Marvin Gaye, stir-fry and gospel rap: A love story
Alexxus Harris and Donnell “Slim” Reed have a love story ripped straight from the pages of a movie script. Now, the Washington University community is showing its love by raising money for the couple’s honeymoon.
Harris and Reed first met when they performed a duet in a Michael Jackson tribute dance performance nearly three years ago. According to Reed, it was love at first sight.
“We were given an opportunity to do a duet to Marvin Gaye’s ‘You’re All I Need [to Get By].’ There was a certain point of the dance where we had to hold each other, and grab each other, and smile and look at each other, and that set a spark into both of us,” Reed said.
Their connection was immediate, and their relationship was magical. Reed speaks poetically of his love for Harris in a near-reverent tone.
“It was like a signal in my spirit that I knew that Alexxus was gonna be mine. When I first met her, I was just like—man, I don’t know anybody like her. Everything about her was just amazing, from her smile to her inner soul. The love that we have for each other is very strong; I don’t think anybody has the love that we have for each other,” Reed said. “She always got my back; I always got her back. We don’t let each other fall, we pick each other right back up. And I think that’s what God intended for us, to keep love for each other.”
Although they were in different jobs when they met, both Harris and Reed now work for Wash. U.’s dining services partner Bon Appetit. Harris works at Whispers Cafe, while Reed is a fixture at the stir-fry station in the Village.
There’s even more of a family connection, as Harris’ mother, Gloria Hamilton—who Reed affectionately calls “Mama G”—works in the Law Cafe on campus.
Reed has built strong connections with many of the Wash. U. students he interacts with on a daily basis. He relishes this aspect of his job—one that might not seem like part of his job description, but in his view, is an integral part of his role at the University.
“Allowing me to have this position—it’s just a cook, but it’s also, you know, leaving a good impact on [the students], and just being an awesome person to them. A lot of these students, they go through a lot of stuff—I’ve seen students come in my line crying, and mad and upset, and then I will uplift their spirit and the next thing you know, their day is just 10 times better than what they had in the morning. And it’s all because they came and got some stir-fry,” he explained.
One student who struck up a particularly close bond with Reed is sophomore Ben Goodfriend.
“Ben Goodfriend is a very great friend,” Reed enthused.
Goodfriend, along with fellow sophomore James Abraham, heads the newly created Wash. U. chapter of Unsung Heroes—a national organization that aims to celebrate service workers on college and university campuses.
“Jimmy [Abraham] and I, freshman year, had been talking about the dynamic we saw between students and staff workers,” Goodfriend said. “We were not comfortable with the fact that students and staff workers seem to relate to one another only on a very superficial level, and that these boundaries seem to go across racial and socioeconomic lines as well, and we wanted to try to do something about it.”
“Then, I was reading The Washington Post one day, and I saw an article about a student at Georgetown University, Febin Bellamy, who noticed a similar pattern on his campus and started an organization called Unsung Heroes after befriending the janitor who cleaned his dorm. And we reached out to Febin and founded the Wash. U. chapter of Unsung Heroes,” he continued.
Up until now, the Wash. U. chapter of Unsung Heroes has centered around a popular Facebook page that posts Humans of New York-style captioned photos of service employees at Washington University. Students’ connection to the posts, and to the people behind them, is apparent, as each post gathers dozens of shares and hundreds of likes.
Although he’s been pleased with the response to the project so far, Goodfriend wants the Wash. U. chapter of Unsung Heroes to expand beyond Facebook and into more tangible efforts.
“We think the posts are great, and we believe they do help engender more meaningful relationships between students and staff workers, but our goal is to not just improve relationships but also [to] show appreciation to a group that, in my opinion, goes very underappreciated,” Goodfriend said.
In the spring of 2017, two near-simultaneous events occurred that would serendipitously combine almost a year later. The first: Goodfriend and Abraham created the Facebook page for Unsung Heroes of WashU and began to plan their first feature. The second: Reed and Harris got engaged.
“If this girl makes you happy, and if you feel like she’s gonna be the one for the rest of your life, then why not marry her?” Reed said.
Reed originally planned to propose to Harris at one of his musical performances—he’s a gospel rapper—but the timing for an on-stage proposal didn’t work out. Unfazed, he moved on to Plan B, with friends and family in tow.
“After the show, everybody came over to my house, and she probably had a feel for what was going on. She was like, ‘Why is everybody in our house?’ but she didn’t know exactly what was going on. So, I proposed to her. Everyone was there. She didn’t expect it!” Reed said.
Reed says that the wedding planning is going well—“I’m excited, she’s excited, we’re both excited”—and they’re currently searching for a videographer. The couple has set their wedding date for July 22 of this year.
When Goodfriend learned that Reed and Harris were engaged, it inspired him to begin shifting the focus of Unsung Heroes of WashU.
“I met Slim, we totally hit it off, became good friends. And it was as we were becoming friends that I thought he would be the perfect candidate to do an Unsung Heroes post about. And then in preparing that post, I found out that he was engaged to another worker named Alexxus, and that’s when my thinking shifted from ‘let’s make a post’ to ‘this is the perfect opportunity for our first project,’” Goodfriend explained.
After over a month of work, this project—a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the couple’s honeymoon, accompanied by a video highlighting their relationship and connection to the greater Wash. U. community—debuted March 2. It was the first Friday of March: National Employee Appreciation Day.
Fewer than 48 hours after its launch at the time of publication, the fundraiser had already gathered over $1,200 of its $4,000 goal, with the ultimate aim to send Reed and Harris on their “dream honeymoon” to Jamaica. It’s truly a collaborative effort, with contributions from 51 donors so far, many of them Wash. U. students.
“It’s just amazing how many students are really supporting us,” Reed said.
For Goodfriend, this project is a prime example of the goals he hopes to accomplish with Unsung Heroes.
“My primary goal is to promote an environment where students and staff workers don’t just have transactionary relationships, but where students feel comfortable approaching staff workers, finding common interests and forming meaningful friendships—and staff workers don’t feel like they can’t talk to students or can’t relate to students. Because very often, as I’ve found in my own experiences, there’s so much that we have in common with those who work at Wash. U.,” he explained.
Harris and Reed are excited about the fundraiser; even more so, they’re looking forward to their future together.
“This is the beginning of our foundation. I want to say thank you to all the students that supported me and her; you guys make us want to elevate even more, so bless you all,” Reed said. “This is just the beginning for the both of us. I hope God takes us to heart, and I’m excited for what He has in store for us.”
You can contribute to the fundraiser for Reed and Harris’ honeymoon at www.GoFundMe.com/SlimAlexxus, and find Unsung Heroes online at www.facebook.com/UnsungHeroesofWashU.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that Harris’ mother is named Gloria. An earlier version of the article stated that her name was Victoria.