OPINION: Why this Atlanta couple wants you to help them amplify love

Khalil and Nicole Thompson, founders of Empowered Readers Literacy Project and the #AmplifyLove campaign.
Khalil and Nicole Thompson, founders of Empowered Readers Literacy Project and the #AmplifyLove campaign.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Nicole Thompson was perusing the bookshelves at a local Borders Bookstore one day when across the aisle Khalil Thompson caught her eye.

She was a 34-year-old transplant from small town Anderson, South Carolina, with her own Atlanta law firm, and he was a 25-year-old mortgage broker who decided to call Atlanta home after fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.

Love at first sight can seem like an overused platitude, but there is really no other way to describe their encounter that summer day in 2007. Just three hours after a mutual friend introduced them, Khalil called to invite her on a date.

Nicole agreed to share a movie, but she purchased her own ticket and popcorn. Soon thereafter, Khalil called again.

Would she join him for a book club discussion at his church?

That night, they happened to be studying Bruce Wilkinson’s “The Dream Giver,” a guide for rising above the ordinary, conquering your fears, and overcoming the obstacles that keep you from living your dream, a theme that would show itself over and over in the life they’d soon share.

ExploreIf you want to cite stats about black people, let’s talk about history

“They were just talking about faith in a way that I hadn’t talked about it before,” Nicole remembered. “I was like, OK, this is somebody I can grow with, that I can learn with. I realized when he said he wanted somebody to build a legacy with, he meant it.”

Lance Ferrell, that mutual friend who made the introduction in the bookstore, had told her as much.

Khalil is the one, he’d said.

In September, Nicole introduced Khalil to her mom. He’s the one, she told her.

Her father agreed and on June 27, 2009, the two were married before some 200 family members and friends at Sweet Canaan Baptist Church, where Nicole had grown up.

Together, they have been in pursuit of the dream — to amplify love of self, family and community — that God put in them ever since.

The Thompsons — Nicole and Khalil (back) with daughters Syrai and Selah (front) — are shown at a launch photo shoot for their family’s #AmplifyLove campaign.
The Thompsons — Nicole and Khalil (back) with daughters Syrai and Selah (front) — are shown at a launch photo shoot for their family’s #AmplifyLove campaign.

Credit: John Stephens

Credit: John Stephens

Listening to them share the dream, I had flashbacks of another conversation with Robert B. Hill about Black people and their families. Hill is the author of “The Strengths of African American Families: Twenty-Five Years Later,” which challenged the notion that the vast majority of Blacks were living in poverty, on welfare or in jail or living as unmarried, single parents. In fact, the vast majority lived normal lives and went about their business much like white folks did.

The difference was Blacks were consistently portrayed as poor, deviant and immoral, reinforcing racist attitudes and the equally reprehensible idea that we needed charity and other forms of “help.”

ExploreI’m tired and I can’t breathe either

In the hours after George Floyd died while in police custody on May 25, after Black Lives Matter protests erupted here and across the country, that negative narrative loomed large in the Thompsons’ minds.

Khalil, in particular, had had enough of that.

“I was just tired,” he said. “Tired of constantly having to endure oppression, tired of being treated differently, tired of constantly having to have that conversation with our daughters about why the world is the way it is. Tired of being told to dress a certain way in order to gain the respect that whites took for granted, tired of having people deflect the blame on us. The exhaustion was just bubbling over because the cycle was repeating itself.”

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

And it was repeating itself, not because of anything George Floyd had done, but because of the prevailing image of Black men as criminals, one perpetuated unfortunately by the media.

Within the week, Nicole, sensing Khalil’s pain and frustration, suggested he share his pain with their village, the people who love and support him.

Khalil, without assigning blame, bared his soul in TikTok and Facebook videos with the simple but profound message that he is a husband, a son, a brother, a friend, a neighbor, a dreamer, a human and that he’s tired.

“I am not a threat,” he says. “I am not a threat.”

Thus began the Thompsons’ newest crusade to “Amplify Love” and dispel negative stereotypes of Black men, Black families and their communities.

Come back Saturday and I’ll tell you more about that and the white celebrity chef who was the first to sign on to help.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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