in the area where I was, as I was going from one concourse to the other, and there was this one gentleman in a Johnston and Murphy men’s shop. I saw him from behind and thought he had nice stature. Then he turned around, and I said to my friend on the phone, “You’re not going to believe it.”

It was Alturrick. He’d randomly gotten up that morning and decided to go to Charlotte. Who does that? And on top of that, he’s already at his destination, yet he’s in the airport shopping? Who does that?

Alturrick: I don’t even have Johnston and Murphy clothes, either. I don’t even have Johnson and Johnson!

Jheryn: I really think it was a divine appointment. Alturrick was put there for me to take another look. And here we are!

How would you define a power couple?

Jheryn: I think that power is about living a life that’s true to you, and one of the things Alturrick told me before we got married was, “I serve the city of Newark and the people in Newark. This is who I care about. This is what’s true to me. And I’m going to continue to do this.” So I think for him, his power is in doing what’s true to him.

I think the way that we support one another – anything and everything I do, he supports me, and vice versa – and work together to build each other so that we’re better than we would be individually, is power. And we never stand in each other’s way.

Alturrick: I think also being in a space where we’re trying to self-improve and become better than who we are, and make sure whatever we do is a reflection of who we are. When I met Jheryn, she was in sales, but she was also always helping build women. And she’s still that – a person who’s consistently building herself and the people she surrounds herself with. She makes sure she surrounds herself with ambitious women.

Living in an environment where there may be a lot of negativity, you don’t get that sense from who she is. I think being powerful is the ability to see opportunity in any circumstance and take full advantage of it. That’s something that Jheryn exemplifies, and something that we try to do as a couple.

How would you pitch Newark to young couples and families?

Jheryn: That’s easy — and I talk about this all the time, because I’ve learned to love Newark over the years. One of the best things about Newark is that even though it’s a city, it still has a small town feel. It’s like [the television show] Cheers, where everybody knows your name. In other places, people are so consumed with themselves, but in Newark, everyone is so interconnected — especially people who are doing something positive.

When we had BK – our baby girl – I can’t tell you how many people brought food and gifts and things like that. When we’re out and about, people will stop and talk to us and ask about her. I think that’s why Newark is so attractive — there’s a sense of community here.

Alturrick: Our daughter is like a local celebrity. I think people really care about her growth and her development. They enjoy seeing her get older, and they enjoy seeing us be parents for the first time. It’s a real example of a village.

And there’s a lot of great people – and specifically great couples – in Newark. You just have to find it. One of the things we did is connect ourselves with other young couples who are ambitious and striving to become what they hope to become. You can look right here and find people who are married, who love themselves, who love their wives, who love their husbands, and aren’t shy about expressing their commitment to one another. That’s been the Newark that I’ve known, and I try to always convince people to look beyond the [reputation] and get the experience.

Where are your favorite places to go on dates in Newark?

Jheryn: Duke’s [Southern Table]!

Alturrick: Vonda’s!

Jheryn: Duke’s Southern Table is our absolute favorite. Vonda’s is our second favorite. Taste [Venue] is great. Also, [Alva Tavern at] Hotel Indigo.

Alturrick: We go to Burger Bound, Francesca’s [Pizza], and Mercato Tomato Pie. Oh, and Burger Walla — Kai and Tamara are a great couple.


“Gabrielabeth”: Gabriela Celeiro & Elizabeth Salerno

Gabby and Liz share a love of the environment, animals, art, and justice. The pair – a social worker and Rutgers professor, respectively – moved to Newark in 2012, and made a robust life teaching, serving LGBT youth, becoming neighborhood caretakers, making new friends, and getting to know Newark.  On October 21, 2013, they were among seven same-sex couples who were married at City Hall by then-mayor Cory Booker, a milestone for equal marriage rights in New Jersey.


Let’s go back to the beginning – what was your first meeting like?

Liz: We met at the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) in New York City. That was in 2008. We had met a couple times before and acknowledged each other, but didn’t really have a lot of time to connect.

But this was the time that we got physically near each other, and there was a real strong connection, whereas before we’d be running in two different directions. One night a bunch of us were out together, and I offered to walk her to her next destination. And what we always reflect on now is that our hands kept hitting each other, and we were like, “Why can’t we get away from each other?”

Gabby: Liz had been a counselor for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth for five years in New York City, and I’d just been hired as a sexual health educator, and when we met it was just an instant connection. I wasn’t looking to date at the time, but it felt like there were magnets connecting us. We connected as friends before it was romantic.

You met in New York City — how did you come to live in Newark?

Liz: Gabby was still in school for her Master’s in Social Work, and she had one more year to go, but HMI really wanted her in Newark to work with youth, and Gabby really jumped at the opportunity to move here.

We moved from New Brunswick in 2012. They call it a city, but it’s really small. We were looking for something with more of a scene, more connections to New York City, more connections to a larger artistic movement, because we were bored. So when the opportunity arose [for Gabby], my job [at Rutgers] allowed me to switch offices to Newark. We found a really amazing place to live – Newark really allows you to move into places that are old and have personality and character.

Gabby: Our friend Rachel is amazing and does a lot in the community, and she told me about the environmental movement here, the artist movement here. I knew I was going to be able to come in and get involved in a real community here.

What did the move do for your relationship?

Gabby: We’ve become good friends with local artists in our community, and we support them at local arts events, hang out at their houses, go to their studios. We plant trees in the neighborhood. It’s makes us a better couple, because we can do things together that we really care about. There’s almost so much to do that we don’t have to leave. That’s something that Liz and I enjoy.

Liz: Gabby and I are different – I’m cautious, and she takes more risks, so we really balance each other – but when it comes to what we value, we’re 99.9% the same. If we see an animal that’s hurt in the road, we’ll stop, get it, and give it a burial.  People in the neighborhood think we’re insane, but that’s what we love. We’re aligned in the way we look at the environment, at the way people contribute to it. Here in Newark, there are incinerators, we’re surrounded by an airport, there’s highways going through it — it isn’t healthy. We’re very committed to Newark’s healing. Not just the people, but the land, too, because that can make for a better quality of life.

Gabby: But it’s really interesting, because neighbors around us are starting to say, “Oh, you two feed the birds. You water the trees. You pick up garbage.” The ladies next to us that run the laundromat started planting tomato plants. So I do think that there has been an opportunity to invigorate the community — it’s little things that make the community better.

As a same sex-couple, at first we were definitely stared at, and now it’s interesting to see that we’re being recognized for what we do in the community, and not just our sexuality. It’s not just, “Oh my god, there’s these lesbians,” which I definitely felt a lot more at first. It’s interesting to see the shift from being an “other” to being [considered] part of the community, and having that respect. Or at least being tolerated. But there’s been many people who have totally welcomed us.

You were married at Newark City Hall when same-sex marriage was legalized in the state. How did that come to be?

Liz: That was largely Gabby being noticed for the work that she does.

She had been volunteering in the Newark pride community, been involved in the peace parade with the Barat Foundation, had been doing mentoring and counseling for the LGBT youth community in Newark – Gabby never says no to anybody. I think that from there, they wanted to choose people that were dedicated to the community, that they know love each other, and that have a devotion to social justice not just for LGBT people, but for people in the black community, those fighting for gender equality, people with disabilities — those are things that we’re passionate about.

It really undermines your relationship to not be recognized. You have this love for each other, but to have people really put you in that “other” category — it does something to the way you operate in society, like you are less than. It’s a heartbreaking thing. So people understood that [with the City Hall marriage ceremony] we would feel celebrated for once, not denigrated. For once. For once it was about being honored. And I think people thought we would get that.

Gabby: It wasn’t that easy. We had to go to the court several times. We had the ceremony at midnight, but at 9 p.m. they called us and said we had to go back to court again. It was like the Amazing Race of gay marriage.

But the courts in Newark were really sweet, and worked with us to make it happen. But then when we arrived, there were protesters. But it was still beautiful, and [then-mayor] Cory Booker and his team and the judges were wonderful. It was celebratory and beautiful and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

At the time I was a bilingual counselor for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth in Newark, and it felt great. I felt like, “I’m doing this for you. I want you to have the rights that you deserve.”

Liz: I have to say one thing about Cory Booker. I think that there’s a lot of distrust of politicians, and I didn’t get that sense that this was a political stunt for him. I’m a social worker, and I’m trained to understand where people are coming from, and I felt this genuine want to help from him.

Where in town do you like to eat, socialize, or just hang out?

Gabby: My favorite place to eat right now in Newark is probably Monk Room. I love 27Mix, and I love Coffee Cave — I love the stuff that goes on there, and the owner is cool about letting people have events there.

Liz: I like the new park that they put on the riverfront. You can see the skyline from there.

Gabby: We went there and they had a house music DJ and we danced outside — it’s nice.


“Tichaughn”: Vaughn & Tichanda Thompson

Woman has dog. Man “steals” dog. Woman and man fall in love, get married, move to Newark, and get down to business. Tichanda Thompson is an entrepreneur who has gotten several projects filmed in Newark, including for the Oprah Winfrey Network and a few top brands. Her husband Vaughn has gotten to know Newark in large part in his role as principal of Eagle Academy for Young Men, New Jersey’s first all-boy public school. How bankable is their love? You can find their family in a print campaign in the Bank of America on Broad and Market Streets.


BCL: How do you define a “power couple”?

Tichanda: I would define “power couple” as two people who can stand alone on their own merits, talents and strengths, but when combined with their partner, the chemistry creates a powerful union because each party compliments, encourages, supports and uplifts the other. They work as a team and a united front against all obstacles and distractions for a common goal.

Vaughn: I would emphasize that being a power couple is an ever-evolving journey that requires a collaborative effort of support and mutual admiration for each other’s pursuits.

Tichanda: We don’t work together per se, but I have gotten Vaughn and our kids booked in many print and commercial campaigns that I have been a part of. We now call it our “family business”!

BCL: How did you two meet?

Tichanda: I was in Virginia at a friend’s house planning to go to a Mike Tyson fight party, which was canceled last minute. All dressed up and no where to go, me and my friend decided to drive to Brooklyn…except I had my new puppy with me in a dog crate.

When we got to the party, I realized there were too many people inside to let her run around, so I left the crate outside with my friend and went inside to put our bags away. When I came back, [my friend] was standing outside with an empty crate! She said a guy had opened it and taken the dog and ran down the street. That guy was Vaughn.

Vaughn: Tichanda was surprised that someone had the audacity to run away – sort of – with her dog. A look of disbelief. It was funny though.

Tichanda: I ironically called my mom the following day and told her I’d met my husband. We were married 5 years later almost to the day. We actually won a wedding and honeymoon from that story – the winning entry was: “He stole my dog and stole my heart”!

What brought you to Newark?

Tichanda: After living together and getting married in New York, we decided to look for a home, and we ended up in Newark. We were drawn here by the city’s potential and close proximity to New York City. We loved our up-and-coming neighborhood as well as our neighbors, and the buzz surrounding the city and Cory Booker.

We decided to start our family here, and now we have two boys that were actually born in our home! I know no matter where we go, we will always have a real connection with Newark.

Vaughn: My students and their families are the best and most authentic connections to Newark. New businesses will develop, but the pulse of Newark is its residents. My students offer me a realistic perspective and true insight into the challenges and positives of living in Newark.

What are your favorite things to do in town?

Tichanda: We really enjoy the events that come to town – especially since we have two kids – so we are always at the Prudential Center or NJPAC at a concert, or at a sporting event. We like local events as well, like the Lincoln Park Music Festival, and the newly renovated Military Park and Riverfront Park. We also like 27 Mix and Dinosaur BBQ.

Vaughn: And I like to visit Nico’s Restaurant.

What does Newark have to offer couples?

Tichanda: I think Newark has a lot to offer. From a supportive community of entrepreneurs and small business owners to proximity to New York City, the airport, and other Jersey attractions, I really think the changes that I have seen in five short years are tremendous. I think we are still only seeing the beginning of what Newark has to offer!

Tamara Fleming of Tamara Fleming Photography shot all of the portraits for this feature. To learn more about her photography services for “power portraits”, visit TFP’s website and Facebook page.

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