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6 Interracial Couples on Race, Relationships and Reality

Styled and written by Christine Fellingham  |  Photos by Kylene White  |  Hair & Makeup by Autumn Sharp

There is a saying that “Love is blind.” The couples in this story prove that it’s anything but. As their interviews reveal, falling in love and staying in love with someone of a different race is less about not seeing the color of their skin and more about seeing them completely – inside and out – and cherishing everything that makes them who they are.

The candid photos and honest answers in this feature celebrate the beauty of loving fully and deeply – with eyes and minds wide open.

Jessi; Nya, (7); Tavis, (9); and Bilal Powell, former University of Louisville and New York Jets running back.

Jessi & Bilal

They were college friends first, sweethearts second, but Jessi and Bilal Powell’s soul connection began with a simple exchange: “I asked him for a pencil and he gave it to me.” She was a sophomore communications major at the University of Louisville, he was a freshman running back who followed up with a Facebook message that sparked a close friendship that blossomed into romance two years later. “Eventually, I realized that even when I was hanging out with other girls, I couldn’t stop thinking about her,” he says. 

The couple just celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary, have two beautiful children, and are re-settled in Louisville after his retirement from a successful career with the New York Jets. The pair reflect on their longevity and their family life.

What drew you together?

B: “Our faith, number one. Number two, past experiences.  We both grew up without much materialistic stuff. Both of those things helped us relate on a deeper level than our skin color.”

Why does your relationship work?

B: “We are complete opposites. We balance each other. Sometimes I have to tell Jessi to calm down and sometimes she has to tell me to speak up. I am a major introvert and she is a major extrovert.”

What do you love most about your partner?

J: “I love Bilal as a whole. I love his work ethic and his drive. I love his presence when he comes into a room.”

B: “I love Jessi because she can always find the words for me when I can’t find them.”

Your biggest strength as a couple?

B:  “…is that we are best friends.”

Your proudest accomplishment as a couple?

J: “That’s an easy one.  Still being married.”

What unique challenges or discrimination do you face as an interracial couple?

J: “A lot of people who do not know who Bilal is assume that I am the breadwinner. We were in Jamaica one time and the bartender told him she knew why he was with me: money.  I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been given the check.”

B: “There’s this assumption that if you’re in an interracial relationship you have to ‘pick a side.’ Jessi and I think it’s important that our children understand they are Black and white.”

Do you think it has gotten easier or more difficult recently?

J: “I think there’s a lot of dialogue that happens in households between adults and that pours over onto the kids at school.  We teach our kids to stand up for themselves if they feel like a child has said something to them that’s inappropriate.

We roleplay at home to prepare the kids for possible situations that can arise. Our kids have been called names, had their hair made fun of; my son was actually told he would die by the gun by another student. Those things are taught.”

What gifts and challenges do you think being part of an interracial family brings to your children?

J: “We have always been open with our kids about who they are and who their parents are. We have a high expectation from our kids to be respectful, caring human beings. We like to give them space and time to express themselves and then talk them through those feelings.

Our daughter, Nya, has already told me that she feels more Black than she feels white. I tell her that’s great and I’m so happy that she feels that she can talk to me about that. My friend, Rhonda, did knotless braids for Nya and she told me she’s never felt prettier.  It made my heart so happy that she felt connected to the Black community because of her hair.

To be real and raw with you…. Things like putting on lotion everyday, learning how to do Nya’s hair, caring for skin that’s different from mine, all of that is important for me to know and is important for anyone that’s in an interracial marriage to understand.”

Does being in an interracial relationship give you a different perspective?

J: “Oh my gosh, such a different perspective. It’s so important for people to understand other cultures. When we had the kids, at the hospital, I had to pick what their ethnicity is: white or African American. I had to choose how to identify which race my kids were at birth.

B: “Being an interracial couple, you have to be open in discussing both races. You also have to be able to explain your feelings and be open to hearing your spouse’s feelings. Communication and empathy are the most important things. We always say, ‘Don’t feed into ignorance; create change by educating.’”

“Bilal is a night owl and gets most of his brainstorming and thinking done at night. Sometimes I wake up at 2 a.m. and he’s making up plays on a white board. On the other hand, I need my sleep!”

Tawana Andrew, WAVE Meteorologist, and fiance, Rusty Steele, human resources manager for Oxmoor Acura, in their Bengals onesies.

Tawana & Rusty

As a meteorologist for WAVE 3, Tawana Andrew is used to reporting the weather, not making news. But when her boyfriend of three years, Rusty Steele (yes, that is his real name) dropped to one knee and proposed to her live on air on September 10, their love story went viral. Now the pair who hail from Florida (her) and Cincy (him) are busy planting roots in Louisville —­ saving to buy a home and planning a wedding in 2023.

How did you meet?

T: “We met on Hinge. There were a bunch of prompts. So I typed, ‘I bet you can’t bake better than me.” All he said was, “Bet.” I spent half the day trying to figure out what he meant.

R: “She was very cautious. My name is kind of funny. So, people at her station were background checking me to make sure I wasn’t catfishing her.”

When was your first date?

R: “We went to a sushi restaurant. I’m a very adventurous person. We got around to the sake bombs. She’s like, ‘I’ve never had one, but I can try that.’ And I thought, ‘Alright, she can hang!’

T: “I figured, ‘OK, everything was new. Dating on an app was new. Randomly dating someone I’d never met before was new, so why not at this point try a sake bomb?”

What drew you together?

R: “We bonded over things like Marvel, Dr Who, lots of Dr. Who references. We also have the same values in terms of how we want to live our lives and how we want to hold each other accountable for that. We’re very much in alignment about the big stuff.”

When did you know this was it?

T: “We met each other well before the pandemic and then moved in together during the pandemic. The whole world shut down, so we thought, ‘Why not be in a small space together?”

Why does your relationship work?

T: “I am the stay at home, read a book, watch a movie, I will never leave the house unless I need to get food person. And he is definitely the opposite.”

R: “I’m more, at the drop of a hat, ‘I’m going to go bungee jump off a bridge.”

T: “He did that. I didn’t. But I did sky dive; keep in mind that I’m terrified of heights.  He pulls me out of my shell and encourages me to explore the world in a different way and I reign him back a little bit.”

What challenges or discrimination do you face as an interracial couple?

T: “People always make comments. We have a very interesting way of dealing with this.”

R: Not every look is the look that you think it is. Sometimes it’s ‘Oh, interracial couple. Cool.’ So, we play a game called ‘Guess the Thought Bubble.’ We get the look and then it’s is it, ‘It’s an interracial couple. That’s not okay.’ Or is it, ‘Oh it’s an interracial couple and they’re so cute?’”

T: “Or maybe our outfits are just weird?

R: “We just play that game. Because you can take every single look or negative reaction and internalize it. Or you can understand that not every look is a negative one.”

Has it gotten easier or harder recently?

T: 2020 was a wild one with all of the racial stuff going on. I would have a lot of my Black friends asking me what he thinks because they’re trying to get a different perspective and he would get the other way. So we were kind of the people a lot of people would go to to talk about what’s going on race-wise in America because they knew we were in an interracial relationship.

Overall I feel going through all of that made us better and stronger as a couple. We had to learn to listen to each other and communicate better.”

What’s your biggest strength as a couple?

T: “He supports me as me. I support him as him. One good thing that I think happened through all of that was that 2021 was the first time I’d ever worn my natural hair on television and he was a big part of that. He said, ‘This is you. Why are you hiding you? You are going to feel more comfortable doing you on television.’ And I feel like I grew as a person and a meteorologist because of his pushing me to be a little bit more of myself.”

“My bedtime is 7 or 8 pm because I get up at 1 or 2 am to do the weather. He’s up until midnight playing Fortnight.”


Mohammed Mills, UPS employee, Michelle Mills, Business Professional at UPS, and daughter, Olivia Mills, 3.

Michelle & Mohammed

Their romance reads like a plot from a movie. Michelle and Mohammed Mills met salsa dancing shortly after he arrived in Louisville from his native Cuba. Blame it on the sultry music, but the connection was almost instantaneous. Says Michelle, “We moved in together seven months later.”

The two now share a beautiful daughter, Olivia, and are working first and third shifts at UPS while Mohammed continues his software engineering studies in order to establish himself in his career in this country. “Currently, we both work from home and have crazy schedules. Mohammed works night shift and I work second shift,” Michelle says. “We take it in stride because it’s a step toward creating the life we want for our family.”  

What drew you together?

Michelle: “We came from such different backgrounds and cultures, but had so many of the same interests and goals for our future. We both love to dance, travel, and were at the point in life where we knew that we wanted kids and a family.” 

Mohammed: “We both knew what we wanted and didn’t want to wait any longer.” 

How does your relationship work?

Michelle: “We are alike in many ways, but also very different. I am outgoing and funny (at least I think I am) and enjoy being silly with my daughter.” 

Mohammed: “I am more studious and serious. It can be quite entertaining at our house.”  

What do you love most about your partner?

Michelle: I love that Mohammed is patient, smart and kind.”  

Mohammed: “Michelle has a great smile, laughs easily and is very passionate and caring. And I love her cooking!”

What are your biggest strengths as a couple?

Michelle: “We are very supportive of each other’s goals and we both recognize our faults or mistakes and move quickly to resolve any disagreements. We love to spend time with each other.”  

Mohammed: “We really enjoy our family life. We have a blast with just the three of us.” 

What is your proudest accomplishment as a couple?

Michelle: “Our three-year-old daughter Olivia.”

What challenges or discrimination do you face as an interracial couple?

Michelle: “Since we have been together, we have never encountered anything personally that we would consider discriminatory. I have found that people are generally welcoming and kind to us.”

Mohammed: “We talked about it early on, but haven’t really experienced it. I understand this is not the case for all interracial couples, unfortunately.”

Do you feel that it has gotten easier or harder lately?

Mohammed: “I think on a big-picture scale,
there are some improvements. We believe that technology can bring people together. That social media, increased international travel within families, and more working side-by-side with different cultures can help create an open mindset and friendships that naturally give people more comfort with differences.”

Does being in an interracial relationship give you a new perspective?   

Michelle: “It definitely does. It makes you think first before assuming or casting judgment. It also helps you to become more open-minded and embrace authenticity of race and culture.”

Mohammed: “It gives you the opportunity to learn about different cultures and grow as a person.”

What gifts do you think being part of an interracial family brings your daughter?

Michelle: “We believe that it gives Olivia many gifts. Culture enriches your life. The more cultures she can be a part of, the more cultures she can experience, the more she will learn and be able to embrace change and the differences that make life interesting.”

“Olivia pretty much runs our bed and brings all her toys that she is interested in that day. There really is no telling what you might roll over on or what you could step on when getting out of our bed. It’s very ‘Sleep at your own risk!’”  

Molley Ricketts, CEO of Incipio Workforce Solutions, and Chad Ricketts, maintenance engineer at GE.

Molley & Chad

In many ways, theirs is a classic love story: the high school cheerleader and the star basketball player. “Our first date was at Mario’s pizza in Mount Washington. We went to see Silence of the Lambs and that tells you how long we’ve been together,” laughs Molley. 

While they dated other people in college, they were back together by the time they graduated and they married soon afterwards. “We’ve always had more fun together than we do apart,” Chad says. Now the couple reflects on 24 years of marriage and child-rearing.

What drew you together?

M: “We always had fun and laughed a lot. I think that’s one of the things I enjoy about our relationship. We still have so much fun and see life as an adventure.”

C: “For me, it was Molley’s zest for life in general. She goes a hundred and ten percent at everything she does. She helps motivate me too.”

Why does your relationship work?

M: “At the core, we’re best friends.”

C: “It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. We’ve had fights and frustrations in twenty-four years of marriage and raising kids. (Son Tristan is 24 and daughter Alayna is 21.) Even if we don’t talk for a few days, in the end, we always come together and are able to talk to each other.”

What unique challenges or discrimination do you face as an interracial couple?

M: “In the beginning, and we’re going back to the nineties in rural Kentucky… it was pretty bad. I remember there was one time that we were in a restaurant and there was an older couple sitting diagonally across from us and she was pointing and making comments. So, right or wrong, I got up and went over there and sat next to them and asked, ‘Do you have a problem with me or does your food taste bad?’ Chad was so embarrassed. That was the last time I was that aggressive about it. I realized I empowered them.”

C: “When we first started dating, my mom said, ‘If this is what you want to do, it’s going to be tough. Be ready for it. (My mom is white and my dad is Black.) A lot of times, it’s not worth saying anything all because all you’re going to do is solidify any stereotype they have. It can be better to say, ‘Get to know us and you’ll know different.’”

What challenges have your children faced as part of an interracial family?

C: Our house was the house that everyone wanted to come to; we welcomed everyone. We had the food; we had the games and we wanted that life for the kids. We were always about bringing people together. For Tristan, it wasn’t until middle school that he first had an incident. He came home and said, ‘Somebody asked me what I was today.’ I said, ‘You’re Tristan.’ If that’s not good enough for them, you don’t need them as a friend.

Another time, a girl’s dad was not excited that she was dating our son and we had to talk through that. We just said that you’re going to come in contact with people who are going to have a different perspective on you as a person because of how they visually identify you. They shouldn’t be privileged to be in your life.”

Do you feel that it has gotten easier or harder lately?

C: “Times have changed some, but not completely.  We have a diverse group of friends. We did have some reaching out to us for answers during 2020 and there were some hard conversations. Even though you’ve known someone for 20 years, when their city is in crisis, anger can come out.”

What is your greatest accomplishment as a couple?

M: “About twenty years ago, Chad and I went through a very tough financial season and the fact that we both learned lessons from that time frame and crawled out of the pit that we put ourselves is something that I’m very proud of. I’m proud that we didn’t say, ‘That’s not what I signed up for’ and, instead, we came out stronger.”

“Marriage isn’t 50/50. Sometimes he has to be 130% because I’m feeling less; sometimes I have to bring more. You have to bring your whole self and give your whole self.”

Casey Kimball-Pham, an attorney, and Hanh Kimball-Pham, an advertising executive.

Casey & Hanh

Their romance began as a friendship. Hanh and Casey met through fundraisers and Fairness events around town, but their connection gradually sparked into something more. “Hanh won me over with her crawfish boil, her Pop-a-shot basketball skills and epic dance moves,” Casey says. “We were married three years later.”

Now, they share what makes their marriage happy and fulfilling.

When did you know this was serious? 

C: “I knew this was serious right around the time I finished my second plate of crawfish.”

H: “Because we were friends first, once we started dating, I knew already that our relationship was important.  One based on mutual respect and understanding.”

What do you think drew you together?

C: ”Laughter, kindness, hope and joy. We found these in one another. Falling in love was just the evolution of that.”

How does your relationship work?

C: “Our differences mesh really well together and our marriage is all about balance.  Marriage can’t always be a fifty-fifty split. Sometimes one partner can only carry thirty percent and the other has to pick up that seventy. What we are really great at is knowing when the other partner needs us to pick up that extra little bit.”

What do you love most about your partner?

C: “Have I mentioned her cooking? Ha. Hanh is thoughtful and patient.”

H: “Casey challenges me every day, in a good way. I love that I can have thoughtful conversations with her and turn around and just talk about the most random things.”

Do you face any unique challenges or discrimination as a gay interracial couple?

C: “Our challenges as a couple stem less from race and more from the cultural expectations of the traditional Vietnamese American community which Hanh’s family is part of. Hanh, like her mother and stepfather, was born in Vietnam and immigrated to Kentucky where she became a citizen. Her family became a member of a culturally-rich Vietnamese diaspora community in Louisville and she grew up with first and second generation Vietnamese-Americans whose love of the nuclear family is rivaled only by their love of America. Marriages within the Vietnamese American community are typical. Marriage within your own gender and outside of your community are not.”

H: “When family friends met Casey, they assumed she spoke Vietnamese and that she was a cousin or relation from California. When we were first engaged, there was talk of having a private ceremony, of waiting a long while “just to see” or even of sending me to Vietnam to reconnect with my homeland and find a nice husband. In time, with love, patience and repetition, Casey was accepted and loved, though she is neither male nor of Vietnamese descent. Our wedding may have been one of the first of its kind within our local Vietnamese-American community and was certainly the first within our family. Both my immediate and extended family recognize her as the wife that she is and as another daughter of my mother. And just like all mothers-in-law, she wants a grandchild like yesterday.”

What are your biggest strengths as a couple?

C: “Unconditional love. Love is a feeling and a choice. We choose to feel it and to give it no matter the conditions or circumstances. We choose each other every day.”

“If the wind blows, I wake up. Hanh could sleep through a ceiling collapse. Seriously. That happened last year.”

Adrienne and Kris Cole, owner and culinary director of Marigold Catering, and one of their three dogs, Coco.

Adrienne & Kris

When their workplace relationship heated up, Kris Cole resigned from his sous chef job so Adrienne could continue to rise in her management career without the complications of an “office romance.”

Within a few years, they were working together in a new way: As married partners in Marigold Cafe and Catering. “Food and work are part of our love story,” Adrienne says. “It was the second go-round in life and marriage for both of us, and we had a common passion and common ground: We wanted to have an awesome second chapter together.”

How does your relationship work?

A: “We are complete opposites. If you looked at what I am and what he is, you would say, ‘You two don’t match.’ God put us together and wrote this love story for sure. This is the relationship I prayed for.”

K: “She’s a great manager and communicator. And I’m great on the execution side. Together we comprise what would be really stellar individual person.”

What do you love most about your partner?

A: “I love the fact that Kris is the most laid-back, doesn’t-take-anything-too-seriously kind of person compared to my level of being high-strung. His even-keel, constant patience and reassurance are a blessing.”

K: “I love her high-strung energy. She is a go-getter. And a leader. I appreciate her leadership in our family.”

Your proudest accomplishment as a couple?

A: “It’s the kids and what we’ve accomplished in blending families. We have four kids (Dylan, 18; Marley, 14; Layne, 12; and Mason, 10). They’re all Kris’s biologically, but I’ve been in their life for seven years.”

Do you face discrimination as an interracial couple?

A: “It started early. It was very visible in what I had to go through to maintain my job compared to Kris– having a workplace relationship as management in a very corporate restaurant.  It was night and day. I was fighting for my life, fighting for my position. He was fine.”

K: “I didn’t have an understanding of it at first. Not having those experiences in the past, I didn’t know what I didn’t see. It taught me what I just glazed over in the world.”

How do you handle it?

K: “We deal with it head on. It’s Adrienne’s way. She is head on and she leads the charge. With our friends, kids, family, it’s always about accountability. It’s understanding that if you know better, you do better.”

A: “I advocate all the time. I advocate for women, for Black women, for Black people, for children. As a family, we communicate head-on, fiercely. I position myself to be a Black woman raising four white children. They have to understand their power based on the simple basis of their skin color.

We took our children to the protests. They live in a world where the people they love are endangered. They use their God-given right to advocate knowing they have one hundred percent support from their parents. What you do in life is speak for people who can’t speak for themselves.”

Do you feel that it has gotten easier or harder lately?

A: “I love that it’s a conversation. More people are coming to the table to talk. Before, it was easily avoided. School wasn’t talking about it. It was taboo. I love that our children have that availability to have that conversation and that their friends of color know that their white friends care about them.”

What gifts do you think being part of an interracial family brings your children?

K: “It’s given them an abundance of gifts: opening their eyes to new cultures, to new ways of life, to new perspectives. They have a much broader view and understanding of the world and the different experiences people have in it. There are too many to even count.”

A: “Our relationship and me coming into their lives gives them a different view of the world. And it has showed them that they can have a voice in making things better.”

“We share our bed with three dogs most nights, but, fortunately, they’re late sleepers!”


P.S. Looking for something sweet to give your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day? Check out our feature this month on Kelly Ramsey of Art Eatables, who in her stores pairs the complex notes of bourbons with the finest chocolates.