Clint and Paulina Sistrunk are the founders and owners of JXN Escape Room, which has been open at 916 Foley St. since February 2016. Clint is a native of Jackson, while Paulina is from Szczecin, Poland. They met in New York City, where Clint was attending school at New York University and Paulina was traveling.
It was when Clint visited Paulina in Poland that the two first encountered escape rooms, which are games where people are locked in a room and have to use clues in their surroundings to escape.
Paulina brought up the subject of making their own. "That sounded crazy at the time, but we just kind of went with it," Paulina says.
Clint moved back to Jackson in 2014 to attend dental school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. In 2015, the two married.
"I started researching things to do like (the escape room) when we came back here and found there was nothing like that in a three-hour driving distance," Clint says.
Jackson's location, the lack of group adult entertainment offered at the time, and Paulina's desire to "do something fun here for a living" all contributed to why the started JXN Escape Room.
The two are constantly planning for the future. "There's always a project coming up and always something to do around here," Paulina says.
JXN Escape Room currently has three rooms available for booking: The Investigation is a murder-mystery-themed room; The Spaceship has an outer-space theme; and The Historian, follows a college professor theme.
For more information, visit jxnescaperoom.com.
Justin Turner and Elisha Roberts say they met each other at the right time.
"She was on stage singing 'Who Can I Run To' at The Penguin ... but I only saw her thinking to myself, 'Run to me,'" Turner says.
He says he knew Roberts was special the first time he saw her.
After two years of dating, he proposed to her live on Facebook at Johnny T's in July 2016. Roberts said yes, so the couple will marry in March 2017.
Turner, 35, is from Vicksburg, and attended MeHarry Medical College. He received his medical degree in 2008. Roberts, 29, is from Jackson and attended Hinds Community College. She is a member of local R&B group Love Notez.
Turner and Roberts have a passion for doing good and paying it forward through avenues such as his practice, Turner Care, which takes a holistic approach to medicine, "treating the whole person, mind, body and spirit," he says. They also started a nonprofit, 4-Ever Caring, to benefit socio-economically disadvantaged families.
"We feel it is important to give back to Jackson because we are making Jackson our home," Roberts says, "and we plan to raise our family here in the future."
"My organizational skills and his relentless drive to get things done is what makes us better together no matter what the task," Roberts says about what makes them a good couple. "We consider ourselves a perfect complement to each other.
"When we put our sights on a project, passion takes over, and we go full steam ahead engaging all of our energy. We know we have an obligation to give back to our community."
— Brinda Fuller Willis
Andrea Reid says she never thought she would be back in Jackson. Reid, 31, was born in San Diego, Calif., and moved to Jackson when she was 9. She attended St. Andrew's Episcopal School and graduated in 2003. Even then, she didn't plan to stay.
"My parents wanted me to move out of my comfort zone and experience life outside of Mississippi," she says.
She moved to Durham, N.C., to attend Duke University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology in 2006. While living there, she met her now-husband, Kevin Reid, 36, a Boston native who attended Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 2002.
The couple married in 2008 and started to feel a calling for Jackson after repeated visits while studying at Rhema Bible Training College near Tulsa, Okla., from 2010 to 2012.
"Jackson was the closest city with family that we could reach within a day's drive, and that became especially handy during the holidays," Kevin says.
During these visits, they developed an appreciation for the culture and creativity here, he says, and they could see that many people here chose to build up the capital city rather than run away from it.
The couple moved to Jackson with their 2-year-old daughter, Kristina, and in September 2016, they launched CityHeart Church, which meets Sunday mornings in the gym at New Summit School (1417 Lelia Drive). It is part of the Association of Related Churches, which helps to support churches planted across the U.S.
"Our heart is to serve people," Andrea says.
"CityHeart is about heart," Kevin says. "We want to see people at the heart of who they are, to see past outward appearance and anything that blinds us to who someone really is."
For more information, visit cityheartjackson.com.
When Michael Dorado and Aaron Polk got married in June 2015, they didn't realize that they had made history as the first male same-sex couple to be married in Hinds County.
"We didn't plan on any of this," Dorado says. "We just went to get our marriage license."
The Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court's June 26 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, which legalized gay marriage in the nation, Dorado and Polk went to get their marriage license.
He says they took 10 steps outside the office at the courthouse when one of the couples there told them that an ordained minister, Bear Atwood, was there and could perform a ceremony. She is an officiant at Witness to Love Weddings in Jackson.
"I mean, it wasn't a split-second pass, and we both said yes," Dorado says. The couple then proceeded to the elevator to go outside.
"I literally remember ... (having) a feeling of disbelief, like 'I can't believe this is happening,' and I looked at Bear Atwood ... and I said, 'I literally cannot wait for this elevator.
Can we just do it right here?'"
"We were shaking because everything was happening at once," Polk says.
Dorado, who is from Visalia, Calif., met Polk in Los Angeles, who was there for a modeling contract. Three years ago, the couple moved to Florence and now live in Jackson. Dorado works in medical scheduling for a major health-care provider, and Polk, a Florence native, is a package driver for UPS.
When they initially moved to Mississippi, Dorado says things weren't easy. He points to one time when they were at a Florence grocery store shopping, and a family walked by and made a derogatory comment.
"It took everything in me to not react to it," Dorado says. He told friends about the interaction and says their reaction was, "Well, you are in Mississippi." They then told him about some of the state's dark history.
But after meeting people in Jackson, Dorado says they began to feel more comfortable.
"Aside from a few administrative issues and legislative things, we have a wonderful life here, and we surrounded ourselves with a great community in Jackson," he says.
A dose of confidence was the first step that led to Carlyn and Derrick Hicks' marriage.
Carlyn says he came up to her in the College of Business student lounge at Jackson State University and told her it was a privilege to meet her.
"I thought, 'OK this man is crazy, ' So I avoided him," she says. "But one day he told me, 'I just want to be your friend,' and I was gullible enough to believe him."
Carlyn, 32, and Derrick Hicks, 39, skipped the "courting" step that many relationships go through and let their friendship blossom into a marriage. "We don't have that, 'Oh we met in a library' kind of story," Carlyn says. "We were just friends. We never dated."
Derrick proposed to Carlyn at a Lyfe Jennings concert in New Orleans. They will celebrate their 10th anniversary in May 2017.
Both graduated from JSU in 2006, when Carlyn received her bachelor's degree in business administration, and Derrick received his bachelor's degree in industrial technology. Carlyn received her law degree from Mississippi College in 2010. For the past 20 years, Derrick served in the Army National Guard and is currently a sergeant. He will retire in February 2017.
Carlyn is a family defense attorney who represents parents who are at risk of losing child custody due to allegations of abuse and neglect. She practices law at Mission First Legal Aid office in Jackson, which is part of MC's School of Law, and also teaches a clinic on child welfare and family justice at Mississippi College.
The couple own Carlyn Photography in Jackson, where Derrick works as a self-taught photographer. He says motivation for photography sparked after their wedding when the photographer lost their pictures. He says the mishap made him think deeper. "The only way you know someone actually lived is through a story, or something written, or a picture. We (African Americans) didn't have those things, so I wanted (them) to be included in the narratives of our lives," Derrick says.
As such, the business tries to give quality wedding and portrait photography to those who can't afford it. He plans to continue to capture life through photography, and Carlyn says she is determined to stay focused on placing children with their parents and mending broken homes.
"Until we can work towards a statewide guarantee of representation for families who come into contact with the youth-court system, I can't be at a point where I can say I'm satisfied," Carlyn says.
Carlyn and Derrick have a daughter, Leigh, 4.
For P.J. and Brandi Lee, managing Hal & Mal's is a family business. After the loss of Brandi's father, Hal White, she knew she had to continue the legacy that he and his brother Malcolm started. So she and P.J. dived headfirst into running the restaurant.
Hal & Mal's is like one big family, P.J. and Brandi say. Their 6-year-old daughter, Rivers, is growing up sitting in the booths and talking to guests, just as Brandi did when she was younger. "This place means so much to both of us," P.J. says.
Brandi, a Jackson native, and P.J., originally from Vicksburg, met through mutual friends and married in 2007. After almost 10 years of marriage and more than three years of working together, they say they have become a strong team.
P.J. received a bachelor's degree in English from Mississippi College in 1999, as well as a law degree from MC's School of Law in 2006. He put his law career on hold to craft his father-in-law's signature dishes as a chef. Brandi earned a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from Mississippi State University in 2001 and a master's in physical therapy from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 2004. When she is not working a full-time job at a physical therapy-clinic, she organizes events at Hal & Mal's.
Brandi and P.J. help each other do a little bit of everything. "In this business, it never stops," Brandi says. They wouldn't trade what they do for anything, though.
"It isn't work," she says. "We have a heart for it."
"We're slowly figuring it out," P.J. says "Every day is a work in progress."
Though the restaurant isn't the same without Hal, Brandi and P.J. offer the same hospitality. "Not only does P.J. keep Hal's recipes alive; we keep the essence of family and being a place where anybody can come," Brandi says.
P.J. adds that they try to continue Hal's "spirit of giving."
The Lees credit the strong support from their staff and the community for their success and why they love what they do.
"It's made us stronger for sure," Brandi says.
For Jessica and Kodi D. Hobbs, education is the key to open all avenues in life for young people. Both graduates of Jackson Public Schools, the couple dedicates themselves to giving back to the city's young people. Kodi Hobbs is a board member for JPS, and Jessica Hobbs is a biology teacher at Midtown Public Charter Schools.
Mayor Tony Yarber appointed Kodi Hobbs to his board position in August 2015. Now, Kodi and the other board members govern aspects of the school system such as policy, budget and finances.
"I accepted the mayor's confirmation to the JPS board because I believe in service, and public education is an important and valuable aspect serving one's community," Kodi says.
Jessica taught biology at Murrah High School in the 2015-2016 school year and started teaching the subject at Midtown Charter in 2016. She believes strongly in the value of exploring new ways to teach.
"I have an intense passion to show kids that science is relatable to them and their everyday life, and I want them to experiment and see how the world opens up to them," she says. "I want to take new approaches to educating rather than sitting in the classroom like normal. I want to know the 'why' of how things happen in everyday life, and I became an educator to pass on that desire to children. I especially want to be able to instill the ideals of education into my own children through example."
Kodi graduated from Lanier High School in 1998, then attended Hinds Community College and Jackson State University, and joined the Navy in 2002, serving until 2007. He received a bachelor's degree in business from Southern Illinois University in 2009 and started his insurance and financial services firm, Hobbs Group LLC, that same year. Jessica does the marketing and advertising for the firm.
Jessica graduated from Jim Hill School and went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where she received bachelor's degree in biology in 2007. She received her master's degree in biology from Jackson State University in 2011 and is currently a PhD candidate for a degree in environmental services
Kodi and Jessica, both lifelong residents of Jackson, met at a local beauty shop called Fantasy Barber and Beauty in 2005.
"We were both there getting haircuts, and I saw her and noticed her beauty and smile right away and decided to approach her," Kodi says. As he was still in the Navy, the couple didn't get together right away. "Sometime later, we met up again in the same shop ... and things just started from there." They dated for five years and then got married in February 2010.
The couple has three children: daughter London, 14; and sons Kodi D. Hobbs II, 7, and Konnor Hobbs, 4.
Sherry and D. Royce Boyer weren't looking for love. Both had been married before. Royce was divorced, and Sherry became a widow when her late husband lost his battle to cancer.
Music ultimately brought them together almost six years ago, when Royce met Sherry at a board meeting for the Mississippi Chorus. Sherry was working part-time as the executive director, and Royce was elected chairman of the board. The duo started off as cultural companions in a friendship that turned into marriage.
"Royce and I have enjoyed a fabulous life together for five and a half years, and it's all things music," Sherry says.
"We both have a passion for music of all genres, particularly classical music, particularly choral music, but we both feel very strongly that music changes lives."
Royce, who is originally from Indiana, was a professor of music at the University of Alabama in Huntsville for more than 30 years. He moved to Jackson after he and his then-wife divorced. Royce taught part-time in Jackson and tuned pianos when they met.
Sherry, originally from Michigan, and her late husband moved south to Jackson to escape the cold during her husband's illness. Sherry has a background in science and marketing. She works as a dental hygienist and owns marketing company Castle Media. When her husband died while they were living in Mobile, Ala., Sherry moved back to Jackson, where she had found community in recent years. She joined the Mississippi Chorus, among other musical groups, and got back into marketing. The couple said it has been a joy to share things in their relationship from both of their pasts.
"When people are married for a really long time, then there isn't a story you haven't heard, but all of our stories are new to each other," Sherry says. "But we have new things to share all the time."
The Boyers are active in the choral music community in Jackson and live in Belhaven.