— -- The first time model Ashley Graham brought her future husband Justin Ervin home to meet her family, it was hardly "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
The first plus-size model to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Graham described in an essay for Glamour what happened when she brought Ervin, whom she had met in church, to Nebraska to meet her family.
The 29-year-old admitted that she had grown up around few black people.
"The sum total of what I learned about African-American culture in school was Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and the Underground Railroad," she wrote. "This was more than my mom knew; she didn’t even see a black person in real life until she was 18 years old."
She continued, "I naively hoped everyone would be color-blind -- which is not what happened. When my grandparents met Justin, my grandmother was cordial but cold. She greeted him and immediately walked away. When it came time for them to leave, my grandparents didn’t even acknowledge him. Instead my grandmother looked me in the eye, with Justin standing behind me, and said, 'Tell that guy I said goodbye.'"
Graham was shocked.
"I had never seen my loving, hardworking, and wonderful grandma be so hurtful and so racist," she wrote. "After they left I took Justin on a ride to get out of the house. I’ll never forget what he said as we drove around town: 'Racism is never surprising but always disappointing.'"
The body activist said her future husband explained to her that someone like her grandmother had only been exposed to negative stereotypes of black men.
"She had probably never looked a black man in the face, let alone had a conversation with him, and now one was in her daughter’s home, dating her granddaughter," he told her.
But it was Ervin's actions after that initial meeting that completely turned things around.
"As if his understanding wasn’t generous enough, Justin called my grandmother on her sixtieth wedding anniversary," Graham wrote. "He’s not a texter or an emailer; he’s a pick-up-the-phone-and-call-you person, and anniversaries are a big deal to him. Afterward Grandma called my mom and said, ‘You’ll never guess who called me.’ And from then on out, she loved him. Loved him."
The experience was typical of Irvin, Graham said.
"I’m so grateful that happened, and it never would have if Justin hadn’t put his hand out there. He always puts love before pride, which is what he did with me," she said. "When I was playing games, he called me out on it. When we began dating, he did it with intention, always asking the difficult questions: ‘What do you bring to this relationship?’ and ‘What role do you see yourself in beyond girlfriend or wife?'"
A year after they met, Graham and Ervin tied the knot in 2010.
"Thanks to Justin’s constant communication, I envisioned a marriage that was more than just two people loving each other," she said. "And now we have that marriage: a partnership dedicated to building something bigger than ourselves."