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 Erica Wright firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.
VALENCIA AND EDWARD JOHNSON
Married: March 3, 2010
Met: At West End High School in 1984; she was a freshman and he was a sophomore. They both had the last name ‘Johnson’ and classmates thought they were related.
“Everybody at school thought we were brother and sister…and she was popular and a clown and every other day somebody was asking me did I see something my ‘sister’ did. So, I said, ‘I got to find out who this girl is?’” remembered Edward.
He made his introduction to Valencia while she was at basketball practice.
“I think he was kind of taken aback by how boyish I was,” Valencia said, “…but the whistle blew, and I had to go, so I said I’d catch up with him later.”
First date: By Edward’s senior year, and Valencia’s junior year they had stopped dating other people. Their first date was “a ride to pick up his brother from work,” Valencia said. “I was a church girl and my parents were strict, so he had to get me back home, I couldn’t be out long…we ended up eating some McDonald’s in a parking lot on the west side.”
However, their first “real date” would come more than two decades later after Edward finished a 23-year prison sentence and after Valencia’s 21-year marriage ended.
“He was transitioning out of prison and was home on a three-day pass…we spent the weekend at the Embassy Suites in Homewood and had steak at Ruth Chris, it was beautiful…my husband cried the whole time,” Valencia said.
Edward said he was in a seven-month re-entry program and happy because everybody didn’t get a pass, and he ended up with three. “I was grateful to God for V and my parole [being granted] and being able to spend some time with my family,” he said.
The turn: During Valencia’s divorce proceedings, she and Edward reconnected while he was in jail. Valencia spent from 2007 to 2012 trying to get him paroled.
“I met who I needed to meet, spent time talking to the warden and speaking with people that could help me get his life sentence overturned,” Valencia said.
“I rebirthed him to a place of hope, love, and faith in God.”
The proposal: In March 2010, two years before his parole was granted, Edward proposed to Valencia inside the prison cafeteria during one of their Sunday visits.
“All the guys were in on it,” Edward said. “I walked in and she was sitting at the table in the cafeteria… I walked up, and I said ‘what’s up, how you doing, baby?’ And then I slipped my hand in my pocket and pulled out this lovely ring and I got one knee and said ‘will you marry me, Miss Valencia Johnson?’ And she did the biggest ‘Real Housewives cry’, I hugged her.”
“Edward played a lot of poker in prison, and he beat a guy for his wedding ring,” Valencia said, “and that was the ring he proposed to me with on his knees in the prison cafeteria… He put on a show, all his guys [friends] were standing there like his bodyguards as he proposed… I was embarrassed as hell, I was shocked, I didn’t expect it. I did cry, 26 years later he was asking me to be his wife.”
The wedding: The couple were married inside the prison at the library at the St. Clair Correctional Facility by the prison chaplain and again on the outside before more than 500 guests at the Boutwell Auditorium in downtown Birmingham.
For the second wedding, the colors were tiffany blue and chocolate with red roses. Valencia and her children all wore white. There were 14 bridesmaids and groomsmen, and five flower girls.
Most memorable for Valencia was when “Edward kept sending me love notes,” she said. “The whole time I was getting ready, he had each one of his groomsmen deliver a love note…it was so sweet, but I asked him who told him to do that,” she laughed.
Most memorable for Edward, who had been out of prison for two days, was his entrance. “I walked into this full-blown decorated room with these big chandeliers, and it was like a love story for me. When I walked in and the guy blew the Shofar [horn] I started crying because I couldn’t believe the fact that I was free and was getting to marry my best friend in this ceremony…when she showed up, I couldn’t stop crying.”
The couple had two back to back honeymoons. They went to Chicago, Edwards’s birthplace so that he could reconnect with his roots, and Las Vegas, a gift from the wedding party.
Words of wisdom: The Johnsons said that love conquers all and covers a multitude of faults, provides grace for the tough times and God will always put you in position to grasp his grace and each other.
“Real black love doesn’t come without a challenge,” Valencia said. “We lost a lot of time, but God will renew the days of your youth. Love itself is a miracle. If you ever experience true love [you’ll know] it’s a miracle because true love is not something that is average or easily done…”.
Edward said, “When a man findeth a wife, he findeth favor…I do everything around what my wife wants me to do because I know she has a vision, she’s sharp as a tack, and we love and respect each other. If you don’t have that in your relationship, the rest is null and void.”
Happily ever after: The Johnsons enjoy traveling and touring for speaking engagements and their entertainment projects with ‘Mrs. V’s’ comedy shows. They have two children, the late Ebony Leosha, and son Dominique, 29, and share: sons, Dondi, 30, Deonta 26, Donaje, 24, Devontae, 21, and daughter, Donesha, 26, from Valencia’s first marriage.
Valencia is a West End native and attended West End High School. She is a comic, entertainer and V 94.9 morning show radio personality.
Edward is Chicago born, but native to West End. He attended West End High School and Miles College with a degree in business administration. He manages his wife’s career and runs his nonprofit ‘The Bypass’, where he helps ex-convicts re-enter into society.