The ThomasesSpeech and Yolanda Thomas

It’s easy to see why Speech and Yolanda Thomas are “Everyday People.” To be fair, we’ve known them for nearly 4 years and this is not the first time they’ve been guests in our home.  But this time was no different than the first time. Each meeting of Speech and Yolanda, you’ll feel the same warm, familiar and calming presence. And they’re a stunning couple. Speech has honed his hip style, through years of performing and being in the public eye. Yolanda, though behind the scenes, could very well step out of the pages of the most vogue magazine. Yet neither of them is keenly aware of their magnetism. In fact, when Speech spotted Yolanda in line at the Briarcliff Post Office 22 years ago, Yolanda had no idea why he was staring at her.

Speech:
I was in the front of the line and she was way in the back of the line. And I just thought she was fine. I was just like, ‘Wow, she’s gorgeous.’ And I wanted to just talk to her. And the truth is, we (Grammy Award-winning Hip Hop Group, Arrested Development) were about to shoot a video for the single, ‘Natural’ and I wanted her to be the lead girl. I liked her in general but I figured that (the video) was my best chance.

Yolanda hadn’t heard of Arrested Development, even though the single, ‘Tennessee,’ was in the top 10 on the charts.

Yolanda:
I was so into Whitney (Houston).

But Speech says he knew this chance meeting was a big deal. He had just left a volatile relationship and says Yolanda had a very calming and sane presence.

Speech:
She just seemed like she had her head on straight. Her car, the way she was dressed, her hair and her demeanor was just one of like, constraint in a good way.

He wanted her to know he was serious and sincere. After waiting for her to come out to her car, he ended the encounter by giving her his number.

Yolanda:
I loved that he didn’t ask me for my number.

He says he literally waited by the phone for 2 weeks for Yolanda to call him. Remember, he asked her to be the lead in his video and production was approaching. But Yolanda didn’t call until 2 weeks and 1 day later. (By the way, Arrested Development never did shoot a video for ‘Natural’ but decided to release ‘People Everyday’ instead. A decision that would forever define their careers.)

Yolanda:
I didn’t want to be in a video. I was not a video girl. But I wanted to get to know him. He was so fresh. He had dreadlocks and cut-off shorts and Birkenstocks and a tie died t-shirt. I was like, ‘Who is this person?!’ I’d never met anybody like him.

Their first date was a walk around Piedmont Park.

Speech:
We met up and walked for about 2 or 3 hours. And we just talked. That’s it. We didn’t go to dinner. We didn’t go to a movie. We didn’t kiss. We didn’t do anything romantic and it was just talking. We were talking about everything from the kind of person she wanted to marry, what kind of kids she wanted, whether it was with me or not.

Yolanda:
Speech had just lost his brother a couple of months before the date. And it was amazing to me that he was so vulnerable. He just told me the whole story, his whole life story. And I was just like, ‘This is a man that can talk. He’s connected with his emotions and he can express them.’ I was blown away by that.

After that first date, they say they were attracted to each other but the bond of friendship was the glue.

Speech:
We just started dating. For 5 years.

They dated during the height of Arrested Development’s fame. The group, during this time had the hits ‘People Everyday’ and ‘Tennessee’ on their hands and was cradling 2 Grammys in their arms. And Speech took total advantage of his rock star status.

Yolanda:
I was so out of my league! Girls would be at shows that I was at. And I would see him over there talking to a girl, very close, so there was no mistaking. At that time, we had an open relationship, so I had to be ok with it. But inside I was burning! My heart was on fire! I didn’t know what to do or how to be.
 
Speech:
I was a young dude, 21 or 22. So I’m really young and all the opportunities are there. So yes, I had different girlfriends but not really girlfriends. She (Yolanda) was really my only girlfriend.

And the dating continued, with Yolanda accompanying him all around the world as he traveled with the band. Yet something tells me even though she was relegated to ‘Number 1 of Many’ status, she never played the groupie role. And just when Yolanda was weary of her place in Speech’s life and wanted out, it was a heart to heart talk with his mom that pulled her back in. Speech’s mom loved Yolanda and made it a point to bring her around his family.

Yolanda:
I was done. But his mom told me, ‘Yolanda, men just don’t know. But I raised THIS man and he WILL pull it together. I promise you. I guarantee you. He is a good man. He just doesn’t know what to do right now, but he is a good man.’ So his mom helped me and I just continued to hold onto HER conviction.

The relationship moved to the next level when Speech came down with Vertigo. By this time, Yolanda had given birth to their first child, a son named Jahi. They were no longer together but still had an enduring friendship.

Speech:
I had a number of different girls I was sort of contemplating or whatever. But the ONLY girl that came to visit me in the hospital was Yolanda. And she stayed by my side the whole time. That moved me to my core.
 
Yolanda:
I was so afraid to go to the hospital because I didn’t want any drama. So I was trying to figure out when I should go. And then I was like, ‘Forget it, I don’t care. I just want to see him. I want to see that he’s ok.’

Speech was so moved by her concern and care he asked her to move in. And for a year they lived as a family. But it soon was not enough for Yolanda who had waited years on the sideline. She informed Speech one day she needed more.

Speech:
I knew that I loved this woman. And I knew she was the right one for me. I was just scared. I was scared of the unknown. My father was unfaithful. My grandfather was unfaithful. My uncle was unfaithful. And those were the only men and the only examples that I knew. And I didn’t want to mess it up. But I realized that it was fear and I told myself, I owe this woman my best shot. Let me give her my best shot.

Yolanda:
The proposal was very casual. He just said, ‘Hey, you want to do this? How about December? Let’s get married in December.” I was like, sure!

In true Speech and Yolanda style, the ceremony was African. At the time, Speech was anti-religion and anti-system. They were married legally at the courthouse on December 7th and had the African ceremony at their home on December 16th. But neither ceremony did much to change Speech’s ways.

Speech:
I still wasn’t faithful and I didn’t know how to be. I was definitely trying to be more than I was before. So I’m so grateful when we got converted.

We’ve learned after to talking with countless couples, that there is a point in every marriage that makes you or breaks you. This is the point in the Thomas’ marriage that certainly made them. Made them into new people – a new man and a new woman, a new husband and a new wife. Speech, who had rejected religion yet embraced spirituality, found Jesus Christ. He says Jesus is the only person, to this day, that has set the standard of faithfulness, fidelity and true friendship.

Speech:
We got converted a year after we got married. That was revolutionary for us because it was the first time ever that I had a clue as to what to do to be faithful. I knew the concept of being faithful but I never knew anybody to actually do it. So I thought it was just known that you’re not really going to do it but you’re going to front like you can do it or you’ll try your best. Without the Christ part, where I had a higher reason not to do it – not just because of our love and all that, but because God and Heaven and Hell and righteous and Jesus dying for me, all of those things help me to understand it in a bigger and better way.

Speech and Yolanda says they would NOT be married today if not for the wisdom, guidance and following of Jesus Christ and His Word. They say they would have teetered along for a time, as so many couples do, eventually giving way to the stress of life without instruction. In fact, Speech, forever the revolutionary, has a bold stance on men (especially celebrity or famous men) and fidelity.

Speech:
I feel like, people who are prone to cheat and stuff like that, if they don’t have Christ, I believe that when opportunity arises it will happen. It’s just a matter of time. I don’t care who it is; I don’t care what they say. I bet if we have some real talks, that I’d find that that’s true. Including celebrity couples that exist now who aren’t Christian. I really have doubts that they’ve been faithful for real. That’s my personal opinion.

Even after becoming Disciples, Speech and Yolanda say marriage has not been a walk in Piedmont Park. Although fidelity is no longer an issue in their union, Speech believes that every couple will have thorns in their flesh.

Speech:
All couples have one to three thorns in the marriage. You just have to get to know each other well enough to find them. Our kids, that’s one of ours – trusting how I want to raise them and trusting how she wants to raise them. That’s touchy for us. I call them hot button issues.
 
Yolanda:
We use the Bible as our standard and tiebreaker, but there are some things the Bible doesn’t make clear and those are the hot button issues we continue to work through. His family was raised one way, my family was raised another so we are constantly trying to come in agreement with what’s appropriate.

But the friendship between them has only grown over the last 22 years, (17 of them married).

Yolanda:
That’s our marriage love language: communication. We talk through the deeper things of life, like how did you feel when whatever happened?
 
Speech:
With each day, you have an opportunity to do two things: either invest in your marriage or not invest in your marriage. And every day that you don’t invest is a day wasted. And everyday that you invest, it counts for the next day. So ultimately, throughout these 17 years, in particular since we’ve been Christians, everyday we’ve invested. So if it is a thorn or issue we’re dealing with, investing her with ‘I love you. I don’t want to be with anyone but you for the rest of my life.’ That’s an investment. Claming up, not talking to each other is a day wasted. Everyday is an opportunity to reaffirm.

The Bible is a prominent member of the Thomas’ marriage. They study scripture together and individually. That ‘investment’ has reaped priceless dividends when they apply what they study on marriage. They say it doesn’t mean it changes things immediately but it lets you know what your standard is and calls you to live up to it.

Yolanda:
We have the same idea about our marriage. We don’t want to be that married couple that’s married for years and years and years and is just roommates. We want to be friends. We want to have fun together. We want to cry together. We want to laugh together. We want to be intimate and cozy. So we invest in the things that make that legitimate.
 
Speech:
And one of the ways to invest is having the type of talks where we feel close to each other and expressing each other’s insecurities. Being more vulnerable with each other is an investment. The deeper you get with each other, the more you open your heart you’ve just gone to another level – especially when it’s reciprocated. If you are more vulnerable about the things that scare you to your core, then you’re adding to the relationship. Like in the Bible when Jesus said if a house is on a strong foundation (the foundation being Him), when storms come and winds blow (and the storms WILL come), the house will not crash down. It will hold up. I think, in a marital sense the more you invest vulnerability, honesty and trust when hard times come and you’re feeling like, ‘I don’t want to be with her or she doesn’t want to be with me.’ You don’t want to let it go because you think back to all the investments and deposits you’ve made and you say, ‘Nah, we ‘aint letting that go! We’ve built that with each other and nobody else can replace that!’

And the Thomases have accumulated a large account built on 22 years of thoughtful investments. They end our meal together with messages to each other describing the past.

Speech:
Yolanda, you have been the most explosive, transformational thing that has even happened to me on earth. You’ve given me the most joy, the most security.
 
Yolanda:
I’ve had the privilege of watching you become this amazing man. You’re great at everything you do. And you’re a fighter. Everything you do is with such passion and loyalty and strength. I’m so grateful to god that he allowed us to be together. I’m so grateful to be by your side watching you and growing with you.

And a proclamation for the future.

Speech:
Let’s keep it going. Let’s make it just as explosive. Let’s keep it exciting. Let’s take it to the next level. The things that we weren’t able to conquer before, let’s conquer them. Let’s take it to the next level, Boo!
 
Yolanda:
The next 22 years, I believe, will be revolutionary. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I am your biggest fan.

And in a move that typifies the depth of respect and solidarity they have for one another, they give each other a high five.

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