In a month that celebrates both Black History and Valentine’s Day—that annual outpouring of love marked by excessive shows of romance—we often forget that black love is as intrinsic a part of our history in America as our legacy and accomplishments. But while the aforementioned celebrations only occur once a year, black love endures. In February 2018, we shared the story of transcendent love even in the face of tremendous loss; this year, we focus on survival—and the faith that fuels it—as we share the love story of an entrepreneur we’ve previously profiled here at The Glow Up.
You see, it was around this time last year that we first met Dr. Kristian Henderson, founder of the all-natural online marketplace BLK + GRN. Also a professor at George Washington University, Kristian had made it her mission to help level the playing field of health disparities through the creation of a highly curated, health-focused space for black (and predominantly female) vendors.
What Kristian didn’t tell us at the time was that she was a newlywed and expectant mother; only a few months before, she’d married Jason Edwards, a teacher coach and English teacher at a public charter school. In a near-magical series of events in the digital dating landscape, the two matched on Tinder in the fall of 2016; by February of the next year, they were dating exclusively. On October 21, 2018, the couple married in an intimate ceremony at the Quaker meetinghouse of Jason’s high school, where he’d secretly orchestrated string arrangements of some of Kristian’s favorite songs, including Daniel Caesar & Kali Uchis’s “Get You,” Daniel Caesar & H.E.R.’s “Best Part,” and Khalid and Alina Baraz’s “Electric.”
The song chosen for their first dance? Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.”
“I was really excited to be married to Kristian and I think there was a benefit of us both dating with purpose and also living together beforehand,” Jason tells us. “We had each done a lot of personal work—including therapy—so we were both much more aware of the challenges that may have come from within.”
“We were so excited to find each other and committed to being in the world together,” Kristian agrees. “I only remember excitement!”
And there was more excitement to come: in March of 2019, she home-birthed their first child, son August Tylear, so named for the meaning of the word “august” as well as playwright August Wilson (Kristian and Jason were also both born in August, as were all of the men in Jason’s family).
“We learned a lot about ourselves as people through becoming parents together, which is a real gift in ways we didn’t expect,” says Jason. “I think the overwhelming sentiment was how blessed we were to have started a family together.”
What no one could’ve anticipated is that the Henderson-Edwards family would suffer a life-threatening car accident only a few months later.
On July 1, 2019, soon after Jason and Kristian had purchased their first home, they were hit by another car while traveling on the highway. Their airbags didn’t deploy. The accident is still an ongoing investigation, but every member of their new family was injured: Jason, who had been driving, suffered minor cuts and scrapes, a sore back, and bone bruising in his right shoulder; August, then 3 months old, had a subdural hematoma and broken ribs, from which he remarkably healed quickly and fully.
But Kristian went into an instant coma, having suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that required removing a portion of her skull to relieve the blood building on her brain.
“The prognosis was tentative,” Jason says of the days immediately following the accident, explaining that diffuse axonal injuries to the brain (the type of TBI Kristian suffered) are generally touch-and-go at the onset. “My greatest fear was that I would lose both my son and my wife. As August’s health improved, my new fear was that Kristian wouldn’t ever wake up, or that if she did, she’d never fully recover.
“A coma doesn’t just have an end date, like it seems in the movies,” he further explains. “You slowly open your eyes, then move your fingers, and then try to speak. [Kristian] started coming out of the coma in late July, but it took weeks beyond that for her to begin talking and walking again.”
As Kristian recovered, Jason became her voice, writing to the community his wife had built through BLK + GRN. His first post read, in part:
On July 1st, around 1 pm, Kristian, August, and I were involved in an auto accident...While much of the events in those short seconds are a blur, I can remember a few things. I remember honking my horn as she moved into our lane. I remember hearing glass shatter and metal tear. I remember hearing August cry, reaching through his broken window and pulling him from his car seat. I remember screaming for anyone to help and call 911. I remember yelling Kristian’s name at the top of my lungs. I remember the other driver approaching me, while I stood there holding August, saying that she didn’t see our car. I remember waiting for Kristian to be pulled from her seat as others crowded around to save her life.
Our car was totaled. August and Kristian were both taken to separate hospitals, Kristian being airlifted via helicopter to a shock trauma center while I rode with August in an ambulance to a pediatric ICU. I can’t begin to describe the feelings and thoughts that I had and have had since. This entire ordeal has felt like a nightmare I can’t wake up from.
For the next several months, Jason continued to keep Kristian’s friends, followers, and the BLK + GRN community up-to-date on her status while expressing his unconditional love in a series of posts that seemed to subconsciously will his wife’s recovery.
“The first few seconds each morning after I wake up have been especially challenging,” read one post. “When I open my eyes and realize that we’re not home yet, that this is our new normal for now, it’s easy to feel lost. It’s easy to feel beaten down anew instead of renewed.
“But while each day is a challenge, each day is also a new opportunity to be thankful for progress,” Jason added. “To realize that as many miles back or off course as we may have been pushed, we are still a few inches closer to the finish today than we were before.”
As he awaited new stages of progress in Kristian’s recovery, Jason says communicating with her BLK + GRN audience became a form of therapy, in and of itself.
“It was perhaps one thing that helped me feel like I was in some way parsing out my feelings and navigating through the chaos,” he recalls, noting that writing was also more manageable than answering each call or text. “I knew that the thousands of people who love and care for Kristian still wanted to know about how to help support us either financially, or simply what to pray for.
“That being said, it was probably one of the most difficult things for me to do. It required me trying to grapple with my own feelings in ways that became public that I had not considered before,” he added. “Ultimately, what made it easier was to just write for Kristian, knowing that someday she would be able to read what I had written to her.”
And eventually, she could. “I immediately started crying,” says Kristian, recalling reading Jason’s letters. “He also was sending me emails that I have [since] read.”
As her rehabilitation continues, Kristian has finally settled into the new home the family closed on while she was hospitalized. Next month, they will celebrate August’s first birthday—and by his father’s account, the now-toddler is back to his normal self. “[Y]ou’d never even be able to tell that he was in an accident,” Jason tells us. “Babies are fortunately super resilient.”
By contrast, the process of recovering from a TBI is arduous, but Kristian is steadily making progress. “The road is long, and feels steep often,” says Jason. “But we are still moving in the right direction.” He’s grateful Kristian doesn’t remember any of the accident, but admits it’s been more difficult for him. “Each day, I try to let my mind forget that fateful moment as much as possible,” he says, later adding, “I have been learning to better manage those fears every day, as I know we have far to go, but I’m so grateful for the progress that she’s already made.”
Along with gratitude, faith has been fundamental in both Kristian’s healing and moving the family forward, post-trauma. As Jason now acknowledges, it was the foundation upon which their relationship was built.
“It really is the hope in things unseen,” he says. “I used to get mad when Kristian would say that she ‘manifested’ me. She would say that writing her list of traits in a mate led her to positively state and have faith that the universe, the Creator, God, or whatever word you use for it, would bring her the partner she wanted. I began to learn how right she was. By nature, I’m often tentative to state my desires and dreams out loud, as if it would jinx them,” he continues. “Faith doesn’t work that way. I believed that my wife would wake up. I said so. She did. I believe that she will be fully healed. I say so. She will be.”
And despite the unimaginable fear and trauma the young family has faced, the experience has also given them profound perspective on commitment, partnership, and unconditional love.
“I’ve learned that so much of what we cared about, worried about, and even fought about, is frankly bullshit,” says Jason. “In general, we can always find things to nitpick about when we don’t see the grand scope of the way that we are blessed and fed daily by our partners.
“[W]e had been married less than a year when the accident happened. I think many people say their wedding vows somewhat idly, hoping that they’ll never get the sickness, and only see the health; that things will be better, and rarely get worse—or at least, not until far down the road,” he continues. “The accident brought into stark reality the depth of the promises that we had made to each other just months before. I knew that I would do anything, give anything, sacrifice everything, for this woman who I could never imagine being without.”
Now, the Henderson-Edwards family is steadily adjusting to their new normal—including taking a much-needed vacation and even hoping to create a sibling for August once Kristian is fully recovered. Encouragingly, the entrepreneur is increasingly able to turn her attention back to the company her friends and family kept afloat in her absence. Most recently, BLK + GRN entered a competition for a small business grant with FedEx, “because lots of my ideas require capital,” says Kristian, indicating a mind clearly still hard at work, despite the obstacles.
For Jason, there was never a moment’s doubt they’d face any and all obstacles together.
“Love is patient and kind,” he says, referencing the Bible. “I have single friends who’ve marveled at what we’ve been through and what I’ve done to stay by Kristian’s side. I honestly don’t think of it as anything extraordinary at all. Loving Kristian is something I would never opt out of doing. I chose this woman, and she chose me. And nothing would ever make me regret that,” he says, adding: “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
The Glow Up tip: You can vote for BLK + GRN in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest every 24 hours through March 8.