The Coolest Black Family in America, No. 38: The Casanaves

The story of how Donovan Casanave proposed to Amber Jaynes Casanave will be recounted to the newlyweds’ friends and family for years to come. The memorable affair kicked off with Donovan flying Amber, who lived in New York City at the time while he resided in Houston, to New Orleans. Throughout their two-year, long-distance relationship, the Casanaves had spent many a weekend in The Big Easy, so 38-year-old Amber didn’t anticipate the elaborate weekend that awaited her when she arrived. But there were a couple of clues that something big was about to take place.

“First there was the hotel suite, which was absolutely beautiful,” remembers Amber. “He said he was going to drop me somewhere for a couple of hours and I immediately thought, ‘Great, a massage’.” But instead of a spa day, Donovan took Amber to her favorite boutique for an impromptu shopping spree.

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“The woman in the store told me she had Don’s credit card and her job was to style me for the day. I just couldn’t believe it,” she says. When Amber returned to the hotel suite, a makeup artist was there waiting for her. “I looove makeup, so I was so excited to have my makeup done. I put on my new outfit, had my face done, and we went to dinner in the French Quarter.”

“I made her think after dinner we were going to an event a buddy of mine was throwing to explain getting all dressed up,” says Donovan. At the restaurant, he arranged for the manager to show Amber (a marketing executive) a space she could one day consider for an event.

“The manager takes me to this room, hands me two glasses of champagne, and runs out. I thought, ‘this is really weird,’ ” says Amber. Next, a singer started crooning and Donovan walked in and got down on one knee. The secret was out. “I was so surprised! I didn’t see it coming.” Donovan hired a photographer to capture the special moment.

After Amber said yes, the newly engaged couple danced the night away and ended the evening with a dreamy carriage ride all through the French Quarter. “We were calling all our friends and family telling them the news,” says Donovan, who meticulously planned his over-the-top proposal two weeks before the big day. “I wanted to spoil her. I want to spend the rest of my life trying to show her that I would treat her like this all the time, not just once. I was 42 when we got married. People always ask me why I took so long to do it. I just never wanted to settle, and when I met Amber, I knew she was who I’d been waiting for.”

Coolest Black Family: The Casanaves

The Coolest Black Family in America, No. 38: The Casanaves

Donovan and Amber first came across one another at the Congressional Black Caucus back in 2010. Amber was briefly introduced to Donovan at a reception. “I thought he was very handsome,” she says. Later that same evening, the two ran into each other at a party. “I told my friend I thought he was attractive, and before I knew it, she was walking over to him. God knows what she told him!” 

“She was asking me all types of questions: was I in a relationship, had I ever been married and how many kids I had. I thought she was interested in me, but she threw me off because she had a big rock on her finger,” says Donovan, who was pleasantly surprised to learn that the intense round of questioning was for Amber. “I looked over and saw her and I was really open,” he admits.

As for Amber, she was terribly embarrassed by her friend’s attempt at matchmaking (“We are not in high-school!”) and did her best to avoid Donovan at the party. At the last event of the night, Amber continued dodging Donovan until she came face to face with him while hailing a cab. A minor car accident, which took place right in front of them, got them to talking and then exchanging business cards.

Then they went their separate ways; Donovan went back to home to Texas and Amber to New York. Over endless phone calls and email exchanges, they nurtured a close friendship that’s at the core of their loving marriage today. “Once we began to get to know each other, I really loved how smart, humble and genuine he was. I felt like we were best friends since day one,” says Amber.

Donovan felt the same way about Amber. “My dad and my friends who were in happy marriages gave me the same advice, and that is to marry your best friend. She was somebody I could go to a ball with, a Broadway show, a car show or a baseball game. She completed every element for me. If I would go two days without talking to her, I felt incomplete,” Donovan reveals. They also share a strong faith in God and a positive, caring and ambitious nature.

What also drew them to each other was the fact that they could both be themselves. “I loved that freedom of not being judged. I could do or say anything. He made me feel so comfortable,” Amber says. Donovan, who works as a supplier diversity manager at Shell Oil, had never met anyone who appreciated and encouraged his passion for painting.

“I have such a significant corporate role that most women only liked that side of me,” he says. “I didn’t realize until I met Amber that I can be both artistic and corporate. I was always trying to make a choice until she allowed me to be who God made me.” In fact, Amber couldn’t have been more thrilled about Donovan’s abstract paintings.

“I was blown away when he told me he was an artist,” says Amber. “Years ago when I was in college, I was watching an episode of Oprah where she said to write down a list of all the qualities you want in a mate. My list was nine years old, and it said he had to be creative, love art, music and also have a professional business side. This was all Donovan.”

While the pair was compatible in many ways, the long distance between them was cause for concern. “He was hesitant because of the distance and didn’t want to move forward with something that may not work,” Amber continues. “I always believed if you want something, you can make it work.”

She confesses that while their relationship started out as friends, she always knew she loved him, but opted to give him time and space to get to know her. A tried and true Southern boy raised in Louisiana, Donovan was “intrigued and in awe” of Amber’s big city life in New York.

“I feared that East Coast lifestyle and really wasn’t looking to move to New York,” says Donovan. Before he could even broach the issue with Amber, she told him something that changed everything. “Amber said when she found the person God put on this earth for her to spend the rest of her life with, she’ll follow him anywhere. That’s the first time in my life a woman had said something so unselfish. For her to relinquish all the things that were important was all I needed to hear to realize that this is the person for me,” says Donovan.

They became a couple in 2012, and for two years Donovan would travel to New York and Amber to New Orleans to spend time together. On October 13, 2013, the best friends tied the knot in Philadelphia, Amber’s hometown. She left her job as vice president of marketing and communications at the National Urban League and relocated to Houston two months ago. She says the decision to give up her life in New York City wasn’t hard, but nevertheless, Donovan acknowledges the big sacrifice she made for their love.

“I dated women who I admired their ambition, but it was always about moving up in the company. When I’m 90 in my hospital bed, it’s not gonna be about what kind of job I had, but who was there for me and loved me,” says Donovan.  

The Casanaves are currently enjoying sharing their lives and discovering what the future has in store for them as husband and wife. No matter what comes their way, Amber says with compassion, honesty and communication, their love will thrive: “I’m a firm believer that you can create the life you want. Donovan and I set up a list of priorities, and we are taking the steps to create that life.”

The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose