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On Their First Date, Her Younger Brother Played Chaperone

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Jamauri Amir Bogan got Kaylah Kasmir Howard’s attention the only way he knew how in fifth grade.

“I teased her,” said Mr. Bogan, who had a crush on Ms. Howard in 2008 at Central Five Jefferson in Union, N.J., and tried to stay cool in front of his friends when he saw her at lunch or recess. They are now 28.

In sixth grade, at Burnet Middle School, he was a bit more courageous, and asked her to be his girlfriend.

“She became No. 1 on my Myspace top friends,” he said.

Otherwise, they were clueless.

“I was very, very nervous,” she said, “and shy.”

After two weeks the relationship fizzled out, and they went back to being friends.

“We couldn’t get the words out,” he said. “They came out later in life.”

In 2011, they frequently met each other at outdoor Union Farmers track practice in the spring of their freshman year at Union High School. During the summer, they even shared their first kiss on the field.

“I was focused on being the best football player possible,” said Mr. Bogan, who played running back and became Gatorade New Jersey Football Player of the Year in December.

In October, to his relief, Ms. Howard, made a move.

“I had my best friend go up to him and tell him that I like him a lot and that he should be my boyfriend,” she said.

He told himself he would make the relationship official if his football team won the game that Friday.

“I made 300 yards in the first half,” he said, and the team won big. On Monday, Oct. 24, he walked up to her at her locker and asked her to be his girlfriend.

A few weeks later, her mother allowed her to go on their first date to the movies on one condition: She had to take along her 4-year-old brother Eian, one of her five brothers.

“I was so upset,” she said.

Mr. Bogan, unfazed, treated them both to tickets and snacks, and when her brother, to her horror, dropped his red slushy, Mr. Bogan got him another.

“I love Eian,” Mr. Bogan said. “He is my little brother.”

In March 2012, as she was about to turn 16, they had their second date at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant on their own, and dated throughout high school.

They often hung out at his grandparents’ home in Irvington, N.J., and her parents dropped her off at home games every other Friday and afterward she accompanied his family to the Huck Finn Diner.

“He was a great football player,” she said, adding that he received multiple scholarship offers.

In 2014, he decided to attend Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich., from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in personal finance and later an M.B.A. He is now the owner of Bogan Developments, a real estate development company in Kalamazoo that specializes in affordable and work force housing.

“I didn’t want to leave New Jersey just yet,” said Ms. Howard, who has a bachelor’s degree in health studies from William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., and received an associate degree in nursing from JFK Muhlenberg School in Plainfield, N.J. Ms. Howard, a registered cardiology nurse, is now a charge nurse at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo.

The night after high school graduation they had dinner, and then tearfully drove around until about 3 a.m., as far as Seaside Heights, on the Jersey Shore. The next day he left for summer football practice, and they continued dating 700 miles apart.

[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]

“I actually took my car with my friend and we drove 20 hours round trip and stayed 24 hours,” she said of her freshman year road trip in 2014. “That was how much I loved him.”

They decided to get engaged after she finished nursing school, and in June 2022, halfway through her graduation party at a banquet hall in New Jersey, Mr. Bogan wasted no time.

“My dad pulled a chair out and told me to sit down,” she said. Then, Mr. Bogan, the last one to speak, got down on one knee. A couple of weeks later she moved into his apartment in Kalamazoo.

“She’s my best friend, he said. “She knew me through every change and evolution. It’s beautiful to have that.”

On June 19, also known as Juneteenth, Anthony Mitchell Sr., a pastor at Union Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Newark, N.J., officiated, before 150 guests, at Park Château Estate & Gardens, an events space in East Brunswick, N.J. The couple jumped the broom, and hired African American vendors, who represented “Black excellence,” she said. Later, their first dance was to Luther Vandross’s “So Amazing.”

“We’re always going to be excited about Juneteenth,” the bride explained. The groom went on: “For what it represents for both our culture and to us as a married couple.”

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