Tying the Knot: A second chance after a rejected dance

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Tying the Knot: A second chance after a rejected dance
Venus and Eric Hylton have been married for 27 years. (Courtesy photo)
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By James Matheson | jmatheson@alextimes.com

Venus and Eric Hylton intertwined pinkies as they lunged backward against their brown leather sectional, howling with laughter. A centuries-old sacred oath, the pinky promise, was performed as Eric pleaded with his wife of 27 years to consider the story of their meeting as he remembered it.

“I saw her on the dance floor and she’s dancing with some guy,” Eric recalled. “I just put my number in her coat pocket and I walked back. Of course she’s like, ‘Oh, God that’s pretty bold.’”

Venus didn’t recall being quite so struck by her future husband’s audacity. She rolled her eyes.

To encourage support for the rest of his flawed tale of romance – featuring deleted voicemails, chance-encounters and declined invitations to dance – Eric offered his pinky as a last ditch effort.

Venus accepted, signaling a truce.

The Alexandria couple and parents to two adult children, Yakiri, 27, and Akobi, 25, don’t agree on details regarding the story of how they met, but they have settled on key facts that remain true in their relationship: laughter, competition and taking every chance they get to brag about their better half.

The couple with their son Akobi. (Courtesy photo)
The couple with their daughter Yakiri. (Courtesy photo)

 

“To sum it up, you have to enjoy each other,” Eric said. “You have to enjoy being around each other. That’s hard, to be honest. You have to work towards that over time.”

The couple agreed this effort can be difficult to maintain when raising a family, balancing work and instilling a solid foundation of values in children. But it’s work they’ve put forth since meeting in Atlanta during Morehouse College’s homecoming weekend in November 1995.

Both Eric and Venus attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Eric went to Morehouse College and Venus graduated from Grambling State University. The couple met at an infamous “Petie Party,” named for the host of the get-togethers.

“A lot of couples have met at Petie’s parties so they’re kind of famous,” Venus said. “They’re famous anyway, but they’re especially known for people meeting there.”

Venus turned Eric down the first time they met. When the smooth-talking young professional asked her to dance, Venus didn’t budge.

“I really don’t dance well,” Venus said. “I have to have the right song and the right beat. So I said no.”

The couple began dating after weeks of pursuit by Eric. They were married in a traditional African ceremony the next year in 1996 in Atlanta. What was intended to be an intimate celebration and reception in a Georgia art gallery transformed into more than 250 people avoiding torrential downpour.

“It was supposed to be small,” Venus said. “I didn’t want anything large but [Eric] took over and it ended up being like 250 people. I know because I did the invitations and hand calligraphy.”

Eric was set on having six kids while Venus didn’t like the thought of any. The couple compromised by having two children before moving to Alexandria’s Old Town neighborhood in 2004. The family purchased their current home in 2005.

Venus paused her teaching career for 17 years to raise the couple’s two children and take care of the homefront; she got back into educating after the kids moved out. She is a middle school teacher in the Arlington School District.

“One of the things that attracted me to my wife was when she was teaching in Atlanta, to connect with a lot of the kids, she knew hip hop and rap,” Eric said. “I always thought that was just such a cool technique. Even to this day she still connects with her students and they’re so surprised. That’s golden for them.”

Eric is the former IRS commissioner of the Small Business and Self Employed Division. He supervised 20,000 employees at times during his career.

His work took him to countries from Australia and Singapore to cities like Dubai and Bogota.

“And we were in tow because the kids were young,” Venus added.

The young parents decided it was best to travel as a family whenever possible because raising two young kids alone is an incredibly difficult task, they said.

A responsibility both partners took pride in was raising their children and preparing them for life as Black Americans. Venus and Eric said they wanted their son and daughter to embrace Black culture as they had learned to do in college.

“We wanted them to know who they are before they face a world that is going to tell them that they’re not anything, that they’re not worth this or that,” Venus said. “Not that it always comes, but we wanted to arm our children with – no matter what’s going on – a foundational base.”

Eric led by example when he served as the first Black president of the T.C. Williams High School – now called Alexandria City High School – Parent Teacher Association from 2014 through 2016, according to Venus.

Eric and Venus employed a chalkboard in their split-level house to teach Yakiri and Akobi outside of school. The couple learned Swahili together. They then gave lessons on the language to their children.

“To just be very honest, when you think of society, the enrichment of African culture is not celebrated as much,” Eric said. “So we wanted our kids to have that thought process and recognize that we came from kings and queens.”

Eric and Venus still share hobbies and interests, particularly music and reading, without the kids around. They said these artistic forms allow them to continue to celebrate Black culture and their own heritage.

“We are descendents of Africans, and one thing that helps is we’re both history buffs,” Eric said. “We always wanted to think about African history before slavery.”

Reading authors like Toni Morrison and Isabel Wilkerson has transformed into a rather expansive list of Black history podcasts. For Venus, it’s The Black Excellence Podcast, TheGrio Daily with Michael Harriot and Rachel Maddow’s Ultra Podcast.

Eric settles for a more “geeky” genre of podcasts, he said. StarTalk Radio by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Fintech Beat and Tax Notes podcast are more Eric’s speed.

“I like listening. I’ll go from my music to podcasts and it’s just informative,” Eric said. “It’s good to always be learning something.”

The couple’s love for music is also how they stay connected with each other and Black culture amid the busyness of daily lives. Be it rap, hiphop, neo soul or jazz, the couple frequents concerts across the Potomac in D.C.

Highlights from their concerts over the years include Jay-Z, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Eric Roberson and Nas.

Venus and Eric Hylton (Courtesy Photo)

Venus and Eric can be found around Alexandria supporting Black-owned businesses like 1799 Prime Steak and Seafood, out on walks and partaking in local charitable events.

“That was our story. As they always say, it was meant to be,” Eric said. “And here we are almost 30 years later.”

A former version of this article had Akobi’s name spelt “Akobe.” This post has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of his name. 

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