Love birthed in the fight for freedom.
...when love is your soft place
Mandisa and Wendi are freedom fighters, committed to pushing communities forward and elevating the experiences of those who live on the margins.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Mandisa and Wendi became fellows for a group doing community organizing on the Gulf Coast. Since then, they have continued to do “the necessary work” every single day for the community around them to thrive. Together, they are a force committed to centering and advocating for the most marginalized communities.
Wendi first laid eyes on Mandisa at a conference during their fellowship. The first thought that came to her mind when she saw Mandisa was, “She is the most radiantly beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” While Andrea Ritchie, the keynote speaker, was presenting at the front of the conference room, Wendi couldn’t take her eyes off Mandisa.
Mandisa recalls that moment at the event. She noticed that while she was focused on Andrea, someone else was focused on her. “This is uncomfortable. Why are they staring? Why are they not listening to Andrea? Are they a feminist? Like what’s happening? This person is just bold to be staring.”
Wendi was bold, so bold that following the talk she walked up to Mandisa and said, “I’m so sorry. I was staring at you the whole time, so I have to introduce myself. It’s just that you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
When asked if she was glad she looked up from sharing her snack, Wendi responded matter of factly.
Wendi: My life has been different ever since.
"It was a lot of communication. Little short phone calls and good morning texts saying, “I’m thinking about you.”"
Wendi’s transparency at the conference didn’t immediately lead to happily ever after. It took a little effort.
Wendi: I pursued Mandisa almost immediately after that. I needed to find out who this person was. Once I found out we were both fellows, I stalked her on the interwebs and found out some of the work she was doing. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know that she was doing work that was intersecting with mine. I needed to know more about this woman doing work in my hometown.
Wendi’s curiosity led her to do what any of us would do this day in age. She found her contact information online and reached out to schedule tea, but before they could officially meet up, they were met with a surprise.
Wendi: As soon as I moved back to the city, I went out to eat with my dad and his friend. Lo and behold, there was Mandisa accompanying my father’s friend. So now I like to think of our first date as one that was chaperoned by my dad.
When asked what that experience was like, Wendi responded candidly.
Wendi: Mandisa was sitting between me and my dad, and her thigh is touching mine. I’m like okay, I think she likes me because I’m feeling some zing. And I was totally distracted by the zing! Here I am zinging while I’m out with my dad, and he has no idea what’s happening as he catches up with his old movement friend. I had to remind myself to act like I had some sense.
After that unexpected encounter between Wendi and Mandisa, they went on a series of daytime outings. But by the fifth outing, Mandisa became curious about the extent of their meetups.
Mandisa: The biggest question was whether or not us hanging out was considered dates? I think a date is where you actually ask someone if they want to go on a date, and it’s not just let's go have tea. So, it seemed more or less like we were just new friends getting to know each other, but in the back of my mind I had all these questions about what if there’s more going on here.
Mandisa’s questions did not go unanswered for long. Wendi soon provided clarity by asking her out on a date, which developed into what they describe as a pretty formal courtship.
Realizing that one’s idea of courtship may be associated with more antiquated practices, they quickly clarified what it looked like for two Black women in 2008.
Mandisa: We spent time outdoors which was new for me. It was a lot of communication. Little short phone calls and good morning texts saying, “I’m thinking about you.” I’m involved in liberation work, and Wendi is involved in liberation work, so it looked like “Hey this event is happening, do you wanna go?” A lot of talk about our work was involved.
Wendi: We’d go to the Hookah lounge and sit and talk for hours. It doesn’t sound romantic.
Mandisa: It sounds so romantic.
During their courtship, there was a unique aspect to the romance they shared - they didn’t have sex for at least 4 months. Once again, they were quick to share what was at the root of that decision for them.
Wendi: I was really heartbroken from my past, and I felt like I wasn’t really in a place to have sex and maintain the boundaries that I needed for my well-being. I want to be very clear. This was not about respectability of any sort.
Mandisa: That was so endearing to me because I, too, was heartbroken, and I admired Wendi for being able to articulate something that was so painful. Her sharing that with me actually helped my love for her grow. I couldn’t keep pressuring her because that’s compromising my black feminist values.
In short, Wendi put a boundary in place to protect them both.
Mandisa: I just really wanted to be with her, and I saw very quickly I was going to have to change my approach. I’m an intense person. I’m an aggressive person, and I was just coming on very strong. Wendi was healing from her past hurts and heartbreaks. Her having that boundary also helped me to see why I wanted to have sex with her. Ultimately, I wanted to get to know her. I thought, “Okay, I can do that without having sex.”
By putting those boundaries in place, the two women were building a mutual amount of respect for each other.
On January 2, 2009, Wendi cooked a meal that folks in the South know requires a labor of love, okra stew and mac and cheese. And it was over that meal that Wendi asked Mandisa to make it official.
"So it means something to have this soft place. That's what home is."
Over 10 years later, Wendi reflected on what entering into a relationship meant for her and Mandisa.
Wendi: We’ve really sculpted what our relationship would be with each other. It wasn’t like she said what she wanted and that’s what it was, or I said what I wanted and that’s what it would be. She would say what she wanted, and there would be some similarities and differences between her vision and mine. Ultimately, we decided what we would create together.
When the conversation shifted to the ways in which the two differ, Mandisa shared what sounded like a short poem.
Mandisa: We’re lavender to purple. We have so much in common, but there are subtle differences.
The work that brought these two together has yet to stop. Before our conversation was over, Wendi had to leave for a meeting; this allowed Mandisa to open up about how it feels to be loved by Wendi. Her answer is one we should all sit with.
Mandisa: It means home. I’m somebody whose home isn’t a place. I was raised in an evangelical Christian place. There was a lot of love in my house, and that love came with expectations of certain behavior. I learned very quickly that love changed if you don’t meet those expectations. Wendi, however, is a home that grounds you. She often calls herself my soft place. I'm a very hard person. I’m intense. I’m aggressive. I interrupt people. I’m trying to work on that. I’m loud as fuck most times, and I have this fat, dark skinned body that is seen as hard in ways that are inhumane. So it means something to have this soft place. That’s what home is.
When you see Mandisa and Wendi, you see love. You see resistance. You see audacity. You see warmth. You see freedom. Mandisa and Wendi’s love is a glimpse into liberation.
In what ways has love set you free?
Written by: myrie tyshay (@___myreee)