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‘The ring was beautiful…I was crying and felt 90 different emotions at once’

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BY JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY

Special to the Birmingham Times

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Barnett Wright bwright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

BENJAMIN AND ALYSSA SUMTER

Live: Calera

Married: Sept. 30, 2016

Met: December 2013, at Plum Bar in Birmingham, and again at the same bar three months later. “I was singing [back up] that night, and I noticed somebody different [in the crowd] he was tall, handsome, and then he smiled and had the audacity to have dimples. He was very well put together. [At the time, I was selling] men’s clothing at Joseph A. Bank at the Summit, so [wardrobe] was the first thing I used to notice, and his outfit was very nice,” Alyssa recalled. “After I finished singing he came up to us and told us [Alyssa and the lead singer] we did a great job and asked us what we were drinking… and he sent over a bottle of champagne, and we invited him over to sit with us and I was getting all of his information… I technically had a boyfriend at the time, but I was getting some information just to get it, and he got annoyed by it and left. I had a boyfriend anyway, so it is what it is.”

“… [After I sent over the champagne] and we were talking [it felt like] she was trying to hook me up with her friend, and I was bothered by it so I walked away,” Benjamin said. “But the truth is that when I met her, she looked like and acted like what I thought my wife would look like, so it piqued my interest and I went home that night thinking about her.  I looked for her for like three months, I went to that bar and every bar in Birmingham for months trying to find her because I wished I had gotten her name and number.”

After three months they would cross paths again at the Plum Bar.

“I was singing, and I had broken up with my boyfriend, and both of us [she and Benjamin] were on [separate] dates,” Alyssa laughed. “And it really didn’t matter because the second I was finished singing he came to the stage and said I need your number, and I said ‘and I need yours’,” Both of their dates took notice of their exchange, but it didn’t matter to them.

“I had been looking for her for at least 120 days,” Benjamin said. “That’s why the second time I saw Alyssa, I instantly went up to the stage and told her I needed her name and number.”

First date: April 2014, at Thai restaurant Surin on Highway 280.  “I remember her having on a blue dress because blue is my favorite color,” Benjamin said.

“I specifically asked him what his favorite color was before the date so that I could wear it,” Alyssa said, “I also remember being late,” she laughed.

“I’m a punctual individual, and schedule [oriented] so when people go off the schedule it’s kinda a pet peeve, and I remember waiting there for her, like ‘this chick really got me out here waiting for her’… But what’s funny is I would normally be frustrated or contemplating leaving, but I remember being elated once she was there, and that her dress was beautiful,” Benjamin said.

“…he was a nice change of pace… he was like we’re gonna try this wine and we’re gonna try [these dishes] … in the past, other boyfriends were not able to be that decisive and make those choices, so it was nice to sit back and be taken care of,” Alyssa said. “It was a really immersive experience, we had a good time, we talked about music, relationships and just really got to know each other.”

The turn: For both, it was June 2014. “…we had made plans to see each other that night to do dinner and a movie…, and at the time he had a business back in Virginia where [he was in partnership with Medicaid and sent people to sit with hospital stricken patients], and [payment for services had yet to be rendered] and Ben didn’t want the people that worked for them to go without, so he emptied out his savings account to make sure they were paid,” Alyssa recalled. “…he asked if we could reschedule for another night, and I said ‘ok’, but I called back a few minutes later and I said, ‘let me take you out tonight’… I said, ‘you have been so willing to do so much for others, the least I can do is buy you dinner’ …witnessing how big his heart was made me want to do something and give him something back to let him know that he’s appreciated. I took him out to dinner and we had a phenomenal time that night, and I said ‘yeah, I’m going to have to take his last name,” she laughed.

“It was that night for me too. For her to do that meant a lot to me, and it made me take notice and say maybe she is the person I’m supposed to be with,” Benjamin recalled.

The proposal: February 2016, in their bedroom at their apartment in Hoover.

“It was two days before Valentine’s Day, I had picked up the ring and I remember showing people at work because I was trying to work out how I was going to propose. But I got home that night, and I was so excited, and when I saw her I just pulled the ring out, and I was like ‘hey, you in or you out?’,” Benjamin said. “I remember her laughing hysterically as if I had told a joke that was really funny, and said, ‘are you serious?’ and I said, ‘do you not see this ring that I’m holding, it’s not for play,’” he laughed. “She asked me if I was serious several times, and then she said ‘yes’.”

“At first he was sitting at the edge of the bed and kept looking at me with big eyes, and I said, ‘what is going on with you?’ And then he pulled the ring out and said, ‘are you in or you out?’ and I kept asking if he was serious and then he got down on one knee… I shook my head yes so hard my bun came loose,” Alyssa laughed.

“The ring was extremely beautiful, I was thrilled, I was crying and ecstatic, and felt 90 different emotions at once. And the fact that he couldn’t wait till Valentine’s Day was adorable to me. I FaceTimed everybody that had an iPhone to show them the ring.”

The wedding: At Gabrella Manor in Birmingham, officiated by Dr. Ronald Sterling of St. John AME Church, and their colors were black and rose gold.

Most memorable for the bride: “My daddy walking me down the aisle to my husband-to-be. A girls first love is her dad and having him walk me down the aisle to my forever love was a really sweet moment. To know that my daddy trusts Ben enough to pass me off to him, and that he respects him… in that moment it was like alright, it’s official, you take the reins now, this is my daughter, love, respect and protect her,” Alyssa said.

Most memorable for the groom: “I remember wearing my wedding shoes and they were too small, my feet were in agony, they were on fire! And I remember we played this song called ‘Love’ by Kirk Franklin, that’s what Alyssa walked down the aisle to, and I remember seeing her and forgetting that my feet were even in pain. And I didn’t remember again until we finished our ‘I do’s’ and it was time to walk away, and I was like dang my feet are in pain. That’s when I knew I had embarked on something I had never had: unconditional love, even in the midst of pain,” he laughed, “And after the wedding I put on my flip flops and wore them to the reception.”

“In all of my wedding photos at my elegant After 5 reception, he had on black and white Nike flip flops. At least they matched [their colors],” Alyssa laughed.

The couple honeymooned in Cancun, Mexico. “As soon as we got off the plane they were selling this tequila that you can only get in Mexico, and we bought six bottles thinking it’d be romantic to drink a little on each anniversary, but we had a shot of it when we got to the room and it was the most disgusting thing we’d ever tasted,” Benjamin said.
“It tasted like cigarette butts, and bad life decisions,” Alyssa laughed.

Words of wisdom: “Learn in the early part of your relationship how to communicate with your partner effectively. We as people sometimes just tell people how we feel, but if you really want something to change, or want them to receive the message, find out a way to communicate that will give them a good understanding of where you’re coming from,” Benjamin said.

“We were told a lot during our marriage counseling not to go to bed angry, but we disagree with that. Sometimes stepping away from a situation for a moment will give you some clarity and will give you an opportunity to really think about things from the other person’s perspective, as opposed to just focusing on your own, or your reply to whatever they’re about to say. It helps to not escalate the situation, and for you two to just breathe for a moment and then come back to one another and really solve the issue,” Alyssa said.

Happily ever after: The Sumter’s have one daughter, Avery, 10 months.

Alyssa, 37, is an Irondale native, and Shades Valley High School grad. She attended Lawson State Community College where she earned an associate degree in English, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham [UAB], where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in African American Studies. Alyssa is a stay-at-home wife and mother, assistant director at ‘Becoming Stars Vocal Academy’, and does background vocals for local R&B/Soul Singer Kibibi Jones.

Benjamin, 39, is a Hampton Virginia Native, and attended Hampton High School. He works at Serra Hyundai in Trussville.

 

 

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