What happens when “very funny and smart” meets “very attractive, bold and aggressive”? Well, when Panama Jackson, co-founder and senior editor of The Root’s Very Smart Brothas met film publicist Simona Noce in November 2011 after connecting through a mutual friend online, it was “like” at first sight.
“We had only spoken via Twitter a few times and on the day we met in person she literally walked up to me and hugged me all around the neck like I was her boo, basically making sure to [let] everybody in the space [know] that I was off-limits.” says Panama, recalling the couple’s first meeting at an event produced by Simona in their shared city of Washington, DC. “It was quite funny,” he adds.
There was also quite an age difference; Panama is 11 years Simona’s senior. Nevertheless, there was chemistry. “You really never know how age will manifest itself,” he admits. “But that hasn’t really been an issue for us. It barely comes up in any way that presents itself as a challenge.”
The two began to date on-and-off for the next several years before deciding to “really lock down” in 2015. “I realized that not only was she always present, but I always wanted her present,” explains Panama.
As for Simona, she says she knew it was love “when I realized I wanted to be a better person and really tackle deeply rooted issues for him.”
After the births of two sons, the couple had already built a blended family with Panama’s daughter from a prior relationship when he staged a holiday proposal on December 26, 2017.
“I would have done it on Christmas but my daughter does Christmas with her mother...so I waited until all my children could be with me,” Panama explains. “The ring was wrapped up under the tree and when the kids were together, I had her open the box and as she opened the box, I got down on one knee and waited for her to open it. It was probably not the most romantic way to do it, or conventional. In fact, she was taken aback and was like, ‘Is this real?’ But it’s our story and I love it. She said yes and the rest is rock ’n roll history,” he continued. “I’m sure she was a little disappointed I didn’t propose that Christmas, but the day after made up for it, especially once she realized why!”
The two married on October 12, 2018, in Ellicott City, Md., in a ceremony that Simona, who originally hails from Accra, Ghana, describes as “a reflection of who we are as a couple: fun, all about our tribe, and cultural.”
“The wedding was a supremely happy, fun and entirely turnt up whole-day African and African-American lituation,” Panama adds.
Sharing a home in DC, Panama and Simona expanded their family again when they welcomed a third son in October 2020. Simona’s career has also expanded; now also a “mompreneur,” she’s the co-founder of both the DMV-based District Motherhued and The Momference, the nation’s premier conference for millennial moms of color.
“My favorite quality in Simona is that there really is no undertaking she can’t take on and turn into an impressive event,” Panama says of his wife, who he calls “a super protective mama bear—even when it isn’t necessary,” adding: “From kids’ parties and activities and events, she makes things happen.”
“He’s a dedicated father, which I love!” says Simona. “You can trust him to do the right thing. Always.”
That said, being a power couple co-parenting a blended family of four isn’t without its challenges. “Our greatest challenges have been communication and meshing our lives at times,” says Panama. “We’re very busy and active people, so trying to mesh our calendars can be a bit confusing at times.”
Simona shares that the two also have different love languages, with Panama admitting: “I think we get to the conflict resolution after the tension has gotten so bad we have no choice to address it. We need to work on that.”
When asked how they navigate challenges, he credits their mutual “desire to make this thing work...as well as friends who want us to succeed. Similarly, since we don’t have any real large issues, it makes the issues we do have seem like things we can address and grow from.”
“Our friends are a great resource,” Simona agrees. “Also as a woman of God, I take any issues we have to God and read lots of faith books.”
Now together nearly a decade, they’ve also given each other ample room to grow along with their family.
“We’ve grown a lot,” says Panama. “We’ve gone through so much BS on both of our sides that it’s kind of nice to be drama-free...I guess it taught me that love might not conquer all but as long as that’s the cornerstone, then if you want something bad enough, you’ll act right when necessary to get what you want.”
Simona agrees, adding: “We have grown a lot and it’s taught me that with time, dedication, and not fighting every battle, your marriage will thrive.”
The two celebrated The Year of Return together in December 2019, making Panama’s first sojourn to Africa as they traveled to Simona’s native Ghana—a trip that would prove prescient when forced to quarantine as a family the following year. As the world opens back up, they’re looking forward to more new experiences together and as a family—in addition to “raising smart, good kids together,” says Panama.
When asked for any insights they’d confidently share about what real, committed love entails, the couple is positive, but pragmatic.
“Everybody’s love story is different. And I think that committed love evolves over time,” Panama advises. “My best insight is to ‘try.’ It can be really easy to stick your head in the sand, but putting pride aside and trying to fix issues has been the thing that’s proven most effective [for us].”
“Marriage works if you’re committed to being committed,” Simona adds.