When I stepped into Ericka and Ebony’s home for the first time, I had no idea it actually belonged to the people who I long admired. The occasion was to celebrate a mutual friend’s baby shower. Cake, snacks, people and music filled their space. And yet, Ebony and Ericka were nowhere to be found. Turns out, they were away. And despite their absence, they opened their home for their friend and a host of guests, on one of the most important occasions of a mother’s life. I’ve been pregnant a few times, and I must say, letting Black people borrow your home for a baby shower is at once, the sweetest and bravest thing ever. ha!
I was struck with that act, and I’ve been struck with the bits of reality, love, and ultimately, Black joy that they share through squares and on stories ever since. So when I asked if they would be part of this series, I was elated when they both unequivocally answered YES.
Ericka and Ebony’s home, like much of the spaces we feature on here, is part of a raging desire to look past the things (the ones I can afford and can not), and look to the stories, the feelings, and the people. Those who live in and share these spaces, are the root of the root of why getting a window into someone’s home at any moment in time, matters.
LY: Can you share a little about yourselves and what you do (and don’t do)?
Ericka: I’m a plant enthusiast, Sagittarius, and sexuality educator who also does gender and racial justice work with my partner of five years, Ebony. What we don’t do is have conversations about race and racism centered on appealing to the oft muted moral ethos of white folks, but rather my work centers Black, trans, and queer folks’ history and liberation at all times.
Ebony: I’m from East Oakland, born and raised. I’m a Gemini, audio engineer, amateurish bassist and budding DJ, a longtime motorcyclist, and a small-time Spades player. I write on occasion, and Ericka and I, in addition to the business we have together, also have a podcast called Hoodrat to Headwrap that’s been out since 2017.
LY: You briefly shared that renting this apartment was sort of like buying an apartment. I closed on my home a few days after we met, and expressed that the stress of renting in NYC is so similar. With the pandemic exposing housing injustices and inequity, this feels like an important place to start. How did you come into this home? And do you think the work that went into getting it correlates to your relationship with it?
Ericka: I’ve lived in NYC for 12 years and am finally able to afford a place to live; and even affordability is relative, fleeting and ever changing as a renter, especially for Black, queer and trans folk. The housing crisis in this country, and NYC especially, with its exploitative system of landlords, real estate developers, and management companies, has been so normalized that many of us find we have to simply go with what we get approved for rather than a space that we deserve and works for our needs. (It’s almost as if you can’t have desires when it comes to housing in NYC!) When we applied for this apartment, we were actually just putting feelers out there to see what kinds of spaces were available and seeing what our credit was hitting with no real goal of moving into a new place. Once we found this apartment, without having our finances fully figured out, we felt it might be a long time before a space like this, at a rent doable for us at the time, opened up in NYC again, so we went for it. I think our decision to love this place everyday is less connected to how it was procured and more about the fact that this is a rented shelter that, for the time being, we can make our “own” in a modicum of ways.
LY: I notice this a lot when I go into people’s homes, but I don’t think the overall understanding of how important little curated corners and shelves has on design overall. We’re so used to looking at simplicity as being the only palpable option for consumption. But curated corners and spaces that maximize their items and art challenge this narrative every day. How do you come to decide what to hang, which plant goes where, etc?
Ebony: I would love it if we had a more conscious process of curating but honestly, we come at decorating the space with a more whimsical approach. We play around with different dimensions, mixing up the heights of certain items (large and tall items paired next to small and short items), placing sticky notes on the walls to better visualize what art or pictures we want there, or if we want pictures there at all. Going on websites, looking at archival footage from Black life in different areas on YouTube, watching movies and replicating the interior design of certain sets using vintage furniture or antiques. Ericka is also the tchotchke queen, a maximalist to the core, and there is no old can of spam from the 20s or orange juice container porcelain vase that she won’t cram into this house.
Ericka: When it comes to plants, I always decide their placement based on their light needs–but sometimes I mess up, and then yellow, brown, dry, or rotting leaves will then tell me where it needs to be.
LY: Pride month feels like just the other day in New York City–do you all have a way of celebrating? And what sort of intimacy ideologies do you think your relationship (and relationships like yours) challenge that cis couples obviously do not?
Ebony: We try our best to make sure our love is not complicit in white systems. That we have Black love is significant, but I think sometimes cis het folks adhere so strictly to their cis-hetness that they sometimes fail to see their partner as a human and not someone or something that belongs to them or was created to fulfill their needs only. You find this in queer relationships too but if we queering our relationship as a practice everyday, we are reminded of our commitment to challenging the status quo of white supremacy that pervades every facet of life in this country, including who and how we love, how we treat our partners, how we treat ourselves. I think Ericka and I spend a lot of time unsubscribing from traditional intimacy ideologies or interrogating why we believe this or that about relationships, our own traumas, honoring each other’s autonomy, etc.–and we fail at this all the time.
LY: I am struck by Ebony’s love for music because I am a music buff and believe that records and dancing slowly in the living room is literally the only way to raise joyful Black children. I’m wondering, what’s his relationship to music, and can he share his favorite mid-afternoon or evening record?
Ebony: Wow, thank you, LaTonya. That means a lot to me. To put it succinctly, my love of music really was fostered by my mother who was essentially my first introduction into ethnomusicology, into club culture, and who has an array of musical knowledge that would put any of those flunky hipster critics at “Rolling Stone” on their a*s! There is not one song on the oldies station, from glam metal, pop, funk, r&b, doo-wop, gospel–you name it–that she has not been able to identify. My mom is so serious about music. She will find old, unlabeled cassette tapes and pore over them for hours, listening, trying to recall the name and artist of the song in question so she can add it on Spotify, only to find out that it’s some deep cut from the 50s she heard on a radio station that don’t exist no more and isn’t streamable online. Her favorite saying is, “That used to be the shit in the clubs,” and her favorite story is about how, when I was a baby, I would start dancing in the crib everytime she played “Everybody, Everybody” by Black Box. So to say the least, I got it from my mama, fa real!
My favorite mid-afternoon record that’s on repeat is George Benson’s “White Rabbit” and my favorite evening record right now is Laura Nyro and Labelle’s “Gonna Take a Miracle.”
LY: What are some ways that you two routinely fortify your love in this space?
Ericka: Indulging each other’s carnal knowledge! haha Singing, fussing for sure, dancing, playing with the dog, and most definitely having friends and family over to the house, kicking it, throwing parties, or just talking. We also babysit our friends’ kids from time-to-time, and children have added all the love and crumbs we will ever need in here.
LY: When it comes to design, activism, and life as an educator, where do these worlds meet?
Ericka: This is a great question that I’m not sure I yet have a satisfactory answer to, but my first thought is that, in my life, these facets meet where they aren’t supposed to. Designing or decorating a space can sometimes be a capitalistic reprieve from the societal conditions that require our attention for them to shift; and also, design is an industry, a business, and our homes being commodities that finance someone else’s livelihood that we, in turn, have to constantly work to maintain rather than just free spaces that we all deserve to live in because all people deserve to have clean, habitable, safe, comfortable homes.
Their living room lamp is from CB2
Dining room table: Betsu Studio, Philadelphia
Backyard seating is from Target
Tv Console: Past to Present on the Corner, Niantic, CT
Photos by LaTonya. This post includes affiliate links. If you choose to purchase something, we may earn a small commission.