Rob Hill and Ryan McElveen, who have been together for nine years, say they have not given up on Mississippi, and are determined to stay and improve the lives of all Mississippians.
"We know that the majority of Mississippians believe that all people should be treated fairly, and that gives me hope," Hill says.
A mutual friend introduced the two men in 2008, and they began dating a short time later. At one point, one of them received a job offer out of state, and they began finding another place to live. But then, they considered their lives here.
"We have family and good friends here, and we like living in Jackson," Hill says.
McElveen says that he and Hill love the food, theater and arts scene in Jackson, and now they have hope that the state can improve—something they didn't always have before.
"I grew up knowing that I would never be able live openly with the one I love," he says, "but here I am."
McElveen, 38, grew up in Hazelhurst, Miss., and received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Mississippi State University in 2002. He worked in Atlanta for two years before returning to his home state in 2005. He is currently the assistant vice president and system support manager for Trustmark.
Hill, 43, grew up in Forest, Miss., and received a bachelor's degree in communication from a MSU in 1997 before attending divinity school at Duke University. He graduated with a Master of Divinity in 2002 and returned to Mississippi.
He worked with two United Methodist churches near Utica before becoming the pastor of Broadmeadow Church in Fondren from 2005 to 2014. He left to become the director of the Human Rights Campaign of Mississippi.
The couple live in Northeast Jackson and plan to get married in the future.
—R. H. Coupe
The work of Matt Holl and Kristen Tordella-Williams connects education, the arts and community in Jackson.
The couple met in Ithaca, N.Y., where Holl was teaching at the local high school, and Tordella-Williams was teaching at Alfred University's liberal arts college.
"We bonded over Kristen's homemade mac 'n' cheese," Holl says.
"And then Matt showed up with a meal of bacon-wrapped, apple-stuffed chicken and bread pudding," Tordella-Williams says.
Naturally, Holl's surprise proposal came in February 2017 over brunch with friends. The couple got married in July 2017 in Preble, N.Y.
Four years ago, Tordella-Williams joined the studio art department at Millsaps College.
"I was elated to get a tenure-track position at Millsaps, and Matt was equally thrilled to move away from the cold weather to warm, sunny Jackson, Mississippi," she says.
Holl, 40, teaches theater arts to fourth- through 12th-grade students at Jackson Public Schools' Power Academic and Performing Arts Center, where he says his big focus is technical theater.
"The students and I build all the sets and handle lights, sound and special effects," he says. "My students and I have prepared five shows concurrently this fall."
Holl also works as director of the Lewis Art Gallery at Millsaps College.
The couple, along with several collaborators, produced the community-drive arts festival, Verge JXN, in April 2017.
The couple says that Verge, which grew from Figment Jackson, is a convergence of their strengths and enthusiasm for the arts and community.
"Verge JXN's mission is to provide a free interactive arts festival for Jackson and its surrounding communities that celebrates expression and diversity in all forms," Tordella-Williams says.
The couple lives, works—and eats—in the Fondren and Belhaven neighborhoods.
Tordella-Williams, 29, says that the couple's hobbies include eating at local restaurants such as Saltine Restaurant in Fondren and Parlor Market downtown.
"We also both enjoy cooking," Matt adds, "and cocktails on occasion at Apothecary."
—Jan M. Richardson
William and Shanna Head dated for three years before getting married Aug. 23, 2008. A mutual friend introduced the two, and Shanna says she can still remember thinking that William had the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen.
William received a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2004. Shanna received a Bachelor of Business Management degree in 2010 from Belhaven University, and an associate's degree in graphic design from Hinds Community College in 2016.
Shanna, 34, is the marketing assistant at the Outlets of Mississippi, and William, 36, is the operations manager at Head Auctions. In the couple's free time, they like to be involved in the community.
"I'm a big believer that you don't have to do big things, but if you are someone who does a small thing, then you are among a big group of people and you make a big difference," Shanna says.
They have volunteered together with events such as March of Dimes and the Mississippi Craft Beer Festival. Shanna has also volunteered with the Pearl River Clean Sweep and is committee member of the JXN Barleys Angels. William does charity and benefit auctions for the Make A Wish Foundation and St. Joseph Catholic School's Drawdown charity auction.
"You can't focus on all the negativity ... because you'll drive yourself crazy," the couple says. "You have to focus on being the solution and being a part of what's making the world a better place."
Roger Sturdivant says his favorite thing to create with fused glass is flowers. He cuts the glass for the flower petals into square pieces. He then uses a grinder to shape them into petals. After that, he arranges and glues those onto a clear piece of glass that serves as the frame to hold them in place. Then, he fires the piece in the kiln at 1,300 degrees.
"What you get out of that is a piece of glass craft with a raised look and texture to it," he says.
Sturdivant and his wife, Carla Sturdivant, founded their glass crafting business, Fused Glass by Roger and Carla, in 2009 after they both retired. They started with a single home kiln they purchased after seeing fused glass pieces on display during a trip to Alaska and on a cruise to Canada and New England.
"(I like the craft because) every pieces comes out completely different," she says. Carla says that you could use the same technique twice, but the pieces will still be different.
Roger, 73, was born in Jackson and graduated from Provine High School. He graduated from Mississippi College with a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1977. After graduating, he worked with the Mississippi Department of Revenue, which was then the Mississippi State Tax Commission, for 30 years as a data-control and computer-room supervisor. He also served as director of the bureau for 10 years.
Carla, 71, was born in Jackson and attended Provine High School. She met Roger through her mother, Lois Chapman, who worked at the now-closed Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in Jackson. The couple married in 1965. Their son, Christopher, was born in 1971. Carla worked as a proof operator at the now-closed Deposit Guaranty Bank in Jackson.
The Sturdivants have been members of the Mississippi and Louisiana Craftsman's Guilds for three years.
Power Couple: Tom Head and Deirdre Jackson-Head
Tom Head and Deirdre Jackson-Head are both avid writers. Jackson-Head writes southern-gothic horror short stories, while Head focuses on non-fiction with an emphasis on history.
"If you look at our history in Mississippi, we're famous for pretty frightening stuff," Jackson-Head says. "The Sovereignty Commission, Emmett Till, murdered civil-rights workers—taking that kind of material and fictionalizing it a bit gives you southern gothic."
Head says: "I got into writing nonfiction because I like to focus on the history of ideas. I enjoy looking at current events and applying the weight of history to them."
He has written 29 books over 17 years, and most recently published "World History 101" through Adams Media. He has written for the Jackson Free Press intermittently since 2007.
The couple met in 2006 at the now-closed 930 Blues Cafe in Jackson at an American Civil Liberties Union event, which Jackson-Head was attending with a group of interns from the Mississippi Office of Post-Conviction Counsel.
"My party was just getting ready to leave when a song by the Smokestack Lightning band started up," she says. "Just then, somebody grabbed my hand, and I found myself dancing with him. That was how I met Tom; he literally swept me off my feet."
The two married in August 2016.
Jackson-Head has a bachelor's degree in sociology, which she received from Mississippi College in 2012, and a law degree from the MC School of Law in 2016. Head has a bachelor's in liberal arts from Exelsior College in 2000, a master's in humanities from California State University in Dominguez Hills in 2012, and a Ph.D. in religion and society from Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, in 2013.
Alex Mullen, 25, and Cathy Chen, 26, grew up in Oxford, Miss. The couple's relationship began when they were seniors in high school, but their friendship goes back much further. They met more than 20 years ago, while they were attending Willie Price Preschool.
"We grew up together and spent a lot of our time doing projects together and achieving things were passionate about, so that has been a really big part of our relationship," Chen says.
Mullen, who graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering, is an American memory grandmaster and the current world memory champion.
"I've won the last two memory championships, but not for any reason because I have a good memory; it's because I've taken memory techniques that I've learned about from my competitors, and I have practiced them a lot," Mullen says.
Chen graduated from Princeton University the same year with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering.
The two are currently third-year medical students at the University of Mississippi Medical School. They married at Duling Hall in 2015. "It definitely helps to work on projects with someone else," Mullen says. "There are times when I'm just kind of inclined to give up or vice versa, and we get some motivation from the other person."
They launched mullenmemory.com, which aims to help people apply memory techniques to remember things that will benefit them in their everyday lives, in 2015. The idea for the website came as they were looking for online resources to see what others had done as far as applying those memory techniques, but they couldn't find one that satisfied their search.
They are currently working on another project, Simple Civics, which aims to help foreigners apply those same memory techniques to be successful when the exam for U.S. citizenship.
The pair expects to graduate from medical school in May 2019, and, they say they wouldn't mind staying in Jackson to continue having a positive impact on the community.
May 26 marked nine years of Jessica and Ashley Noxolo's relationship. The couple began dating after meeting at a college party on May 2, 2008. The coupled married on Sept. 30, 2017, on the Tougaloo College campus.
The couple says their same-sex marriage was a new experience for some of their friends and family.
"Everyone kept asking us whose last name we would take," Ashley says.
"We wanted to be creative," Jessica adds.
The couple researched their own family heritage for more than a year to come up with their new last name.
"We wanted to come up with something, for our children to have and understand the history of our love," Jessica says.
The couple settled on Noxolo, which means "to bring peace," and which Jessica says is a mixture of their Indian and Saharan African heritage.
Jessica, a Clarksdale, Miss., native, graduated from Tougaloo College in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in English. Ashley, a Jackson native, studied business at Jackson State University.
Jessica is an entertainment coordinator at Hops & Habanas in Fondren, and Ashley is a visual designer at Belk in Flowood, Miss., and a shoe designer and stylist.
In 2011, Ashley was the first designer from Mississippi to showcase in New York Fashion Week with her brand, Ashley Hart Shoes, while Jessica won a band competition on BET'S 106 & Park with Calico Panache.
"Those moments were confirmation that we were doing great things, and we are doing great things together," Jessica says.
The couple have been working on branding themselves, Jessica as a solo artist, and Ashley with her designs. She has released two collections since her time at NYFW.
The Noxolos like to invest in Jackson by creating and collaborating with other artists. When not working, they enjoy attending local events.
Jessica Simien and Tony Lofton began dating in 2015 when Lofton "slid into her DMs" on Instagram, Simien says.
"I just told her 'happy birthday,' but my intentions were really half-and-half," he says.
"The funny thing is he had tried to talk to me before, so when he sent that message, I thought it was recent," Simien says. "I gave him my number and told him it was in case he was still interested."
Simien, 30, graduated from Jackson State University with a bachelor's degree in mass communications in 2010. She has been a blogger and public-relations strategist since she received her master's degree in public relations from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2012. Lofton, 28, received his associate's degree in criminal justice from Holmes Community College in 2011. Lofton, who raps as TLo Da Champ, became interested in music when he was in eighth grade.
The couple has a 7-month-old son, Marley. They are involved heavily with CityHeart Church, and they also do volunteer work in the community for places such as the Hinds County Juvenile Justice Center, Tougaloo College and the Boys & Girls Club of Jackson with the David Banner Foundation. Jessica also volunteers with Community Animal Rescue and Adoption, or CARA.
"I think that individually, we enjoy our work so much that when we get together, we enjoy doing it together," Simien says. "We find ways to make it fun, whether that's a trip or putting together a show or being with him in the studio. It's kind of like our work
is our fun."
Even though they have their ups and downs, they say they are happy they have each other to lean on and enjoy their success with. They say their goal is to continue evolving both in their career and in the community.
Alicia Teneia Sanders-Eichelberger, who goes by Teneia, and Ben Eichelberger have a mission to use their music, some crowdfunding and a 32-foot travel trailer to spread a message of love and equality, with a focus on racial, ethnic and social inequality.
Sanders-Eichelberger, an award-winning musician, singer, songwriter and Jackson native, graduated from Murrah High School in 2000. She attended both Hinds and Holmes community colleges before moving to Louisville, Ky., to pursue her love of music. She eventually ended up in the music scene in Phoenix, Ariz.
Eichelberger grew up in a small town on the Mississippi River in Iowa. He attended college at Iowa State University. After graduating in 2006 with a Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree, he pursued his love of flying and became a flight instructor in Phoenix, Ariz., where he met his future wife in 2012.
Eichelberger says it wasn't love at first sight. Instead, he says, "it was a slow burn. We became friends first and then started to date."
Eichelberger and Sanders-Eichelberger discovered that despite coming from different backgrounds, they shared a passion for music and for challenging oppression in every form.
"We have the same perception of life as an adventure," Sanders-Eichelberger says.
The couple moved to Jackson in 2015, and that same year, they began touring.
They renamed their band Teneia as Heart Society in 2017 to reach more hearts with their message of love and acceptance. When in Jackson, the couple parks their trailer in Fondren at Sanders-Eichelberger's parents' home.