“Life is good,” reveals a proud Jovahn Lewis. His wife, Jessica, and he have a lot to be grateful for in their lives. The Georgia natives have flourishing careers—Jovahn as an enlisted operator instructor for the United States Air Force and Jessica as widely popular natural hair YouTube vlogger Mahogany Curls. They are financial stable, have a wonderful 8-year-old son, Jovahn Jr., and are expecting a new baby girl.
“Yes, we’re really in a good place right now,” emphasizes a beaming Jessica. Although the Lewises always believed they would find themselves at this harmonious juncture, they aren’t blind to the fact that the road has been littered with obstacles that could have easily found them singing a different tune today.
The couple first met in 2005 at Albany State University in Georgia, when 30-year-old Jovahn was a junior and 28-year-old Jessica a freshman. “I was promoting a party for my fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi when I saw her with her friends,” says Jovahn. “I thought she was very cute, and I knew I had to speak to her.” The attraction was mutual. “I had butterflies immediately, and I thought he was cute and sweet,” says Jessica, who is a Delta Sigma Theta.
They shared a friendly chat and made plans to see each other at the party. Jessica was a no-show (“I looked for her,” says Jovahn), but a couple of days later, Jovahn spotted her walking out the cafeteria. “I heard someone call my name and when I turned around it was him. I was so happy he remembered my name,” says Jessica. “She had the biggest smile from ear to ear when she saw me and that made me feel good,” says Jovahn.
Over the following three months, the pair built a close friendship. They talked on the phone about their future goals and their family, kept in touch through Facebook, and saw each other on occasion. “I was in a relationship for a couple of months when Jovahn and I started being friends,” explains Jessica, adding that the relationship wasn’t serious. In fact, she admits she secretly wished Jovahn and her would become more than friends.
“What made me more attracted to him was when he talked to me, he really talked to me. He would really listen and retain what I said. He would give me advice about anything and everything.” Jovahn began to develop feelings for Jessica. “She was attractive, friendly, intelligent and she had great values,” he explains. It wasn’t easy, but Jovahn was careful not to come across pushy or crowd her space. “I was respectful of the situation she was in. I respected her as a friend.”
But when the opportunity presented itself for their friendship to transition into dating, Jovahn jumped at the opportunity. “When the guy she was seeing broke up with her, I thought that was a big mistake. He just dropped a dime,” says Jovahn. On February 6, 2006 Jessica received a request on Facebook from Jovahn. “It said Jovahn Lewis would like to be your boyfriend. I freaked out! I was so happy. It was the best day ever,” says Jessica.
On their first official date as a couple, they went to see Gerald Levert’s stage play, Casino.
“Jessica wasn’t like any other girl I knew. Girls on campus liked me because of my affiliation with my fraternity and other groups on campus. Jessica was into me as a person. We had a very strong connection. I knew she was special,” says Jovahn.
Two months into dating, Jessica and Jovahn’s lives would forever be altered when Jessica learned she was pregnant. Needless to say for a then 19-year-old Jessica and a 21-year-old Jovahn, the idea of becoming young parents was initially frightening.
“I actually cried when I found out. I’m a freshman in college what am I gonna do? What are my parents going to think?” says Jessica. “Luckily we are both mature, and I believe that’s what kept us from sinking,” explains Jovahn. “He went straight into daddy mode and started taking care of everything. He made sure I was taken care of and that made it all much easier,” says Jessica.
While his parents were supportive (“Except for those first 15 minutes when they found out,” says Jovahn), Jessica’s mom and step-dad took longer to come around to the idea of them being parents. “They were disappointed and not happy. It was rough at first, but now they are supportive,” says Jessica.
They had to make some tough decisions, like leaving school. “Education is so important to both us, and it hurt to have to leave school,” says Jessica. They moved in with Jovahn’s parents in Athens, Georgia. It was a stressful and challenging time, but focusing on the positive helped them weather the storm. “I wasn’t thinking about how I’m broke; I don’t have an education, no job and no skills. Instead, I thought about options,” says Jovahn.
He decided to join the military, despite it being the last thing he would have done, because it allowed him to finish his studies, get a job and support his family. He signed up in 2006 at the height of the Iraqi war. “I remember crying when he told me. I was a nervous wreck,” says Jessica, who understood this was a sacrifice they had to make to build their family. That same year, Jovahn Jr. was born, and two weeks later, Jovahn was off to San Antonio, Texas for six weeks of basic training. “It was terrible not being with Jessica and my son.”
They corresponded mostly by letters during their time apart. “I would decorate the envelopes and send him pictures of the baby,” says Jessica. “Those pictures were everything to me. They made my day and solidified why I was there. It was all for them and they kept me strong,” adds Jovahn. With the new income and military benefits, things started to look up for them. “I was able to buy a brand new and reliable car. Things were slowly starting to come together, and it felt really good to build our foundation,” says Jessica.
The family moved to Germany in 2007, and it was there they say their unit became even stronger. “It was just us and our newborn baby. We had to rely on each other for everything. It made us very strong and self-reliant,” says Jovahn. “It also made us better parents. We never thought about leaving our son with grandparents or aunts while we got on our feet. That was never an option. It was important that we stick together,” says Jessica, who was excited about the move and the exciting new opportunities that awaited them. While in Germany, Jessica went back to school online to finish her degree.
“Not finishing school really bothered us. We both value education, and knew we had to finish school,” says Jessica. Both Jessica and Jovahn would go on to defy the stereotypes of young parents dropping out of school by eventually graduating cum laude. “I don’t know how Jovahn and I did it but we did!” Jessica also earned her master’s degree, and Jovahn is currently working towards his.
Germany was also where Jessica uncovered her passion for natural hair. She chopped her hair and decided to document her natural hair journey on YouTube. “I wasn’t expecting it to be popular but people started following me and it just kept growing.” Following three years in Germany, the Lewises moved to Colorado. “That’s when she started really making a name for herself as Mahogany Curls and started working full-time vlogging,” says Jovahn
“When I hit 500 followers, I knew I had something unique here,” says Jessica. Today Mahogany Curls has 320,000 YouTube followers, 450,000 fans on Facebook and 227,000 Instagram followers. “I like helping people find ways to take care of their hair. I am very passionate about hair. I get a lot of joy out offering advice and tips,” Jessica says. Soon viewers will be able to learn more about the Lewises through their new YouTube channel, Lewis Love and Family, focusing solely on their family.
“We don’t just want to ramble, we want to offer some substance. I think what will make it special is the fact that we are a middle class Black family. You don’t see that much on TV. You either see rich Black families or poor ones. We are filling that space,” says Jovahn.
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 magazines. Check out her work and blog at AlexandraPhanor.com.