Home fashion Justine Ndiba on winning Love Island USA and the joy of unapologetic Black love

Justine Ndiba on winning Love Island USA and the joy of unapologetic Black love

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Justine Ndiba on winning Love Island USA and the joy of unapologetic Black love



Justine Ndiba (pronounced N-dee-buh) may not be a household name yet, but the Love Island community and “Jaleb” stans around the world can tell you: She’s a person worthy of love.

In September, the 27-year-old and her now boyfriend Caleb Corprew won the American reality show, which places attractive singles in a villa as they search for the One—making them the first-ever Black couple to win.

It was the obvious choice for viewers, who voted for their favourite couple to take home the $100,000 grand prize. While other pairings on the series had their ups and downs, Ndiba and Corprew were consistent—a happy, supportive relationship that was the very definition of “goals.” As one fan tweeted, “Thank you, Justine and Caleb, for showing us that love doesn’t have to be hard, exhausting, or tiring. It doesn’t have to be forced, hurtful, or a constant struggle. Love can be healthy, drama free, divine and pure.”

But Ndiba’s journey on the show didn’t start easy. The first few weeks before Caleb entered the bubble, we saw her repeatedly be chosen last and friend-zoned by the male contestants. It was a cycle all too familiar for many Black women on dating shows like Love Island or The Bachelor, as they’ve often felt the impact of not being the first pick, let alone anyone’s pick.

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“The history of Black contestants on the show just kept playing in my head,” Ndiba tells me from her home in New Jersey. “Like, this is probably going to play out the same way it’s always played out for every single Black contestant.”

It was bittersweet for the Black women watching at home too. On the one hand, it was exciting to see representation—even if she represented the token minority. While on the other, it came with an uncomfortable truth: having to watch our fellow sister face the reality of dating as a dark-skinned woman.

In the first episode, as Ndiba shed tears over the strain of feeling undesirable, fans on Twitter echoed her frustration. “Night one and Justine is already crying cause the dudes are paying her dust,” wrote one user. “Black women on this show cant get no love. I hope someone good comes in for her.”

“After growing up in a world where close friends and family remind you of how special and desirable you are,” Ndiba says, “only to be placed in an environment where all those things got put into question…. It brings out a lot of insecurities.”

She continues, “It was hard. I’m a big fan of Love Island, and an even bigger fan of love, and I went on the show super hopeful.”

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A romantic to the bone, Ndiba came in ready to love unconditionally. But when the men on the show gave her little to no attention, we all felt her pain. And we knew: She deserved better. “To have all those things brought to light early on, it was really difficult,” Ndiba says. She cites Cely Vazquez, another contestant on the show who quickly became best friends with Ndiba, as a source of support.

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“As many times as I came close to breaking down, I embraced the vulnerability and found a way to keep going,” she says. “It never had me in the mindset of, Oh, I give up on love.”

That’s the beauty in Ndiba and many Black women. Our joy is so deep and powerful—a defiant act of choosing happiness when the world has done everything to break us down. “Every time my parents talk about where we started and our whole life…it’s a memory that still plays in their head,” Ndiba says. “I was born in the Congo, we lived through the Rwandan genocide, and we lived in Kenya for four years as refugees before immigrating to the States in 2001. I truly believe my family and I were given a second chance at life.”

And eventually Ndiba did defy the Love Island curse for Black women. The pivotal episode came when she pursued Corprew with a power move—a surprise kiss during a group competition—that sparked a new relationship. Once officially coupled up, Corprew spent every moment of their remaining time in the villa proving to Ndiba how she deserved to be treated from the start.

“Oftentimes, in finding love, friendship comes first,” Ndiba says, “and that was the case with Caleb. It’s the one thing I admire about John Legend and Chrissy Teigen’s relationship—it’s more than a friendship; it’s love. It’s more than love; it’s friendship.”

Their relationship gave us something we needed more of in 2020: unapologetic Black love. It was so refreshing to see how Justine just got it. In an episode where the Islanders (virtually) met their partner’s families, Ndiba’s family showed up and showed out. Her mom came through wrapped in an Ankara gele singing in their native tongue. And I can tell you from experience: If an African parent approves—HAAAA, baby gurl!—he’s the one. We know their approval is sacred.

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It was a moment that sparked tears for many viewers at home. But don’t get it twisted, America. We weren’t in tears because this is a rare incident of Black love. “It very much does exist, and it’s around us all the time,” Ndiba says. “It’s just not shown or put to light the way that Caleb and my love was.”

Ultimately, it was a flash of joy. A moment to watch a Black woman be valued and loved—something Ndiba herself appreciates.

“I fell in love three times in there,” she says. “I fell in love with this lil ass chicken nugget of mine, Cely, I fell in love with my man, and I fell in love with myself.”





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