On Saturday, June 16 from 4-8p.m., Ebony Road Players invites you to celebrate the 51st anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, a landmark victory in the Supreme Court that struck down state laws criminalizing interracial marriage.
Kevin and Alysha Lach-White have been married for nearly three years. Both illustrators, the couple’s home in Grand Rapids is adorned with sticky notes depicting cartoon bears — one male, one female — holding hands among a cluster of hearts, eating dinner together and sometimes, thinking of each other as demonstrated by a cloud bubble. These allegories of their love transmit messages of affection, support and a gentle reminder or two; notes of endearment to let each other know that despite their busy schedules, they are never far apart.
They are like most happily married couples, except for the fact Kevin is African-American, and Alysha is white, and just over a half-century ago, their union would have been illegal. It is difficult to imagine a world in which the couple’s marriage would be a felonious crime, but this week marks just 51 years since a landmark victory in the Supreme Court struck down state laws criminalizing interracial marriage. The 1967 case, Loving v. Virginia, was brought before the court by the Mildred and Richard Loving, a young interracial couple whose marriage violated Virginia law. The case was brought before the Warren Court, the same court that struck down racial segregation in schools in 1953 in Brown v. The Board of Education. On June 12, 1967, unanimously ruling was made in favor of the couple. Each June, Loving Day is celebrated across the nation to commemorate the ruling, promote unity and draw attention to issues interracial couples still face today.
The Lach-Whites are a part of the planning committee for West Michigan’s Loving Day Celebration, founded four years ago by Edye Evans Hyde, executive director of Ebony Road Players. The couple got involved after they were invited to participate in a video project for last year’s event that asked interracial couples and multiracial individuals to record themselves talking about their experiences. Creating an impromptu studio with an iPhone and tripod in their backyard, the Lach-Whites began recording and sharing things about their life together they had never before.
“Most people don’t ask couples beyond the history of how and where they met,” Kevin expressed. “Which is a very endearing question to ask. For us, there is an added layer, because it is controversial to some degree in some parts of the country, so to acknowledge
that in itself is to be vulnerable.”
In the video, the couple discusses how they met (at a coffee shop), how they thought their families would perceive them, their relationship to their heritage and how it impacts them.
“Something profound happens when you are suddenly connected with somebody who, after two generations back, is unsure of where his family comes from because he, like many African Americans, are descendants of slaves,” Alysha said. “That is a very apparent dynamic that we have because I can trace my family back probably six or seven generations to Poland…having pride in where you come from is a strong part of the culture of my family. In Kevin’s family, there are a lot of question marks. When you are not sure what you belong to, it impacts you.”
Alysha also touched on recognizing the vast difference between their life experiences.
“I got a little emotional in it when I was reflecting on the idea that we both walk around the world, and even though we are emotionally and spiritually joined at the hip, yet the world treats us both very differently,” she commented. “It is a fundamental difference between the two of us, and it won’t get better until it is addressed.”
The Loving v. Virginia ruling was not always celebrated; designer and educator Ken Tanabe is credited with officially establishing Loving Day in 2004 after stumbling across the case in a Google search for something unrelated.
The Lach-Whites emphasize that while the Loving ruling is recognized as a constitutional victory, interracial couples continued to face varying degrees of racism in a society mired in antiquated ideas and prejudice; a fact to which Kevin’s recent family history can testify. While his parents are both African American, his mother’s skin tone is light and often mistaken for white.
“My mother has plenty of stories of how she was mistreated and faced verbal abuse simply because people thought she was a white woman going out with a black man,” he expressed. “Loving Day didn’t mean what it should have meant to my family, because of those things.”
After attending Loving Day for the first time last year, they found themselves enjoying the environment cultivated by the organizers, an experience Alysha describes as “beautiful.”
“It was the first event where Kevin and I went somewhere, and we saw other couples who were like us,” Alysha commented. “It is a huge stress reliever because we don’t see that very often. To celebrate multicultural identities together and mixed families are beautiful and important.”
This year, West Michigan’s Loving Day Celebration kicked off on Monday, June 11 with a special screening of Little White Lie, an award-winning documentary depicting a personal story of dual identity, race and family secrets. The celebration culminates in a community picnic in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids at Rosa Parks Circle on Saturday, June 16 from 4-8 P.M. The event features live music by DJ Michael Saunders, Djambe Leah Ivory and Friends, Beaver Xing Family Band, Kevin Jones and Tenth World Jazz and World Music; and performances by Audacious Hoops and a family dance workshop by Deavondre Jones of DanceSpire and Imprint Dance Company. Food from local vendors is available to purchase on site and families are encouraged to pack a picnic. A special guest appearance will be made by Marvel superhero Black Panther, with whom attendees will have to opportunity to take a photo.
Alysha emphasizes that the celebration invites everyone to celebrate, learn and listen.
“An event like this is for everyone,” she expressed. “The message of Loving Day is one for all people.”
“It’s an event about love,” Kevin added.
For more information on Loving Day, click her, and visit lovingday.org