Tunde Anthony (Tony) Uboh recalls his prayers and impressions with Herculean energy and pure sanctity. “When I was 13, I had a dream. I was in front of a huge house. I saw my wife and cars in the garage. I was wearing a necktie and carrying a briefcase. I look over, and a gate opens. There are two boys, and a girl was standing in the middle of them.” Manifesting his nocturnal vision, he continues: “We’re building that house now. That is my family today.”
New Year’s Eve 1998, Atlanta. Tony reluctantly went to a party with his friends. When he saw Chanel, he immediately knew why he was there. However, Chanel was preoccupied. “I had my sights set on a taller drink of water,” she remembers. But meeting a person at midnight on such an auspicious day, any thinking woman pays attention to the signs. Chanel recalls, “Literally, when the party shouted ‘happy new year,’ I turned around there was Tony.” Maybe he wasn’t as tall, but certainly a cool drink of water.
“I saw her,” says Tony. “She was standing next to a guy. I didn’t care, I didn’t think anything of it.” Tony approached her with the ruse that her friend needed to see her. The friend, in on the plan, formally introduced them. Tony was smitten. True to his personality, Chanel says, “He’s very bold about what he wants.” Charming her to the dance floor, “We danced for the rest of night.”
Tony, born of African royalty, called his oldest sister in Nigeria, excited that he’d met an African-American woman he intended to marry. “My sister was speechless,” he says. “She said nothing. She hung up and called the oldest woman in my family, who is first child of my mother and the M’dear of my family. What she says goes. My family called saying I was out of my mind.”
However, before his mother passed away, she met the American girl causing a stir amongst the Ubohs. Concurrently, Tony’s mother observed that her son wasn’t being the best man he could be to the woman he says he loves. “In my country, the older people speak to us in parables a lot. She never said, ‘This is the woman you need to marry.’ She said, ‘Hmph. Son, you never know what you have until you lose it.’ And she just walks off! So now I have to go home and think, what does this woman mean by this?” Tony, a wise man, figured it out.
In 2000, the couple married. “My husband is so passionate and has this huge heart,” says Chanel. “I love how he loves me.” She and her son Jalen, whom she’d given birth to at 17, moved into her beloved’s small one-bedroom apartment. Tony also adopted Jalen. Jalen’s biological didn’t bother, and that was fine with Tony. Dreaming of him at 13, he knew that was his son.
“There is no demarcation between my children,” Tony says. “Raising my sons, I love Jalen just like I love Austin, my youngest. Jalen is my heir. We don’t do ‘step.’ We don’t do that where I’m from. They are all my children.”
Newly wed to his love, Tony’s older sister flew to her brother’s home in America with purpose. She made Tony an offer of $25,000 to leave the marriage, come home to Nigeria and marry who was chosen for him. Tony turned the money down. Seen as a sign of disrespect, he was disowned. “You can’t disown me. I am Uboh! Nobody can tell me who I am. Nobody can tell me who I’m not. That’s how my father raised me.” The prince was fully dedicated to his new kingdom.
Chanel was raised in Aurora, Illinois, by her mother and her mom’s husband. In her soul, there was an emotional piece to cultivate. “While many men, including Tony, are able to father a child that is not theirs by blood, I did not receive the love from a male figure in the home,” she says. “I had no idea that I had a void. My husband is so sweet and loving. I gravitated toward that spirit.”
The Ubohs hosted parties and created opportunities to celebrate life. “Barbecues, fish-frys, Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Uncle Junior’s coming to town—we literally can think of any reason to have a party!,” Chanel says. “And guests would always leave our house with some sort of gift or takeaway.” She gives thanks. “We wonder how we did it with so little, but we had a good time and good food with family and friends. That has always been our story.
“But that’s the other thing that drew me to Tony,” she continues. “He’s a giver. He was able to multiply our resources to be able to give. We love to give.” As an only child for most of her girlhood, “I wasn’t as much of a giver when I met him because I really didn’t need to share. Now I, too, have a heart for giving.”
Tony’s family in Nigeria is rather large, literally and figuratively. “My father was a king in Africa,” he relates. “He has 58 kids and eight wives.” Many wives and many children was not his vision for happiness. “My mother was the first wife, she gave birth to me well into her forties. My father put my mother through hell. There were seven other women. I saw the pain my mother went through.”
Tony pauses then proceeds. “Regardless, when my father passed away [at 50], all 58 of us received an inheritance. But I made a promise that I would never put myself through that. Also I have so much pride, I believe that a woman has to earn [my love]. The only woman who has ever done that is Chanel.”
In 2004, Chanel respected that significant shift one gets when it’s time to make a change. “We both had decent jobs but we were still living paycheck to paycheck. I wanted to quit my job at Bell South to pursue real estate.”
Talking with her husband, there was one issue—they needed two incomes to run the house. Chanel desired the household to do more than run; she wanted it to thrive. Tony thought about his reaction for a few hours. “Later, he came back to me and said, ‘I remember that I said that if you wanted to do anything, I would support you. Let’s do it.’ ” Chanel quit her job.
Going for real estate training, Chanel was diverted to loan officer training. “I started doing mortgage loans. It was a struggle at first, but once I got a handle on it, after six months or so, I started making really good money. Then I did a really lucrative deal!” Tony quit his job and they began to work in tandem.
“I was doing the loans and Tony handled the real estate investment piece of it. It was great.” Then, in 2008, the mortgage industry collapsed. Meaning no one was buying homes; in fact, many people were losing their homes.
The Ubohs revamped, changing their direction from a mortgage loan company to a mortgage modification company— saving many families from foreclosure. Experts in this realm, they’ve evolved into various areas of business and financial services.
Marmos Financial, established in 2009, has expanded to tax services, business structure and development, and their company is growing. Running four stand-alone stores and nine satellite locations, “We’ve just trusted God,” Chanel says. “We’ve fallen and we’ve gotten up. Hit all types of brick walls. We made the decision to never give up.” Among the Uboh power tools is cohesion, “sticking together. Knowing that I can’t do it without him and he can’t do it without me. The key to where we are today is our decision to never divorce, never separate and to allow our faith to take us from one level to the next.”
Communication, faith and knowing your purpose are Mrs. Uboh’s components to success. “A foundation of meditation, of prayer. You have to know what it is you’re working towards. If you don’t know or don’t have a purpose, everything is like a spinning wheel.”
The Douglasville, Georgia family has three children. “Our kids? They’re awesome.” Jalen, 18, is a business major and entrepreneur who attends Kennesaw State University. “Jalen is amazing. Ultimately, he wants to own a cruise line, which has been his desire since he was 8.” Chanel thought he’d lose interest, but that goal is still on deck. Onshore, he’s managed to get his feet wet creating a hospitality service at college.
“Jalen went to Kennesaw in August,” says Chanel. “By the second week of school, he started a business providing late-night snacks to students. We’re so proud of him. He’s an excellent student and such a good example to his younger siblings.”
Toni, 13, is the middle child of her father’s dream. Mom thinks her daughter is the coolest. “I tell her all the time: ‘you’re everything I wanted to be when I was a little girl.’ She’s got so much personality. Studious, athletic, she can dance… and I have no rhythm whatsoever.” Toni’s superfan cheers, “I’m like, ‘dance girl! Get it! Mommy can’t do it!’ I live vicariously through her.”
The youngest Uboh is Austin, 9. Described by his mom as loving and attentive, the family has dubbed him King Austin. “He, too, is a great student. We have good kids all around. We don’t have to fight them to go to church nor remind them of the things we’ve established as a family.”
Travel is a lifestyle theme in the Uboh dynamic—Spain, England, and Italy among their globetrotting adventures. Their favorite spot domestically is Destin, located on Florida’s Emerald Coast. “We love it there. Annually, my husband and I spend a boatload of money throwing parties in Destin. Family, friends—we want everybody with us! The crowd is growing every year!” Sharing their blessings is a trait ingrained in their family character. Whether wealthy or just making it, Chanel said it earlier: “That’s always been our story.”
“My wife is my best friend,” Tony asserts. “I put God first, my wife second and my children come next. Some people put the kids before the spouse. No, no, those young’uns gotta leave!”
Tony believes that the healthiest relationship is a transparent, honest one. “When you’re being vulnerable, you are taken for who you are, not for who anyone wants you to be. That is honesty.” Bonded by recollections of why they fell in love and continuing to discover gems on their journey, Tony knows this for sure about his life with Chanel: “I can’t do it without her. Next to God, she is the air that I breathe.”
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)!
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.
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EBONY.com Contributing Writer