Ralph Cooper III first glimpsed the beauty called Truth on his friend’s MySpace page. After expressing some interest to his friend, Ralph declined to meet her. Sonya Lynn Cooper, neé Hughes, looked like a pretty problem to him, even with a respectful moniker like Truth. The Grinch of girls at the time, Ralph admits, “I was a bitter single dude back then.”
Two weeks later, they met with a bang. Working as sound engineer at a music series, “I hit her with a door.” Ralph recalls, “I had a bunch of equipment in my hand. I kicked the crap out of the door I was going through, not thinking anyone was behind it.” Truth was behind that door and Cupid was the culprit. Ralph heard cursing before he saw who it was, and although they hadn’t formally met, he says, “I knew it was her, right away.”
Lynn, who attended Howard University, was talent coordinator for the event. Walking past the disgruntled sound engineer later that night, she heard him mumbling, ‘I’m not going to date anymore. I’m just going to watch porn.’ Unaware that Lynn was in earshot, she replied, “Well what are you into? Black girls or Asians?” Bonded by a hit and true wit, Ralph and Lynn became close friends. They were, however, platonic.
“We were both coming out of tumultuous relationships, so neither one of us wanted to date,” Lynn notes. Incessant drama with her ex-boyfriend, Ralph’s place was her respite. “Sometimes I would go over just to sleep for couple of hours.” Loving music and long, deep conversations the two found intimacy and cohesion. Lynn makes it clear, “I wasn’t looking for love. Both of us were at a vulnerable point in our lives. We were comfortable enough with each other to open up and feel safe.”
The Morehouse College graduate quickly realized his attraction to Lynn was more than skin deep. “It was scary because it was deeper than anything else I’d felt before. We talked for months before we kissed or thought about dating. Lynn saved me in some respect. I was definitely in a dark place when I met her.”
Contrary to Ralph’s perspective of himself at the time, Lynn found him to be intelligent and compassionate. “The biggest thing, he’s really kind to women; watching his gesticulation and interaction” left an impression on the social media expert. Adding with a smirk, “Even though, he almost rendered me unconscious when we first met.”
The first time Ralph met Jaelynn—Lynn’s daughter, a toddler at the time—was the first time Lynn met his parents. But Ralph didn’t realize the significance of the situation. “The whole reason I was going to my momma’s house is she made gumbo and my momma can cook! I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that I had Lynn and the baby with me—I was thinking about gumbo.” The two were also still untitled. As they pulled into the driveway, Lynn asked for clarity. Cool, boyfriend-girlfriend. Walking through the threshold of his parent’s home with his future family, “That’s when we were officially a couple.”
Going to New Jersey was a Meet The Parents moment for Ralph. “Her father was an avid outdoorsman. When you walk in the house there are heads of caribou and other game trophies, all over the walls. Now I’m from Virginia , my momma’s from Mississippi— but when we kill animals we normally cook and eat everything.” That night, Ralph watched Mr. Hughes put deer corn and apples out in the backyard.
The next morning, around 7am, Ralph, asleep downstairs, is awakened by Mr. Hughes. The huntsman shows Ralph a deer that he shot and killed from his bedroom window upstairs. Going back to sleep, Ralph is awakened again by Mr. Hughes with a request to meet him outside in the shed. Putting on enough clothes to suit November, he goes to the shed to find the deer hanging. Mr. Hughes, said ‘You mentioned your mother liked deer, right?’ Dressing the deer, “He cut it from the rooter to the tooter! I’m watching all the the innards come out. Then her father looks at me and says, ‘What are your intentions with my daughter?’
Ralph, a comedian, journalist and tv producer, already knew he wanted to marry Lynn. Both their parents, married over 40 years, his idea was to approach this proposal traditionally: Ask her dad, buy the ring, get on one knee.
Ralph’s next adventure with Mr. Hughes was an invitation to a fishing trip; the perfect opportunity to ask his blessing to marry Lynn. “I had never gone fishing on a boat before. I figured, it couldn’t be that bad.” Ralph arrived, uncharacteristically nervous. Waiting on Lynn’s father at the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a gentleman standing next to him was smoking a cigarette. “I asked for one. I told the guy I was nervous. He said, ‘Nervous? Man, you just goin’ fishin’.” Explaining that he was going to ask his girlfriend’s father for his blessing, the gentleman asked her father’s name. Ralph remembers, “The man’s face changed. He said ‘You’re going to ask him? You’re going to need another cigarette, brother’.”
A few 70-something fishermen and 30-something Ralph boarded the boat. “I’m feeling great, but the further from shore we ride out, I start to feel uneasy. Her father said ‘Coop, you seem a little nervous’.” Pulling out his second cigarette, Ralph said “I only smoke when I’m nervous.” Lynn’s father replied, ’What are you nervous about? We’re just going fishin’.”
Instead of lighting up, Ralph took that moment to go for it. He recollects, “Mr. Hughes, I came out here because I wanted to talk to you about taking your daughter off your hands.” Taking issue with the choice of words, Lynn’s dad clapped back, ‘What the hell you mean by that, take my daughter off my hands??’ Cooper recovered quickly, “Sir, I’d like to marry your daughter.”
Mr. Hughes was cool. Approving of Ralph for his daughter, her loving father said he’d be gaining a son. Proudly Ralph recalls, “He said observing me with Lynn and Jaelynn, he knew I was serious.” Then Sonya Lynn’s father started giving him man to man advice—from rings to relationship. “To this day, when I think about it, it was the best thing a young man could hear making this step. It was empowering.” No longer nervous, he flicked the cigarette in the water.
“Now we’re fishing. I’m feeling great, I caught two fish right away.” When Ralph cast the fishing rod the third time, he lost his grip. “When I stood up to grab the pole, I felt like I had [done a bunch of drugs] all in one second. I’m 6’4 and the water was eye level. There was a circle of water around us.” Basically, Ralph was seasick. “For the next three and a half hours, I was curled up in fetal position. Every time I threw up, the old men on the boat went to town on me!”
Docked, Ralph is determined to get to Lynn before her father is able to call with a recap. When he reaches home, he goes for it. “I stumbled into the house, Lynn and Jaleynn are there. I sat Sonya [Lynn] in a chair.” Ring-free, he gets on one knee: “I want to marry you. I want you to be my wife. I don’t want you to go no where. I don’t want any other women. I want to marry you. Will you marry me?”
Teary-eyed, Lynn said yes. After that, Ralph proposed fatherhood to Jaelynn: “If I marry your mother, I have to marry you too. Will you be my daughter?’ Jaelynn responded with “Yay!!” They had a group hug and then Lynn asked, ‘What the hell happened on that boat?’ You never said anything about marriage before, what happened??”
Lynn’s phone rings, it’s her father saying ’Guess what happened on the boat today! I can’t wait to tell you this!’
The Coopers married in 2009 and live in the Washington, DC area. Marriage made Lynn realize she had a true partner in life. “I met Ralph about a year after Jaelynn was born. I was so used to being on my own and not having someone I could truly confide in. He gave me a sense of peace that changed by perspective on the world.” Additionally, she loves, “The fact that he can make me laugh at any turn; that’s the key to many women’s hearts.”
Roosevelt Hughes passed on, in October of this year. The beauty of life — he left this earthly plane knowing that his only daughter was well taken care of— honored, protected. Ralph was vetted to be in Lynn’s life by her dad. And for Ralph, his father-in-law was an experience in fatherhood, hunting and gathering, and unconditional love. “He [was] a good guy. I learned from him things I never would have had I not met him.” He feels the same about Mr. Hughes’s daughter. Ralph adds, “A lot of the good things that happened to me over the last 8 years wouldn’t have if it weren’t for her.”
”Marriage and children soothed Ralph’s soul in the best way. “They’ve erased this huge cynical chip I used to have on my shoulder. It was a softness I needed.” Ralph became a father in two phases: Jaelynn, now 10—the softening and Ralph IV, age 4—the awakening.
“Jaelynn and I got along really quickly.” Empathizing with her biological father, “I spoke with [her bio-dad] and told him that I would do my best to make sure he was not cut out.” But everyman isn’t cut out for fatherhood. “Jaelynn is a wonderful kid. Now, being her father, it would mess with me if I couldn’t be there for her. Daughters soften you.” The comedian admits, “I used to laugh if I saw a kid trip and fall. After having a kid, I’m like, I’ve got band-aids and peroxide in the house, I’ll be right back!”
Having Ralph IV kindled an awareness of his purpose. Ralph revisits calling his dad from the hospital with the reality, “Yo, I’m having a son. And instantly, my dad and I starting crying.” None of it, as a man, hits you until you hold the baby the first time and realize a sense of responsibility.”
“Ralph IV was planned,” Lynn offers. “We were having a hard time getting pregnant. A good friend of ours came over and did orisa and ancestor work— three or four months later we were pregnant.” Lynn opened her mind to this spiritual ceremony to avoid fertility drugs and IVF. “I felt if God wants this to happen, it’s going to happen.”
“Parenting for me means my children are happy and healthy,” Lynn states. “I’m not here to have them live vicariously through me. As long they do right by society and use their gifts for good not evil, I feel like I’ve been successful.”
Lynn is also a professional success. As the CEO of Socially Ahead —a media and marketing company with clients such as Samsung and Pepsi, among many others, she is considered an authority in her field. Hers, was that family who had the first computer in the neighborhood. ”I’m an early adopter. My first social media presence was around 1997. While most were playing nice on social media, I took the position of criticizing.” Earning a new computer age moniker— Digital Instigator. “Social media has less to do with technology and more to do with sociology and psychology. Where it’s going is creating a nation of narcissist. Just because you have a platform doesn’t mean you should be uncouth. I am curious about the culture psychoses that are happening.”
Taking careful watch of her children’s internet intake, Lynn has allowed her 10 year old daughter to have some access. “We just gave Jaelynn a tablet last year. She has access tocomail which is an extension of gmail for children. It allows me to select who can email her. I see every message to her and from her.”
The internet aficionado came up with one of the coolest ideas for her kids. “When they were born I reserved their email addresses, so they wouldn’t choose firstname.lastname@example.org,” or the like. And she had even higher reasons. Lynn emails her children at every milestone from the time they were born. “I give them advice. I send photos, lots of photos. So if I’m not here anymore, at least there are messages from mom there that will help.”
“I feel blessed and lucky every day,” Lynn’s husband says. “She’s my best friend. Sonya [Lynn] is the fire under my ass when I need it. She’s the person I can lay my head on when I need to talk. She’s what I need.” Ralph concludes, “At our wedding, one of my uncles told us, the honeymoon is over when you say it is. That advice given to us at that time was huge. l also think that there’s a certain confidence that comes with being married to the right person.” Facts, or rather Truth.
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.