“If marriage is not in your cards, we can be friends and call it quits right now before it goes any further,” said Denise on the first date. “I figured if we left dinner and he never called me again, I’d be fine. … But he did call me again.” “Right away,” says Lafayette.
Southeast D.C. – Denise Rolark Barnes, 67, and Lafayette Barnes, 73, tell different tales about the first time they met one another. Lafayette recalls Denise “stalking” him at Georgetown Law Library, where he did his international affairs homework every weekend. Denise was enrolled at Howard Law School back then in 1978.
“She’d come into the library looking for me. She had a little cute afro. I’m trying to get my work done,” says Lafayette. “She came over to start the conversation. Now once or twice is okay, but every time she came to the library, she made it a point to stop by when I was doing my work.”
Denise remembers differently. She says Lafayette stood out in a crowded club, Hogate’s in Southwest.
“[Lafayette] evidently traveled because it was not an American [suit],” says Denise.
The Nehru, blue, plaid leisure suit with a belt on the side was tailormade in Kenya. That suit was one of many foreign pieces that Lafayette collected during travels to nearly six countries at the time.
Denise was Afrocentric herself as her afro was picked out that night.
“I said, let me check her out. Maybe she’s got some soul inside that afro. That’s how we met,” says Lafayette, who also wore his hair naturally in an afro.
On the first date, Denise made it clear to Lafayette that she was ready for a serious relationship.
“I told him from the very beginning, if marriage is not in your cards, we can be friends and call it quits right now before it goes any further. I figured if we left dinner and he never called me again, I’d be fine, he’d be fine, and we could move on,” says Denise. “But he did call me again.”
“Right away,” says Lafayette. One year later, the two were married in 1985.
About five months later, Lafayette Barnes IV was born at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. During the child delivery, Denise’s father, Calvin Rolark Sr., was rushed to the same hospital, due to a heart attack.
In 1994, Calvin passed away from cancer at Howard University Hospital.
Calvin, an activist and editor, founded The Washington Informer newspaper to focus on positive narratives in the Black community back in 1964.
Denise decided to continue running the paper and became publisher.
“I realized I was prepared for what [my father] wanted me to do,” says Denise.
Denise says her memories of her father as a husband were formidable.
“My mother and father married, had me, and I think, maybe two years, three years later, they were divorced. I don’t have any memories of that time or at least any good memories of that time,” she says.
Both parents remarried.
Calvin married Wilhelmina Rolark, Ward 8 Councilmember who served four consecutive terms, for 27 years until he passed away.
“I knew that they loved each other. I viewed it as a really great partnership. And so that meant a lot to me, you know, you have the love, but a partnership is really important.”
A good partnership means communicating “feelings about becoming a parent, owning a home, where you want to live, jobs, all that kind of stuff,” she says.
Lafayette says that he didn’t have any strong examples of marriage.
“My mother and father divorced when I was in kindergarten. So, I never grew up in a household, except when I was very young, where they both were in the house together. I didn’t have direct learning experiences,” he says.
Instead, television shows were examples of healthy two-parent homes such as The Jeffersons, The Cosby Show, Good Times, and Fresh Prince of Belair.
Despite his parents’ split, Lafayette was committed to raising children in a “joint household.”
“Our children know that it’s important to have a dad and a mother that work together. Yes, we have some hard times, but most of the time we have good times,” he says.
The two have raised Lafayette Jr. and Desmond Barnes. Denise is also a bonus mom to Nefertiti and credits Wilhelmina for being a great example.
In 1986, Denise and Lafayette gave birth to a girl, who passed shortly after birth. The couple planned on the name Makeda Grace Barnes – Makeda is a biblical and African name and Grace after Lafayette’s late mother. (Desmond is named after Desmond Tutu, a cleric who relentlessly fought to unite races and end the racist system of apartheid in South Africa.)
Denise and Lafayette say some of the fondest family memories are traveling – the first international family trip was South Africa. The family plans to return to South Africa later this year.
Lafayette says although the initial attraction to Denise was physical (her ‘fro), marriage is about more than that.
“Real love and marriage is a commitment that comes from within. So, there’s not just a physical attraction, but now it’s the internal attraction. It’s Denise’s spirit that keeps me together and happy,” says Lafayette. “I’m happy and she’s nappy because she still has hair. I don’t. Like my dad joke?”