Just like everyone has her or his own path, every relationship has its own journey, precise as DNA. Twenty years in the making, LaShunda Davis and Damien Holbert’s union rings of true friendship, co-creating, entrepreneurship and a love of music. The reason they waited so long to marry is part of what’s so specific about their coupling. It’s their style, their business, their way.
The Holberts' story starts in Las Vegas, Nevada… but not on the strip, with its flashing lights and microwave marriages. The real Las Vegas is just like Anytown, USA. Damien Holbert was born in the suburbs of Sin City, where traditional families live well, work hard, rear children and go to football games.
“I have a large family here—generations,” Damien says. “My mother’s family migrated from Arkansas and my father’s people are from Mississippi.” A working DJ in high school, Damien hung out with the college set, where he got most of his gigs. “I saw LaShunda around quite a bit. We didn’t know each other but we had friends in common. I could just tell she was cool,” he remembers.
“I was like, ‘Excuse me?’,” LaShunda recalls. When she got wind of his interest (only three years his senior), she thought, “ ‘I’m in college. UNLV [University of Nevada, Las Vegas]. Beat it young boy.’ ”
Damien was not shook. One auspicious night, he coerced a mutual friend to tell LaShunda he wanted to dance with her at a party. She obliged; they danced all night. At the end of the party, she admits, “I gave him a little kiss.” The power in that was this: The next day, a rainy one as LaShunda recalls, they were on the phone talking seven hours straight.
Seven years into the relationship, LaShunda wanted to experience more of out life, and chose to leave Las Vegas for NYC. She was scared, but she was going. Damien didn’t believe her. “At that time, my boys and I had only been as far as Freaknik in Atlanta! We only knew New York through the music.”
With a toast of tears all around, LaShunda’s family and Damien watched her board the plane. “These were the days when your family could still walk you to the gate!” she exclaims. As she flew away to this mythical place, Damien told LaShunda’s mother, “I have to go get her. I can’t stay here.”
LaShunda left in July. By October, Damien was in NYC.
Damien—a carpenter and draftsmen by trade—quickly found employment in downtown Manhattan’s chic Soho district. “I was chasing Lashunda,” he says. But he also learned a few things. He started living and working where he’d begin to build dreams. “Man, New York is the kind of place where you can learn anything. Everything is at your disposal,” Damien says. From 42nd Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan, the couple soon moved together to Brooklyn.
Shortly after the Twin Towers collapsed, Damien volleyed between Las Vegas and New York. In Vegas he opened Boro 15, a fashion retail store, with his brother. In Brooklyn he helped LaShunda, now a fashion and beauty professional, build an upscale nail salon and spa cleverly called ’Cure. Adjacent to ’Cure was a second store, Grady’s Collective Market (named for her grandfather, Grady Calvin Davis) where designers and entrepreneurs could hawk their wares.
Two weeks after ’Cure opened, LaShunda discovered she was pregnant.
Although there was an elevated shift, “We made no moves to get married. We were doing the commuting thing, working on businesses,” she says. “Damien loved me, I knew it, that was enough for me. There was no pressure from either one of us.”
LaShunda may be headstrong; Damien may be cool as ice. But it was a simple question from their daughter at age 3 that coerced them to rethink some things: “Mommy why don’t you have the same name as me and Daddy?”
Soon after, Damien and LaShunda were engaged. Three and a half months later, they were married. “Please! Can you imagine a long engagement? I don’t think so.” LaShunda laughs. “We’ve been dating for 20 years!”
The trio eventually returned to Las Vegas, where LaShunda is excited about her new position as men’s style editor of Zappos.com. And she feels differently now that they’re married. “I feel like doors have just opened up. And I feel proud.” Damien says, “We’re a team.” And now they can rock the same jersey: TEAM HOLBERT.
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 that family does not always mean mother + father + kids. What we know is that what defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we criss-cross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love.
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 90's urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her @editorialgenius