In Harlem, Detroit Natives Find a Love That Feels Like Home
Mike Taylor Jr., knew he wanted to get to know Celeste Northern better when they first met at a Detroit Pistons home game in December 2017 while both visited family for the holidays. He wasn’t necessarily looking for a girlfriend, though. He mostly wanted to find new friends.
Mr. Taylor had relocated to New York City the previous year, but it wasn’t feeling like home yet. Ms. Northern had been there five years longer. So he asked for her phone number. “I looked at it like, it would be nice to know people in this new city I’m in,” he said. “I didn’t think of it as anything more than that.”
Mr. Taylor and Ms. Northern, introduced by mutual friends at the game, wouldn’t see each other again until the following June, though they had discovered that they lived just two blocks apart in Harlem.
His delay in reaching out, largely because of frequent travel for the job that had brought him to New York, didn’t mean he wasn’t thinking about her. He hadn’t met many New Yorkers who matched his enthusiasm for Detroit.
“I’m a proud native Detroiter, straight from the heart,” Ms. Northern said.
She also matched his enthusiasm for basketball. Mr. Taylor moved to New York to become the director of team marketing and business operations for the National Basketball Association.
Mr. Taylor, 40, was raised in East Detroit with his parents, Mike Sr. and Patricia Taylor; he has no siblings. Basketball won him a scholarship to West Virginia State University, where he excelled as a shooting guard and graduated with a business degree in 2004. After, he played professional ball in Europe. His transition to the business side began in 2007. “I sent about 200 emails to random people, anyone I could find an email for in the N.B.A.,” he said. Only one person responded: Steve Kerr, now the head coach of the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco.
“He didn’t know me from anyone, but he was open to hopping on the phone with me and giving me advice,” Mr. Taylor said. Mr. Kerr’s counsel led him to a sales job with the Chicago Bulls. In 2011, he returned to Detroit for a Pistons job, where he was the director of group sales at Palace Sports and Entertainment. The company owned the Palace of Auburn Hills, the former home of the Pistons. Since December 2021, he has been an associate vice president for team marketing and business operations at the N.B.A.
Ms. Northern, 36, grew up in the city’s Rosedale Park neighborhood with her mother, Rhonda Pugh, and a small army of cousins nearby. “It’s the kind of place where everyone knows each other,” she said. Her father, Johnny Northern, also lived in Detroit, as did an older half sister, Keandra Johnson.
After graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2007, she stayed in Michigan to work in sales for BCBG Max Azria, then studied abroad in Milan to earn a master’s certificate in fashion management and luxury goods management from the European School of Economics in 2009. She returned to Michigan in 2010 to work in event planning for Real Times Media, which operates African-American entertainment and lifestyle news sites, before moving to New York in 2011 for a job as a retail events assistant at the jeweler David Yurman.
When she met Mr. Taylor, she was the global customer events manager for Coach. Since 2019, she has been a freelance events coordinator and also operates the floral concierge Celeste Stems.
Connecting with Mr. Taylor at the Pistons game in a private suite each had been invited to by friends seemed a strictly neighborly move to her. “We were all just chatting, and it was like, ‘Oh, we’re both living in New York, let’s definitely connect,” she said.
His silence the first half of 2018 outside of a handful of texts didn’t disappoint her. She was in a relationship when they met and well into that spring. She was also still grieving the death of her mother, who died of lung cancer in 2017. When Mr. Taylor did reach out, with an invitation to a happy hour he and some friends were heading to at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar and Lounge in Times Square, she welcomed the chance to see someone from home.
“I hopped right in and started talking to everyone,” Ms. Northern said. That led to more happy-hour invitations. In October 2018, the two met at Harlem Nights, a bar near their apartments.
“I still don’t think I thought of it as a date,” Mr. Taylor said. “It was more like, ‘Do you want to grab a drink?’” But by the end of the night, the mood shifted. Their getting-to-know-you phase had involved Mr. Taylor sharing with Ms. Northern the details of some not-great dates friends had set him up on. She casually suggested he should try dating her.
They had their first kiss in an Uber home that night. The next day, he called his friend Shaina Wiel to tell her he thought he had found “the one.”
Ms. Wiel had met Ms. Northern at the group happy hours. “When he told me it was Celeste, I was like, ‘OK, that tracks,’” she said. “When you talk to Mike, his heart is in Detroit. He would have been perfectly fine staying there, but then he got this great opportunity with the league. I think she gives him a sense of home.”
Two months later, over Christmas in Detroit, they met each other’s families. In the summer of 2019, Ms. Northern moved into Mr. Taylor’s place in Harlem, where they still live. Quarantining during the pandemic brought them closer. “We were in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, but I never had those thoughts like, man, I need to get out of this house,” Mr. Taylor said.
By the start of 2021, he wanted to propose. The rollout of vaccines that spring enabled the hatching of a plan to do it in their favorite city. Neither had been home since before the pandemic; Ms. Northern’s father’s 75th birthday, in August, was the perfect excuse to get on a plane again. On July 4, Mr. Taylor texted friends in cities including New York and Detroit and asked them to help surprise Ms. Northern. “The pressure was on to plan a dope party and do it without Celeste finding out,” Mr. Taylor said.
With some indirect help from Dave Chappelle, he pulled it off. Ms. Northern thought the plan on Aug. 13 was to have dinner downtown, then catch a show at the Fillmore Detroit by the comedian. The dinner, at the Highlands, happened. The Fillmore didn’t. Mr. Taylor instead had the manager lead them to the restaurant’s wine room on the 71st floor, where he got down on one knee and proposed. “I did some stretching exercises that morning,” he said. “I tend to plan for everything.”
Ms. Northern’s yes was complete with what she called a “very ugly cry.” The tears returned when he walked her through the door of the Pistons Performance Center, the team’s practice facility, where 75 friends and family members had gathered for a surprise engagement party. “I still get emotional thinking about it,” she said.
A year later, on Aug. 13, the couple were married before 180 guests at the Highlands; all had been asked to test for Covid before the wedding. The Rev. Kenneth J. Flowers, the pastor at Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, Mr. Taylor’s family church in Detroit, officiated a traditional ceremony followed by handwritten vows.
“When I count my blessings, not only do I count you twice but I start and end with you,” said Ms. Northern, who wore a glossy satin wedding gown by Eva Lendel. “Some days I wish I’d met you sooner so I could love you longer.”
Mr. Taylor, in a navy tuxedo trimmed in black satin custom made by the local tailor Dandy Detroit, told Ms. Northern he had to move to Harlem to find “the Detroit girl I had always been looking for.” In what he called the greatest city in the world, he said, “I feel blessed to become your husband.”
He proved it as they recessed down the aisle as husband and wife. The crowd had already erupted when they kissed at the altar. When he stopped to dip her and steal another kiss, they cheered a second time.
ON THIS DAY
When Aug. 13, 2022
Where The Highlands, Detroit
Extending Their Love At a reception, also at the Highlands, the couple included small olive branches at each place setting, which they said “represent peace, unity, wisdom and fertility.”
Pearls of Wisdom For the reception, Ms. Northern changed from her wedding dress into a long pearl beaded dress. “My mom always talked about how pearls were classy,” she said. Though Ms. Pugh died in 2017, the couple reserved a seat for her at the wedding and draped it with a pearl shawl.
Close to Heaven Like Ms. Northern, Mr. Taylor lost a parent before the wedding. His father died of a heart attack in November 2021, just a few months after Mr. Taylor proposed. Both addressed the importance of helping each other through grief in their vows. At the ceremony, a chair was reserved for Mr. Taylor Sr., too.