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‘Remember the friendship formed between you two’

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By Anita Debro
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 who would, please send nominations to Erica Wright at ewright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

JONTA AND RUBEN MORRIS

Live: Hoover

Married: July 2, 2011

Met: Ruben and Jonta met in May 2009 when both worked for Teach for America in Atlanta.  Jonta, who grew up in Arkansas and Kansas, was completing an internship at Ruben’s office of the nonprofit.  Ruben, a Birmingham native, remembers one day doing a computer search to find out more about Jonta before she was to start working in the office when he was startled by a tap on his shoulder. “It was her,” he said. “And I felt butterflies when I met her.”  When they met, Jonta said she was impressed. “I thought ‘This is Ruben Morris and he is fine.’”  

Both felt an attraction but did not immediately act on it, they said. “I remember he walked by me one day in the office and spoke and I got all giddy,” she said. “So I had to figure out a way to let him know that I was single.” Jonta said she went on Facebook— they were both friends on the social media site— and one day updated her status to read, “It’s a gloomy day to be single.” Ruben responded to her Facebook post in agreement. The two then exchanged phone numbers and that same night went on their first date.

First date: Ruben and Jonta went to PF Chang’s in Atlanta that night for the first date and afterwards went to Blockbuster Video and rented a horror movie.  Ruben said that he had mentioned to Jonta that he liked peanut butter cookies and Jonta, who had a recipe for the treat, decided to make some for him that night. “So we had a bottle of Moscato and she made these amazing peanut butter cookies,” he said. Both Jonta and Ruben said they knew that night that there was something special between them.

Hometown visit: A few months later in September, Ruben invited Jonta to visit his hometown of Birmingham and to meet his family. “We stayed at The Sheraton and we went to the Civil Rights Institute, we ate and did all of the Birmingham stuff,” Jonta said. When the couple returned to Atlanta, Jonta said Ruben asked her to be his girlfriend and she agreed. The couple would soon become long-distance loves by 2010 when Jonta moved to Harlem to teach kindergarten at a charter school in the South Bronx and Ruben moved to Denver for graduate school and to also teach at a charter school. “There were lots of flights and frequent flyer miles,” Jonta joked. The couple would travel to see one another at least once a month. During that time, Jonta said Ruben teased and joked about an engagement whenever he would come to New York. “Once he even dropped down to one knee and pretended to propose,” she said. Ruben said he knew he would pop the question and it would be in Denver. 

The proposal: On April16, 2011, Jonta was in Denver visiting Ruben.  They were set to go to one of their favorite restaurants, Elway’s, which was in the basement of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. As the couple arrived at the hotel, the staff greeted Ruben. “I was wondering why they knew who he was,” she said. What Jonta didn’t know was that Ruben had been working with the hotel and restaurant staff to pull off the surprise proposal.  He had secured the penthouse suite at the hotel and had made special arrangements with the chef to prepare a special treat. After dinner the waiter asked if the couple would like dessert. Jonta declined, but a few minutes later a dessert — peanut butter cookies similar to those they had on their first date — was delivered and Ruben dropped to his knee and proposed. Afterwards, friends greeted them in the penthouse for a celebration. “I definitely knew something was up that night, I knew it was happening,” she recalled. 

The wedding: Around the same time the couple planned the wedding, Jonta’s parents were preparing for a trip to the Cayman Islands. They offered to host a small destination wedding for the couple at that same time and Jonta and Ruben agreed. The plan was for the couple to marry in front of a handful of family on Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman. “It rained that day,” Ruben said. “So we ended up getting married under a gazebo at our officiant’s home.”  The couple hosted a reception for about 50 to 75 people in Kansas City when they returned to the states. Jonta said she was happy to marry in an intimate ceremony. Even still, she said, she does sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have a larger wedding with more people. The couple have pledged to return to Grand Cayman in two years for their 10th anniversary to celebrate with a larger group of people.

Words of Wisdom: Jonta and Ruben each have a list of thoughts and advice on cultivating a healthy marriage. They both agree, first and foremost, that it is important to laugh together. Remember the friendship that was formed between just the two of you, Jonta said. “You have to remember the original two,” she said. She explained that couples should think about the foundation that was built in the relationship, one that was based on friendship and laughter. 

“You should definitely laugh together,” Ruben said.  In addition to laughter, couples should “not go to bed mad and try to communicate in such a way that your words do not harm your spouse.” He also added: “Kiss as often as you can, hold hands and save as much money as you can.”

Happily ever after: Ruben is program director for Build Up, a nonprofit that specializes in workforce development for low-income youth.  Jonta is the founder and executive director of Legacy Prep Charter School set to open in North Birmingham in August. The couple has two sons — Hamilton (named after the small town in Alabama) who is 6 and Pierson, who is 4.  They enjoy going out to eat. Their favorite restaurants include Post Office Pies and Melt in Avondale, Bamboo on Second in downtown Birmingham and Perry’s Steakhouse. They also enjoy traveling. Ruben said he looks forward to watching his sons grow into the people they are meant to become.

“I feel like we are here to provide a foundation for them and to clear a path for them,” he said. Jonta said she hopes to create a legacy with Ruben. “I believe that God desires for us to start something together so that we will have a collective legacy,” she said. “We both have it in our hearts to serve people in need so I hope that we can do that together.”