Instead of having a romantic dinner at The Fresh or cuddling in their dorm rooms, junior public relations major Imani Harris and her boyfriend, junior marketing major Jeremiah Willis, spent their second anniversary speaking on the Dating with a Purpose panel. Awws and applause were heard almost immediately from the predominantly female audience after the announcement of this milestone.
The Men of Excellence and I.D.E.A.L. Women hosted Harris and Willis along with two other local couples, Pastor of West Point Baptist Church Tony Reimonenq and Lady Elizabeth Reimonenq and Jeremy and Robin Bender, on Feb. 8 in the Thad Cochran Center.
Junior psychology major and vice president of I.D.E.A.L. Amber Slaughter said she was motivated by her own shortcomings in creating the program.
“If I had to make an exact definition of what ‘dating with purpose’ means, I would say that dating with purpose means actively having a relationship with an individual that is geared toward motivating, uplifting and having an overall positive impact on each other lives,” Slaughter said. “Have I dated with purpose in the past? To be honest, no, I haven’t. But this is why I wanted to do this program to make [others] aware of how to date with purpose and know what they should look for when dating or having a relationship with someone.”
Slaughter said the women of I.D.E.A.L. invited Harris and Willis to speak after reading Harris’ blog Sincerely Imani. On her blog, Harris discusses her growing relationship with Jesus and its various effects on her life monthly — even if it means breaking up with her boyfriend.
“I found it very inspiring that when Imani and her mate noticed that their physical connection to each other was going to get in the way of them honoring God, they knew had to set up boundaries,” Slaughter said.
About 10 minutes before the event starts, Willis arrives from his campus ministry, sets his backpack on the floor and takes a seat next to Harris at the panelist table. Notably, Harris and Willis are the youngest in age and in relationship length at the table, sandwiching themselves in between marriages of 22 years and one year.
They greet each other quietly with no public displays of affection. This behavior is normal for them and has been for the last six months.
In December of 2017, Harris introduced the idea of “fasting” from physical aspects of relationships when she announced that she won’t kiss Willis again until their wedding day. Although Harris expected to garner views from nosy peers for her admitted click-bait title, she never predicted 4,000 of them.
“J is super private,” Harris says as she laughs. “And I am all the way out there. I believe there is healing in telling my truth, so I have to be open and vulnerable. I explained that to him when I mentioned writing about our relationship, and he understood.”
“It’s the things that we do together that bring God glory,” Willis said. “People come to us and they tell us, ‘Man, when you spoke it was so powerful. When you wrote or when you sang, it was so powerful.’ It was something that I really needed to hear.”
“I’m proud to see other people benefit from what we go through from us being transparent and open.”
As the program begins, corresponding secretary of MOX and junior paralegal studies major Stepfon Green asks how the couples met. It was then that Harris and Willis revealed that their love wasn’t one that happened at first sight.
Meeting at an event for SGA’s Freshman Associates, they felt unsure of each other.
Willis explained, “I’m from Jackson, and most of the people I’ve been around in my life were black people. And she’s from Petal, so she couldn’t say the same. When I would talk about black history and African-American culture, she couldn’t always relate.”
Laughter from the audience ensues as Willis jokingly cringes, concluding his story with, “She turned out to be alright.”
Harris offers the same amount of playfulness and honesty in her quick account. “I couldn’t decide if I thought he was cute or not when I first saw him. Every time I would see him I thought he had nice arm muscles.” She giggles.
Despite their eventual attraction, they stuck to their decision to abstain from sex, one they had made individually prior to meeting.
“A desire to become more mature in our Christian faith is what keeps us out of that [hookup] culture,” Willis said. “The standards we set for our relationship are done to help us.”
Without the pressure of having sexual intercourse, Willis and Harris have found other ways to be intimate. “We read together. We talk a lot. We work out. We started doing stuff we didn’t do before we stopped kissing,” Harris said. “We do new stuff now. When you get rid of sexual stuff—which you really shouldn’t be thinking about anyway if you’re dating God’s way—then you get to create what you think intimacy means for you and your relationship.”
As the three couples answered questions, child of two of the panelists and sophomore theatre major Tony Reimonenq attentively listened in the audience. Sitting next to him was his girlfriend of one year Asia Montgomery, who live-streamed the entire program.
“Asia and I went to the event because as hosts of a web show that is centered around purposeful dating, we are always open to receiving insight from other couples on the same subject,” Reimonenq said.
Citing his parents as his first teachers, Reimonenq said he found a recurring theme from all the couples.”One thing, in particular, stuck out to me and it was three steps a person should take before getting into a relationship. Those steps were: having a good relationship with God, having a good relationship with yourself, and knowing your purpose.”