Combing Los Angeles for Signs of Black Love

When Dana Elise McKinney’s father introduced her to David Emanuel White Jr. at an event in October 2016, Ms. McKinney said she thought Mr. White was “slightly full of himself.”

Mr. White had a different first impression of her.

“I definitely noticed how beautiful she was, and it was clear that she was brilliant as well,” he said. “But when you’re meeting a woman with her father for the first time, it’s not the most opportune time to ask her out.”

The two, then both students at Harvard, were at a dinner in Boston hosted by the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. Mr. White was there on behalf of Harvard Law School’s Black Law Students Association, where he served as communications director, and Ms. McKinney to represent the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s African American Student Union, where she served as president. She brought her father as her guest, and he introduced her to Mr. White after striking up a conversation with him.

Though both were active in Black student life on campus — and taking the same “Vision and Justice” course that fall — neither had noticed the other before. And after that night, another year would pass before they saw one another again.

After she completed master’s degrees in architecture and urban planning in January 2017, Ms. McKinney, who has a bachelor’s degree from Princeton, moved to Los Angeles that March. A few months later Mr. White, a graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, moved to Los Angeles after completing a law degree in May 2017.

Once Mr. White had relocated, a mutual friend from Harvard, who knew that both had met at the N.A.A.C.P. dinner, suggested to him that the two reconnect. Soon after, Mr. White reached out to Ms. McKinney and asked her on a date.

Despite her initial thoughts about Mr. White, Ms. McKinney decided to say yes, reminding herself not to “fall into the first impression that a person gives you,” she said.

Their first date that September at E.P. & L.P., a restaurant and rooftop in West Hollywood, Calif., lasted until the restaurant closed.

“He talked a lot about the service that he did,” Ms. McKinney said, including his year in Afghanistan as a scout platoon leader in the Army, for which he received honors including a Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart. “I pride myself on having a good heart, but I felt like his was even more pure and altruistic than my own.”

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They soon scheduled a second date: to visit locations in Los Angeles that were featured in HBO’s “Insecure,” a favorite television show of both for what Mr. White described as its depictions of “Black love and the search for Black love in particular.”

But as their relationship gained momentum, it also faced a hurdle: Mr. White, who is from Milton, N.Y., had plans to move to New York City in October 2018, to begin a job at a law firm in Manhattan.

While his move meant they would have to date long-distance, the couple were willing to give it a shot, in part because Ms. McKinney, who grew up in Trumbull, Conn., had a desire to eventually return to the East Coast.

In July 2020, after almost two years of long-distance dating, Ms. McKinney moved in with Mr. White, into his apartment in Harlem. The next year, in June 2021, they moved into their current home in Washington.

Ms. McKinney, 32, who now works as a design critic at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, is a co-founder of EnFold Collective, an interdisciplinary architecture and design firm, and the founder of Studio Kinn, a consulting firm that focuses on equity in design. Mr. White, 34, works at the White House Office of Presidential Personnel as a special assistant to the president for National Security Agency personnel.

He proposed in July, asking Ms. McKinney to marry him at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, the site of her favorite scenic view of the city. She had traveled to Los Angeles alone to pick up some belongings from a former office, and had no idea of his plan to meet her there and propose.

On Sept. 24, five years to the day of their first date, the couple were wed before 350 guests at Kent Island Resort in Stevensville, Md. The Rev. Paulette Jones-Imaan, a minister ordained by the Covenant Christian Community, officiated.

At the ceremony, a Cherokee wedding poem was read as a nod to Ms. McKinney’s Native American heritage. The couple also jumped the broom to honor their Black ancestors.

“We curated it to really try to reflect both of our identities, not just as individuals, but that of our families and the histories that our families have lived,” Ms. McKinney said.

Added Mr. White, “It was just an excellent way to be in the present, remember the past and set ourselves up for the future.”

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