The Clemons story is touched by kismet’s kiss—when circumstance dances with fortune, faith prevails, then destiny ensues.
February 14, 1993. Kelly Beavers—a graduate of William Smith College in Geneva, New York—was attending the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. Fresh off of a break-up, her friends coerced her to attend a party hosted by Omega Psi Phi fraternity to celebrate Valentine’s Day. “I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to be a part of the lonely hearts club.” And yet, some of the coolest relationships start at parties where one was reluctant to go.
Kelly, from Buffalo, New York, had noticed the Oxon Hill, Maryland native before. Aware that he belonged to the fraternity, she gave herself incentive, thinking “maybe that guy will be there.” The future doctor and her girls had a good time, so she wasn’t terribly disappointed her prospect wasn’t there. But it was Valentine’s Day, and Cupid would not be defeated. Kelly and her friends decided to make their exit. “When we were leaving the party, he was coming in. I turned around and went back to the party!” Over much inner debate, Kelly seized the moment: she asked him to dance.
Stephen Clemons was an electrical engineering major at Georgia Tech when struck by the enchanted arrow. “When I first met Kelly, the heavens opened up,” he says, and the signs kept coming. A Libra and an Aqaurius, they also had the auspice of astrology breezing around them. It is written that one of the best first dates for this connection is an art house or documentary film. And it was their first date that ignited his intrigue.
“I took her to see Malcolm X. Kelly thought the movie was great,” he says. “I thought it was entertaining. I wanted the movie to deal with more of the subject matter of the speeches.” Critically, they talked about it. Stimulated by her beauty and her mind, he enjoyed the depth of their discourse. (Aquarius business.) “I liked our dialogue. She had it goin’ on.” As for Kelly, “When we kissed, I was sure.” (A Libra’s prerequisite.) Cupid served a love match.
The marriage proposal took place at her favorite restaurant in Atlanta, Kelly recalls. “I ordered the lobster tacos which I love, and when we got dessert, there was a message on my plate. He got down on one knee and recited a poem he’d written for me in middle of the restaurant, in front of everyone!”
Pondering deeply the reason he proposed to Kelly, Stephen responds insightfully, “When you start dating, you date for a while and you start imagining your life without her in the picture, and the picture doesn’t work, then it’s time to make her family.”
Stephen’s mother passed on a year before he met Kelly. But her spirit continues to be a guide in her son’s life. Raining profusely just hours before their outdoor wedding (a sign of good luck, cleansing and fertility in many cultures), Stephen calmed his wife-to-be with a message from his mother. “I called him upset and he said, ‘Kelly, don’t worry. My mother is taking care of everything.’ ”
On September 19, 1998, the couple married at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. “The sun came out. It was beautiful. One of warmest days that year. Hot enough to melt the buttercream on my cake!” A delighted Kelly continues: “To this day, everyone talks about how much fun they had at our wedding.”
While Kelly didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Stephen’s mom, “I feel like I’ve met her through him. I get a sense of who she was. My husband is analytical, expressive, caring. I think those traits he acquired from his mother.”
Stephen offers, “My mother comes to me, often in dreams. When we had our first child, she came to me and said there would be some trauma, but it would turn out just fine.”
“I got pregnant two months after we married,” Kelly says. “All of my children but one were born prematurely.” Kelly developed preeclampsia, a condition which can occur during pregnancy that may affect the unborn baby and the mother.
Stephen Anthony Clemons was born four pounds and one ounce, six weeks early. Kelly says, “He’s our miracle baby. We called him Stevie Wonder.” The doctor said he would have cerebral palsy. However, their firstborn is now over six feet tall, athletic and in the gifted program in high school. Turned out just fine.
Stephen the younger is now 15. “I have one son and he’s the oldest. Father to son, I try to teach him lessons to help him navigate as a Black man in America. People have locked their car doors when I walk by or get off of elevators because I got on. I want to prepare him for some of those things. It’s going to happen. He’s beginning to experience them right now. People will doubt your ability, doubt how you’re going to behave.”
Mr. Clemons recites an excerpt from the poem If by Rudyard Kipling to illustrate his intent:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With 60 seconds of distance run
Yours is the Earth and everything in it
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man my son!
“It’s that lesson,” Stephen concludes.
The Clemons daughters are named in reverence of the seasons, a concept of nature and a woman in the family. Autumn Rahyne Jacquelyn (14) after Stephen’s mother; Summer Soliel Elizabeth (12), her maternal grandmother’s middle name; and Wynter Sierra Rene (10), which is Kelly’s middle name. Their devoted dad describes Autumn as a regal beauty with sheer will and determination. Summer is an independent spirit with exceptional social graces. And Wynter, the baby girl? “Nothing can get passed her. She’s a bloodhound.”
Motherhood teaches Kelly to be selfless, forgiving and measured. “I’m pretty even keeled. I don’t like a lot of confrontation. I’m a Libra so I like things in balance.” As a mother, she asserts, “Having a family has allowed me to think about what my legacy will be when I’m no longer here. Influencing my kids so that when they go out in the world, they portray the values I have instilled in them.”
Seeing the humor in situations that may have formerly upset her has also created mommy-teaching moments for the physician. “For instance, it was unseasonably cold in Atlanta and I’d given Wynter a turtleneck to wear.” The young fashionista cut holes into the lower sleeve so she could stick her thumbs through it. Instead of being reactionary, the cool mom calmly said, “OK Wynter, that was very creative.”
The most challenging aspect for Stephen as a father was being on the same page as his wife as a disciplinarian. “I grew up in an old-fashioned corporal punishment scenario. When you’re dating, you never ask, ‘So if we have kids, what’s your opinion of discipline?’ Kelly grew up being able to have conversations and/or debates with her mother. Raising our children, we have those two different worlds.”
Fusing their diverse personalities, they discovered a mutual calling that is now a lifestyle: tennis. The sport shed light on the Clemons clan at a time when Stephen desired an alternative. “I’m a builder of real estate. When the mortgage industry tanked, I went from earning a high income to zero. As a father, you think: how can I get my family through this?”
Thinking about school, college and all the expenses to come, the Clemons family developed a relationship with tennis. Stephen’s passion for the sport drove him to being undefeated in his region. Winning tournaments, he’s now the coach for his children. “I love tennis. But my kids have a real future in it.” Speaking with a coach at an Ivy League school, he inquired about tennis scholarships. Stephen learned they don’t give athletic scholarships but academic ones. “So if they cut the mustard academically, they can get athletic scholarships that way. Sports, like golf or tennis, it’s a matter of skill, athleticism combined with IQ.”
Kelly adds, “Everybody plays. Tennis started when I was invited to take tennis lessons and we went as a family. Afterwards, we got hooked. Whether you’re 6 or 66, you can play. I became a part of a team in Atlanta. My husband became really passionate about it. We play every day for the last six years. The kids want to pursue a professional career. They perform really well, we’ve gotten good results.” Stephen says, “My wife is like a light switch. She can be in cool mode and flip it if someone tries to underestimate her. I compete for the fun of it. For Kelly, it is war.
“What I love about my family is that we have six totally unique personalities. I’m an Aquarius, I’m a fun guy to be around but mentally, I’m on it.” Kelly appreciates that balance between them and considers her relationship with Stephen a yin-yang scenario. “We are definitely opposites. He wakes up early, I stay up late. I have a lot of ideas. He puts my ideas into action. He’s more analytical than I am. Sometimes he overthinks in my opinion, but it’s good to have someone who has that kind of analysis about everything.”
The Clemons family puts God first, with love, respect and communication following close. Kelly says, “The coolest thing about my family is the connectivity between us. If we had a reality TV show, we’d be rich. Everything that goes on in here is crazy. That kind of crazy that you’re glad to have.”
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.