Tia Burroughs and Spencer Clayton
July 14, 2018, in Richboro
They knew each other — sort of — from junior year AP American history. Tia once borrowed a pen from Spencer. They asked each other about homework assignments once or twice. After their 2001 graduation from Central High School, she was off to Bryn Mawr College to earn a bachelor's degree in sociology and master's degrees in social services and law and social policy, while he headed north to Yale University to earn a bachelor's in psychology and a master's in divinity.
As undergrads, Spencer and Tia both signed up for this then-new thing called Facebook, and one accepted the other's friend invitation. They spoke briefly at a class reunion. Then in 2014, Tia saw Spencer on Walnut Street.
She was walking to her job at Equal Measure, where she is now a senior consultant doing program evaluation and strategy work with foundations. Now a research economist in the State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Spencer had moved back home and was enrolled in Rutgers University-Camden's public affairs doctoral program.
The first word that crossed Tia's mind when she saw him: Wow!
"I actually tried to flirt with him," she remembered. "I laughed a little. I touched his arm. I was subtle."
Perhaps too subtle.
"I didn't know she was flirting with me," Spencer said. "But I knew I wouldn't mind running into her again."
That didn't happen until 2016, in San Diego. As Spencer waited for a former Rutgers classmate of his to start his presentation at the Urban Affairs Association's annual conference, Tia tapped him on the shoulder.
At that evening's reception, Tia offered a coffee and croissant bribe if he would come to her 7:30 a.m. presentation on the challenges that professors of color or who come from an underprivileged socioeconomic status face early in their careers. Spencer was there.
Later that day, Tia attended his presentation on gentrification and the tax abatement policy in Philadelphia — the subject of his dissertation.
They talked afterward, and Tia asked if Spencer was going on that evening's cruise of San Diego Bay. Spencer's friends, who had been watching their interaction, could not believe what they overheard.
"What do you mean, you're not going on the cruise?" they asked incredulously. "You have to go!" Yes, the guys had made plans to walk around the city — but this was way more important. Through Facebook, Spencer told Tia he would be there, after all.
Spencer and Tia talked all evening. They talked more the next day, on the flight home — Tia traded the extra legroom of her bulkhead seat to sit next to Spencer.
They spoke of their careers, their families, their desire to make a difference in the world, and their strong faith in God.
"I should do a better job of keeping in touch," Spencer said as they parted at baggage claim.
His mom, Julia, loved her son's happy story — until he got to the part where he didn't ask Tia for her number. Spencer recovered quickly with a dinner invitation on Facebook.
Days after Date Two, Tia had such a serious asthma attack her doctor ordered her to take a few days off to rest. Spencer came by with food, juice, and a question: "What are you looking for?"
Tia spoke honestly: She was fine hanging out, being friends, dating. But she didn't want to be anybody's girlfriend unless they were both dating with the purpose of finding someone to marry.
It was a lot to think about, but before long, both knew there was no denying their potential.
"She has a very big heart. She cares for people around her. She is passionate about life," Spencer said. He also fell for her strong laugh, so full of life and energy, and her confidence.
Spencer also has a big, loyal heart, Tia said. "He cares a lot about his family — especially the elders. He is a really sincere person — there's no pretense with him. And he's also a very focused person. If he wants something, he'll keep trying until he gets it."
Several weeks later, when Tia said Spencer could introduce her as his girlfriend, he knew exactly what that meant to her. When he said he was ready for the boyfriend title, she knew what that meant, too.
Eight months later, on Spencer's birthday in December 2016, he told Tia his Rutgers department was having a holiday party at the Caruso Room in the Victor apartments. When the doors opened, she saw a lit fireplace, gorgeous decorations, and about 40 of her favorite people — including her mom, Rhonda.
"My friends were there, his family was there, and they were all smiling at me and clapping," she said. "Do you know what's going on?" someone asked her. She did, and she was so glad.
Women from around the room handed her white roses until she held a bouquet of 24. Her boyfriend began to sing a song he wrote for her, about how he had been looking for the right person, and it turned out to be somebody he already knew, someone from home — even if he had to go all the way to California to find her.
He knelt, and she said yes.
The couple, both now 34, held their outdoor ceremony and reception for 180 in the Northampton Valley Country Club's Crystal Ballroom.
Spencer sang the gospel song "I Love the Lord." "It was a reminder that God is the reason we were there, and that he had heard my cries and answered my prayers," he said.
Tia walked down the aisle with her mom.
The couple kept the vows they had written secret, yet both promised to support the other's goals and dreams as though they were their own. Tia also promised to treat Spencer the way she treats herself, and Spencer promised her he would always give her a reason to smile.
The groom graced their guests with another original song at the reception. Its theme: He would go through his whole life's journey all over again — even the hard parts — if it meant he'd run into Tia.
Waiting for Tia to walk down the aisle, Spencer saw all of their friends and family. "Realizing they were there, together, to celebrate us, that meant a lot to me," he said.
Tia managed not to cry until the officiant said, "Now, by the power vested in me …"
"That's when it hit me, that this was all real, that he was about to pronounce us husband and wife," she said. "We had been heading in this direction for nearly two years, and now it was actually happening."
A bargain: Spencer and Tia wanted everyone to hear every word said and every note of music, and that required a lot of microphones. Their DJ, a family friend, hooked them up with three systems for less than what most have charged to rent one.
The splurge: Tia never liked typical wedding dresses and figured she'd get a cheap one. Then she tried on the lacy dress with the long train, added a cathedral-length veil, and spent about three times what she had planned.
The couple, who now live in Bensalem, spent a week in and around Cape Neddick, Maine. Favorite moments include a couples massage and a trip to a petting zoo, where Spencer snapped keepsake photos of Tia feeding a deer from her palm.
Officiant: The. Rev. Hubert B. Barnes, pastor of Star of Hope Baptist Church, Philadelphia.
Venue: Northampton Valley County Club, Richboro.
Music: Dr. Diesel Disco Productions, Philadelphia.
Photography: Sheronda Seawright Photography, Philadelphia.
Videography: Y Dingle Arts LLC.
Centerpieces: Domenic Graziano, Southampton.
Dress: Essence of Australia, purchased at Le Bella Donna Boutique, Jenkintown.
Bride's hair: Tia Hardy, It's Hair Honey Hair Salon, Philadelphia.