Last year I offered a contest to celebrate my 10 years in business. The contest was specifically for a special couple, someone deserving of beautiful wedding photography. I’ve actually known Callie since High School and knew a little of her background. There is no doubt she and Ku had a tough couple of years and were well deserving of my prize. There were so many good entries it was hard to decide but after reading Callie’s heart-pouring letter, I knew these two were the ones. They are both so selfless and caring and help out so many people.
Here is a little bit of their story in Callie’s own words:
Thank you so much for this opportunity to enter your contest! You are such an amazing photographer and anyone would be extremely lucky to win a wedding photographed by you. I would like to share our story with you; however, I ask that you keep it confidential as some of our story is very personal and not many people know what we’ve gone through over the last year.
Ku and I met in the summer of 2002 at a friend’s party. He and I weren’t really looking to meet anyone but we ended up talking all night and exchanging numbers. We kept talking and one thing led to another…and here we are 12 ½ years later getting ready to tie the knot! He and I took it slow in the beginning – we were young and I was still in college, but we’ve grown so much as individuals and in our relationship that we are now in an awesome place together.
We were never that motivated to actually get married. We saw so many parents and friends married and then divorced and having the social pressure to get married was much less important to us than what we had as a couple. Eventually people stopped asking us when we were getting married! As the years went by we talked about getting married “one day” when it felt right. This year it felt right, for reasons you’ll see when you read below.
In 2011, Ku and I started a non-profit organization called African Youth Basketball Organization (AYBO). Ku has played basketball since he was a kid and even went to college on a basketball scholarship. His parents were born and raised in Ghana and most of his family is still there. For months he had an idea to start an organization that would help kids in Ghana get scholarships to schools in the U.S. through playing basketball. While it took some time, we were able to be approved as an official 501(c)3 non-profit organization and each year Ku goes back to Ghana to hold a basketball camp and clinic. To date, we have secured scholarships for 8 kids (and counting) from Ghana to schools throughout the U.S. – no easy feat with visa and embassy challenges. While they are here we offer support, guidance, and even a room to stay, for free. We don’t make any money off this but Ku felt inspired to help kids through education and basketball so they can return to Ghana and help their families.
Ku also coaches young boys throughout the year as well as works at a printer company. We both work really hard but it’s not always easy or profitable to follow your dream. Ku kept his job at the printer company so he could have a steady income but last year he was cut to half time due to company changes and has remained that way. Ku has been coaching kids for over 12 years and has become such an important mentor in those kids lives that he often receives praise from both parents and kids thanking him for helping their children become the players they are and that wherever they are they have never found another coach like him. He regularly helps them anywhere from giving them rides to practice to giving them advice on personal matters. He dedicates a lot of his time and energy to helping these kids succeed.
I work for an environmental consulting firm, help Ku with the non-profit, and together we have our little life. I have a big soft spot for animals, kids, and environmental causes. I sponsor a child through Children’s International, and have helped my sister with her daughter since she was born. We also both help our mothers – Ku’s mom lives locally and we help her out financially when needed and just recently helped her buy a ticket so she could go back to Ghana and visit her family. My mom hasn’t been doing well and suffers from mental health issues. My sister and I made the decision to remove her from a bad situation earlier this year and she has since lived with Ku and I (along with her two dogs) and is currently at my sister’s house while we host 2-3 of the boys from Ghana for the summer.
Ku and I both love kids (and animals), which is why we have 3 dogs, all adopted or inherited. My first dog I had on my own was a gorgeous pitbull I ended up bringing a dog home with me after volunteering the Escondido Humane Society. He was shot and killed in 2013 by the police while my mom was taking him on a hike in San Marcos; I cried for days and still tear up when I look at his photos.
In December 2013 one of the kids from the AYBO program was here in San Diego for a tournament and when Ku went to pick him up to have Christmas with us he broke down and told him that he was having trouble with his coach and school and didn’t feel he was being taken care of properly. We discussed it and decided he could stay with us while we found him another school. So Razak came to us on Christmas and quickly became a part of our family. He was an amazing young man, everyone fell in love with him immediately because he made it so easy to do so. He was thoughtful, helpful, honest and kind. And he worked so hard at playing basketball and at school. He was only 17 and had a year left of school but already had numerous offers and interests from colleges. He was the hope and pride of his family back home in Ghana, who live in poverty. On August 23, 2014 I took him to my work’s annual summerfest in Mission Bay. It was a beautiful day with hundreds of people in the water. While we were waiting to take a boat ride he decided he wanted to try kayaking. There was only one life jacket available so they wouldn’t let us take the double kayak out. As I walked down the beach to look for more life jackets he decided to take one out by himself. About 20 minutes later he fell out of the kayak, slipped out of his life jacket and drowned. Before I knew what happened, I had looked for him several times but with so many people in the water I never did see him; there was no commotion in the water and the police officers kept saying that maybe someone had picked him up on their boat. We waited… trying to be hopeful. The next day divers found his body at the bottom of the bay.
Even with other heartbreaks we’ve experienced (including ones not mentioned here), we had never experienced such a devastating trauma as losing Razak. He was like a younger brother to us and was a part of our community. We could hardly function those first couple of weeks. It has taken months of grieving and therapy to move forward, and it’s still fresh in our minds and our hearts.
The year 2014 turned out to be the most heart-breaking year of our lives. Which is why we wanted to start 2015 off with a more positive note and decided to get married. Right after New Year’s Ku proposed. He was so cute and excited, and my sister told me that they had been planning it for almost a year – picking out the right ring and deciding how to do it. We decided on a private wedding ceremony with a big reception afterwards so we can celebrate with our friends. I wanted to get married on our 13th anniversary together, which is September 6th. While getting married was never a big priority for us, planning it has given us something to look forward to and helps us look ahead to the future while we try to let go of our losses from the past.
Having such a talented photographer such as yourself at our wedding would be a dream come true!
Melissa, it’s hard for me to write a story about why we are deserving because I feel like no matter what we’ve been through we are still here and have so much to be thankful for; particularly given how much suffering is happening around the world every day. I would normally be more apt to nominate someone else, but after what we’ve been through I can only hope that this year brings us some joy and happiness that was absent through much of 2014.
Even reading this a year later, I get teary eyed. I am so happy I was able to capture their beautiful day. It was full of laughter, friends, family and sparklers! Enjoy the photos! <3 – Melissa
ps shout out to the awesome Evelyn for also volunteering her time to second shoot this wedding!