Marriage Strengthens Couple's Love During Flint's Water Crisis

BY JIQUANDA JOHNSON

Tia and KB Ivory were married on Sept. 23, 2016 in Flint. Photo courtesy of the Ivory couple

It's fall 2016 and C'Aira "KB" Ivory realizes she is with the love of her life.

"I woke up one morning and I was like I'm ready to get married," said Ivory who goes by KB. She went to the 67th District Court in Flint to get a marriage license without her partner of eight years knowing.

"I wanted to surprise her," Ivory said of her soon to be wife. She went home and showed then Tia Simpson the marriage license and decisions had to be made.

"I guess she decided enough was enough," said Tia. "I had 30 days to decide after she got the license."

It had been nearly three years since KB first proposed to the Tia. In 2013, she surprised her with a ring while they celebrated their five-year anniversary at the Atheneum Hotel in Detroit.

On Sept. 23, 2016, they were married at the 67th District Courthouse in Flint by Judge Herman Marable, Jr.

The Ivory's love affair started with long summer days, swimming, eating popsicles and watching cartoons together as children in Detroit.

"We would spend most of the summer together," said Tia. "At least three to four weeks. That's what I remember." Tia's mother would drive her from Flint to Detroit so they could hangout with KB and her mother.

Tia reflects on a picture of the two of them when they were about ages five and six sporting ponytails and hair barrettes.

"We spent summers together like damn near every summer from the time I was at least eight until I was at least 13," Tia, 32, added. "Every summer until I was in high school. Didn't nobody parents really want me around their kids."

She struggled with poor choices throughout her middle school and high school years but by March 2008 she and KB reconnected and started a semi-monogamous relationship.

During the time they dated they had their ups and downs. Both were in their early 20s. They cheated, fought and would make up over and over again.

"We have been through so many obstacles," Tia said. "Infidelity, we've both been there. But now we are stronger. We have some much more hope and so much more faith in our relationship. We were young we spent our entire twenties together. I was 23 when we got together and she was 22."

Tia will turn 33 years old at the end of June while KB will be 32 in November.

"We had to mature," KB said. "We weren't ready."

In addition to their self-inflicted struggles they also faced scrutiny from family members for being gay.

"My mother did not accept it at all," said KB. "She struggles with it even now. It wasn't until we got married that it seemed like she would be okay with our relationship."

Their mothers met in 1975 as students at Western Michigan University.

Tia remembers a picture of she and KB when they were ages five and six.

"I always wanted something with (her) but I never knew what it could be because her mom didn't really approve of her being gay."

It took nearly a decade for the women to mature, learn to love each other unselfishly and get over family issues, Tia said. When the U.S. Supreme Court made a June 26, 2015 decision that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional the two still didn't move to tie the knot.

"The commitment was a big part," Tia said. "At the same time the law didn't make my relationship or change it. When I felt that this is my everything, this is the rest of my life that's when I was ready.

I had already dealt with issues having my daughter with a man. I couldn't imagine going through a divorce. For me that's not an option. I had to know that the struggles were worth it. I had to decide that life wasn't the same without her."

Fast forward to June 2017. They are married living in Flint and fighting a water crisis with their three-year-old dachshund, Mishka. Tia's 13-year-old daughter lives with her father in Livonia.

"We had very high lead levels," said Tia, who has been impacted the most by the crisis. She has letters from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water Laboratory saying their lead levels once were 27 parts per billion (ppb) for one faucet and 376 for another.

In January 2016, their bathroom faucet had lead levels of 376 ppb and copper testing resulted in 1,150 ppb. The faucet in their kitchen yielded copper results of 170 ppb and a lead result of 27. The federal threshold for lead in water is 15 ppb.

Their lead levels gained the attention of U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy that February prompting him to visit their home on the south side of Flint.

Tia struggles with eczema, a medical condition that causes skin to become inflamed, itchy and rough, most of her life. She said her skin issues worsened after the Flint's water crisis.

"It's stressful to see her in pain and it's like almost nothing that I can do," said KB. "It's stressful and very irritating but I do help grease her hands up and clean the house. I have to step up and do everything that she did do that she can't do now expect cook. I can't do that. Her food is too good."

Her skin became irritated, her feet were numb and she was sure it was something with her water. She still is struggling with skin issues as they continue to push for clean and safe water in Flint and scaring on her hands and legs from severe breakouts that have left her sometimes unable to work or perform simple tasks around the house.

"We just have been dealing with it," said KB. "I don't care about her physical. That's nothing. What your heart do, your soul do, that's what I'm about. She's beautiful. I don't look at her no different. She's still ole Tia."

As the two approach nine months into their marriage they say they feel good about their relationship and it's future.

"It's awesome actually," said KB. "You feel more whole, more complete finally. I was sure of myself before I got married but I'm actually more confident of myself now. It feels good."

KB recently launched Mercy Ent., a stud dance review company, while Tia said she is working to finish her CAD engineering degree.

In the decade that they have been together the two agree patience and honesty is key.

"Be patient, be patient, be patient and just be honest," said KB. "I learned that...Learn sometimes how to shut up instead of arguing back. So what if your wife gets on your nerves. If you care she should get on your nerves and this one right here stays on my nerves."

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