Alvin Ailey Atlanta

My Valentine’s Day celebrations have always been rather unconventional. Blame it on the boys I dated. I mean, outside of sweets and flowers from the hubs, I can only remember one time that I actually got a Valentine from a guy, and that one came in the 9th grade. It was from my high school crush. A card and a small box of chocolates.  I was so shy and clueless and flabbergasted that all I could muster was a half-croaked, “thanks” before I practically ran away from him. Let’s just say that was the beginning and end of that love affair. The rest always managed to conveniently end before February 14 came around, no doubt so that the losers I dated didn’t have to be bothered with buying me anything.

What none of them knew was that I didn’t want their wilted, over-priced flowers, dime store chocolates and cheap lingerie anyway. My mommy had me covered. I don’t know why she started the tradition of giving me Valentine’s gifts—if she thought it was cute, or if she felt sorry for me or if she simply wanted to celebrate love with her only daughter. But I do know that I appreciated her givings—sweet cards, a small box of chocolates, a couple packs of my favorite flavored Now & Laters, a book, a small plant. From elementary school all the way through college and beyond, Mommy was my Valentine. Always, she would tell me that she loved me—that firm, true, unabashed, from-the-gut, mother love.

Valentine’s Day, then, has never been about romantic love for me, but about agape—love for God and my fellow (wo)man. The kind of love that knows neither bounds nor conditions. That good, good love that stands the test of time and circumstance, far beyond the commercial rally of Valentine’s Day. Where I come from, February 14th is a day to celebrate LOVE, but the kind you extend to all, not just a significant other.

In that vein, I continue my mother’s Valentine’s Day tradition by treating my daughters to gifts from the heart—gifts they get from their dad and me for no other reason than that we need them to know that they are deeply loved. We usually don’t go crazy with it; the gifts are on par with those my mom gave me when I was little. But this year, I went all out and copped tickets to an Alvin Ailey performance here in Atlanta. What better way to celebrate love than to lean forward in our chairs and, together, witness the beauty of art and culture and dance and our people? 

Mari’s seen Ailey twice before—once when she was five and completely devoid of memory, and a second time on a class field trip, during which she saw shortened versions of a few of the dance company’s works. Lila, a Dance Moms junkie, is an Ailey newbie who, until now, hadn’t considered the idea of an all-Black ballet troupe and, after seeing a small clip of Ailey’s “Revelations,” is most excited for tonight’s performance. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they see bodies, thick and brown and lovely like their own, leaping and stretching across the stage to the rhythms of gospel and jazz. The dance and music of our people. I couldn’t think of a better way to demonstrate true love to my daughters.

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovelies. Here’s to love—true love!

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. I love Alvin Ailey! I saw a performance years ago with my mom (not for V-day, though) and was transported to some better place the whole time. Hope you all had a beautiful experience!

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