Most relationship self-help books would have you believe that cyclical relationships are a huge no-no in the quest for a formal committed union. But Fatima and Jasiri Kafele’s roller coaster love story challenges the idea that on-and-off couplings are always doomed to fail. Throughout their two years of dating, they broke up and got back together three times before eventually jumping the broom and spending what has now been 11 years as Mr. and Mrs. Kafele.
The back-and-forth mostly had to do with decorative painter Jasiri’s aversion to serious relationships, despite his falling head-over-heels for Fatima. “I treated Fa like my queen, but I didn’t want a monogamous relationship,” 43-year-old Jasiri explains.
“He could have dated me and other people and never told me, but he was honest about what he wanted,” adds 40-year-old Fatima, who works as director of community outreach and arts promotion at LIU Brooklyn and does PR consultation for dance companies. “I respect it now, but back then it was really hard.”
“I understood why she had to fire me so many times,” Jasiri interjects, “but it never changed the energy between us.”
The intense chemistry that kept the Brooklyn couple from bidding a final adieu at every break-up blossomed when they first met in 1998 at a fashion show Fatima cat-walked in. “The attraction between Ja and I was immediate. There were sparks and fireworks for sure,” Fatima recalls, breaking into a chuckle remembering the Rolodex of numbers she gave him. “I got her home, beeper and work numbers,” reveals Jasiri, who wasted no time ringing her up the next day. “She was so beautiful.”
At that time, Jasiri and Fatima were enjoying their respective single lives and taking part in the Black arts movement that was burgeoning in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. Jasiri was a much admired spoken-word poet on the scene, whose talents landed him commercials and shows at the Apollo and Lollapalooza. Fatima worked in a public relations firm, threw parties and ran a hotline providing callers with a rundown of Black arts events around the city.
“At first when we met, we both weren’t looking to be in a serious relationship,” says Fatima. That quickly changed for the former girl-about-town. “I never met anyone like him before. He was smart, charismatic and kind. I fell in love with him so fast it was crazy.”
While Jasiri may not have been ready to settle down, it was obvious to those around him that Fatima was special. “We were constantly trying to one up each other when it came to being thoughtful with gifts and surprises,” says Jasiri. “The stuff we discovered, small or big, about each other, we would put into action as soon as possible.” For instance, when he learned that Fatima loved smoothies, he bought her a blender so she could make her own. He told her how much he loved rapper KRS-One, and she surprised him with concert tickets. This went on for the better part of their first year together. “It’s amazing to find someone so attentive,” he says.
Their time together may have been blissful, but it all came to a sudden halt six months into their courtship when Fatima yearned for something more stable than what non-committal Jasiri was willing to offer. “He treated me like his one and only, but did not want to get serious. I tried to act like I was cool with it, but I really couldn’t play it off for too long. I just felt like we [should] either go our separate ways or it was time to take it to the next level,” explains Fatima.
“I was never big into timelines and never let them determine what I should be doing,” says Jasiri. “I’d miss her and all the things we did together. Then next thing you know, we would be back together. But the reason we separated in the first place would always creep back up,” says Jasiri.
Following their third break up, Fatima was presented with a job opportunity in London. Frustrated with the state of their relationship and eager to experience another country, she didn’t hesitate to move overseas. “My heart was with him, but I had to go on with my life and physically remove myself from his space,” says Fatima. But not before letting Jasiri in on her plans and leaving him with yet another contact number.
While Fatima was building a new life for herself, Jasiri was contemplating his future. “I really missed us. I was at the point where I was asking myself what could inspire me to be monogamous and who had all the right energy I needed to go there with. I thought of Fa, of course.”
After having been “fired” three times, Jasiri was nervous about reaching out to Fatima to rekindle their love affair. Late night phone calls eventually turned into international trips, and before long, Jasiri asked Fatima to move in with him upon her return to Brooklyn. “If I wanted to explore a deeper relationship with her, it had to be monogamous, and there was no wiggle room,” says Jasiri, who suggested they buy a house together. Fatima had no interest in playing house. “I told him that I wouldn’t get a home with someone I’m not married to. So he said, ‘Why don’t we do that?’ That was the proposal!”
Although Jasiri admits that the proposal was a tad bit “lackluster,” the intentions behind it were passion and devotion. Fatima had inspired Jasiri to step out of his comfort zone. “I was never interested in the concept of marriage. I was interested in her. I wasn’t just going to marry anyone but Fa,” reveals Jasiri. Fatima came back to New York on Valentine’s Day 2000, marking the start of their committed monogamous relationship.
“I don’t think I ever believed, then or now, that there is just one person for you,” explains Fatima. “I think that you find that person whose issues are not too much for you and you can say let’s work at this together. I think that’s our approach.”
They got married on May 4, 2002 at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. The intimate ceremony was amalgamation of their spiritual backgrounds: Native American, Christianity and Islam. Eight years later, their daughter Aponi was born. “She is the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen. I love watching Jasiri love her and be a great father to her and his older daughter, Asha, from a previous relationship,” says Fatima.
Jasiri and Fatima have carved out a wonderful life together on their own terms. “A good relationship is per person; it is not a blanket statement sold to you in a book or on talk shows,” shares Jasiri. Fatima agrees. “Not every man is gonna come into your life with everything you want checked off. Looking back, I don’t think I would change anything. Even though it involved some heartache and tears, it happened just right for us.”
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 cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she's not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she's writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and her blog, Fringueuse.com.