For years, Kelley Louise Carter entertained a fantasy about how she was going to meet the love of her life. “We would be in Whole Foods, and he would be wearing a Michigan State University alumni sweatshirt,” she said. “We would both be grabbing the almond milk at the same time, then we’d look up, lock eyes and that would be it. We’d exchange numbers and fall in love.”
Becoming the alternative milk shopper of her dreams wasn’t something Moreno Quintell McCalpin could have easily pulled off when they met in 2021, given that he lived in Atlanta and she in Los Angeles. But becoming the man who helped her rethink what love at first sight might look like was, for him, easy.
Ms. Carter, 46, is a senior reporter covering Black entertainment at ESPN’s Andscape operation. Mr. McCalpin, 42, is a freelance chemist and lab manager whose computer and TV screens are permanently parked on sports channels. When they connected on Twitter in February 2021, her face was as recognizable to him as the athletes and celebrities she regularly interviews. To her, he was a friendly stranger — one of thousands following her on social media, but one whose kindness provided a lift at a time she really needed one.
Binge more Vows columns here and read all our wedding, relationship and divorce coverage here.
Covid blues had come for Ms. Carter that winter. “We were in the thick of it,” she said. “They hadn’t even developed a vaccine yet.” She had recently bought a house in Los Angeles, removing her from apartment life and the daily interaction with neighbors that came with it. “I was literally trapped in the house by myself. I didn’t even have a pet.”
On Feb. 15, 2021, the third anniversary of the release of the movie “Black Panther,” she posted a picture of herself with the movie’s star, Chadwick Boseman, on Twitter. “He had died a few months earlier and everyone was tweeting out their remembrances,” she said. “I knew him well, so I tweeted out a photo of Chad and myself and Ryan Coogler days before the release of the film.” Mr. McCalpin commented on the picture. “I would spot that beautiful smile anywhere in a crowd,” he wrote.
The compliment felt like a balm. “It was nice to have someone kind of flirt with you in a way they might have flirted on the outside,” she said. Within a few minutes, she sent him a direct message. “Thank you so much for the tweet, that was really sweet,” she wrote.
Mr. McCalpin, who said he always thought Ms. Carter was cute, had commented on previous posts that she shared on social media, but this was the first time she ever responded.
His reply launched a romance that at first made him wonder if he was being catfished. “I thought, What does a person like her want with somebody like me?” he said.
Mr. McCalpin grew up in Memphis. He and his younger sister, Ashley Prewitt, were raised by their great-grandmother, Marie Barnes. His mother, Renee McCalpin, was in rehabilitation for addiction throughout his childhood until, in 1991, she died of a drug overdose. He never knew his father. Sports, he said, “were kind of my outlet.”
Track and football earned him a scholarship to Arkansas State University, but friends suggested he consider historically Black colleges and universities. He graduated from Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and planned to enroll in pharmacy school soon after. But before he could enroll Ms. Barnes was diagnosed with leukemia. Until she died a year later, he was her full-time caretaker.
A first job as a laboratory technician in Memphis in 2006 set him on a path of consistent lab work. “I’ve been on that train ever since,” he said. He had been working in Atlanta doing overnight shifts at the medical supply company Medline for two years when Ms. Carter surprised him with her direct message.
Ms. Carter became an ESPN reporter in 2016 after what she said was “a pretty lovely childhood” primarily in Southfield, Mich. Her father, William Carter, was a recruiting coach who worked at colleges and high schools. Her mother, Carolyn Carter, taught English at several universities, including Eastern Michigan University.
Though she was an only child, her household bustled with visits from her parents’ students and recruits. Among them was Kevin Willis, a former professional basketball player who attended Michigan State. “I call him my big brother,” she said. “He played for Michigan State, and because he went there I became obsessed with Michigan State basketball. They also had a great journalism program.” Ms. Carter graduated from that program with a bachelor’s degree in 2007. Her devotion to her alma mater showed up via a sweatshirt in her love-at-Whole Foods fantasy.
Before Ms. Carter and Mr. McCalpin moved from nonstop direct messaging to all-night phone calls eight days after their first Twitter encounter, she had a word to describe her love life. “It was tragic,” she said, with a laugh.
“I think a lot is said about women who have great careers, and I think the thing primarily said is that we don’t create time for love in our lives,” she said. “That just absolutely was not the case for me. As much as I wanted to grow in my career, I wanted to grow in love. But I wasn’t finding that.”
The connection she felt with Mr. McCalpin on social media provided a first glimpse of it. “What captured me is, his childhood story is not the prettiest, but he endured that trauma and still was so kind and friendly and introspective and full of life. I love that he takes care of people.”
For Mr. McCalpin, relationships in his 20s and 30s had been “interesting,” he said. He had one long-term girlfriend. “But I was a track person. I was running from a lot of good women, I guess.” His feet were firmly planted when Ms. Carter flew to Atlanta to meet him for a first date on May 15, 2021. She had friends and family in the city. “My thought was, if he’s weird, I’ll go hang out with my friends,” she said. But there was no need.
On her first day there, they walked through the Atlanta Botanical Garden and got foot massages at Treat Your Feet Buckhead, which Mr. McCalpin had prearranged. When he took her back to her hotel that night, after dinner at Atlanta’s Capital Grille, “I think we were both just like, OK, so how are we going to do this?” she said. “What does long-distance dating look like for you?”
By summer, they were flying around the country to see each other at least once a month. In June, they declared themselves a couple. Ms. Carter’s best friend of 30 years, the writer and producer Jemele Hill, felt a sense of relief when she met Mr. McCalpin on a trip to New York for the ESPY Awards.
“Kelley is the type of person who’s exuberant about love,” Ms. Hill said. “There were plenty of times I told her to slow down, take it easy, be a little more cautious. But this was an instance where I felt caution wasn’t necessary. Moreno understood Kelley. He was thoughtful.”
Less than a year later, Mr. McCalpin was soliciting Ms. Hill’s advice on an engagement ring. The one he presented on Sept. 25, 2022, during a trip to Dreams Tulum, a resort in Mexico, was the ring of her dreams: a cushion-cut diamond with baguettes on the band. Ms. Carter said a tearful yes before Mr. McCalpin steered her toward a surprise. Ms. Hill and her husband and a cluster of other friends and family had traveled to Mexico to celebrate with them.
At an engagement party at the steakhouse BAK’ Tulum, congratulations rained from the rafters. “It was such a beautiful moment,” Ms. Carter said. Months later, Mr. McCalpin moved from Atlanta to Ms. Carter’s house in the View Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, known as the Black Beverly Hills.
On July 14, Ms. Carter and Mr. McCalpin were married at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa in Huntington Beach, Calif. Their chosen theme for the wedding was vintage Hollywood Governor’s Ball. To set the scene, their 200 guests were asked to dress formally, in vintage Hollywood black tie. For Ms. Carter, the period elegance felt like a way of paying homage to classic Black actors and entertainers who never found mainstream success.
Guests cheered and wiped tears when Ms. Carter, in a custom off-the-shoulder, champagne-hued gown from Katerina Bocci, was escorted down a winding aisle by her father. Mr. McCalpin, in a black tuxedo and white vest, met her at an altar covered in white blooms where Rodney Patterson, a pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, awaited them. Standing on either side of the officiant was a wedding party that included the actors Gabrielle Union and Deborah Joy Winans; Ms. Hill was matron of honor.
After a short, traditional ceremony during which Chanté Moore, a singer and songwriter, surprised guests with a performance of her song, “Love’s Taken Over,” Ms. Carter and Mr. McCalpin recessed through a room dotted with athletes and entertainers. But the spotlight was all theirs. “At that moment, Kelley and Moreno were the only stars,” Ms. Hill said.
On This Day
When July 14, 2023
Where The Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Wedding White to Reception Black At a reception at the Hyatt, guests were served a duet of seared salmon and cider lavender brined chicken before a nearly four foot tall black wedding cake adorned with pearl-like confections and lace was served. Ms. Carter changed from her wedding gown into a crystal-studded, off-white dress.
Old-School Glam After a late-night snack of specialty pizza, the couple gave each of their guests a coffee-table book, “Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments.” Inside the books, the couple had bound a picture of themselves on the first page. Ms. Carter wrote a personal note of thanks in every copy.