You know that saying, “Opposites Attract?” Well for Michaela Lacy (she/her) (Public Allies Wisconsin ‘20 & 21) and Prince Grayson (he/him) (Public Allies Wisconsin ‘20 & ‘21), that couldn’t be more true. As self-proclaimed extroverts and introverts, respectively, the duo never imagined themselves falling in love with one another and having Public Allies to thank for that.
“I always admired Prince because I think he has this very wholesome quality about him,” Michaela says. “I find it very beautiful that he is so passionate about things and how he shows up for people and the PA space. But I never said any of those things to him. A lot of our interactions in our first year happened in breakout groups and was centered around the content we were learning.”
On one particular Friday training, the universe forced the two of them to interact in a way that was new to both of them. A typical Public Allies tradition is to collaboratively set a cohort covenant, a process that is facilitated by Fellows (or second year Allies). This activity is known to have a lot of feelings and emotions tied to it, especially with 40+ people trying to set group expectations in only 45 minutes.
“Prince was in charge of time-keeping for this activity, and just as I was about to unmute my mic and give my spiel about how I felt about the covenant, Prince says, ‘I’m sorry Michaela, that’s all the time we have. I’m going to have to cut you off,’” Michaela says.
“I was trying to figure out what I should do because I needed to be on my time-keeping, but you never want to cut off a Black woman– don’t do it,” Prince says. “I felt really bad about it and I even messaged one of our program managers about it after, but I needed to facilitate.”
The mentor that eased the tension was Shavonda Sisson, a former PAWI program manager and current Public Allies National Board of Directors member, who Michaela and Prince cherish dearly. Shavonda really put it in perspective for them, affirming that Black women have experienced being silenced so much in history. It can also be heavy and difficult to play the role of a facilitator amongst your peers. This insight drove Michaela and Prince to connect later that night to have a conversation about what happened.
“It ended with us saying ‘No hard feelings! It’s not that big of a deal. Things happen,’” Michaela says. “But later that night, I realized that I really liked this guy and I’ve been feeling him for a year plus– so I thought why not tonight? Why not say how I’ve been feeling, right now? I decided to tell him that I really admire him and that I really respect him as an individual.. And that I found him to be very cute. I let him know that if he ever wanted to grab a cup of coffee together or something, you know, holla at your girl!”
Eager and interested, they set up a picnic date the following day at a local park! They sat underneath the sun, clouds, and trees, and talked about everything you can imagine for hours on end. Little did they know that they’d have a funny and familiar third wheel tag along.
“As we’re on this date, I get a phone call from my little sister and she comes and interrupts.. she starts eating our food and bombarding this entire picnic,” Michaela says. “And then, she invites him to our family barbecue. This was our first date! We didn’t know him like that and I didn’t want him to think our family was crazy or judge us. But he said, ‘Of course I want to come’”.
Shortly after, Prince joined Michaela, her mom, and her sister on a quick trip to Walmart before the family function. And of course it was amazing because honestly, who goes shopping together on the first date? Come on!
Michaela’s family loved Prince as soon as they met him. They embraced him and surrounded him with so much love, a few prodding questions, and some cheek pinching— and shortly after this infamous first date, they made their relationship official and shared the news with their cohort.
“We would sneak in together during Friday trainings after we went virtual,” Prince says. “I’d go to her house and people were like ‘Are y’all in the same room? Is that Prince in your background?’ We were obvious. There was no hiding that the two of us were together.”
Upon hearing the news, Public Allies Wisconsin was nothing short of supportive and happy for the new couple. Even after their terms of service ended, the two made their way to the “other side” as Public Allies staff members– Michaela at PAWI as the Director of Training and Learning and Prince at the National Office as the Manager of IT and Systems.
“I remember getting a message from Shavonda the night we decided to update our social media and she was so happy for us. She said that we deserved the best,” Michaela says. “The support we received was so beautiful. From Ashley, Anthony, and so many of our cohort members. We were happy, and they were happy that we were happy. I’m sure we came off a little cheesy sometimes but they were always supportive and kind. And they were never shy about telling us how much they loved seeing us together.”
From that very first day until now, Michaela and Prince feel as though Public Allies has strengthened their relationship with each other and to their community. Some folks in the network have even become a part of their support system, people they turn to when they need advice on how to navigate through life as a young, Black couple.
“We talk about Public Allies everyday together. After a party or event, we will sit for hours and smile and laugh about the memories we create together at this beautiful organization,” Michaela says. “Every Sunday, Shavonda, Ashley, Matthew, Prince and I watch movies together and have dinners together. PA people are literally our people. Our friends are our community.”
The things they learned in the program, as #PAAlum and even as Public Allies staff members are what they live and breathe. Public Allies continues to inspire Michaela and Prince to strive to learn more, feel more, and be more.
“I feel like Prince and I have a connection that is more than Earth. It’s a spiritual connection. I believe that we were put in each other’s paths and would’ve found our way to each other,” Michaela says. “However, I feel as though Public Allies has made our relationship strong. PA has brought out our ability to be our best selves. Our relationship would be quite different if we didn’t both go through the program, but we would have made a way somehow.”
As a part of their lifelong journey of continuous learning, they are aware of how internalized misogyny and sexism have greatly impacted many relationships and they’re intentional about ensuring that these things aren’t integrated in how they function as a couple. They’re all about healing, justice, and recognizing the ways that we all harbor internalized oppression and how we can all rid ourselves of it. This practice allows them to hold a mirror up to each other and really try their best to not perpetuate forms of oppression in their relationship. For other PA lovebirds, they offer this:
“Immerse yourself in this community and be a part of the culture,” Michaela says. “Public Allies will shape, embrace, and hold you. You are going to feel so much love and be so cared for when you’re in space with the people here at PA.”
“There’s something different about meeting in Public Allies and staying together,” Prince says. “PA shapes people and changes peoples’ lives. You can come to Public Allies and be great– and also find you a lil’ boo.”