It's the moment we all dream of: The person you want to spend the rest of your life with is down on one knee, staring at you with that loving look in his teary eyes as he pops out a ring — oh, and Al Roker is right by your side?!
Simone Jhingoor got the surprise of her life when her boyfriend Chirag popped the question in the middle of a Today show segment, which she thought was going to be an interview on her non-profit Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation — something she's extremely passionate about. It was a touching, unexpected moment for Simone, and the millions of viewers watching, but many of us were left wondering: what was she so excited to tell us about her organization?
Thankfully, we got the chance to speak with Simone and find out about the wonderful work being done at WHEDco, her relationship with Chirag and what she thinks of critics calling her fiancé's proposal "self-centered."
YourTango: What drew you to non-profit work?
Simone Jhingoor: Throughout my life as an artist, educator and fundraising professional, I've chosen careers that align with my vision of creating the type of change that allows marginalized communities of color to thrive and supports women's empowerment. In 2007, this led to me co-founding Jahajee Sisters, a movement building organization that engages Indo-Caribbean women in community organizing efforts to create a more safe and equitable world. I am currently serving on the organization's Steering Committee.
And more recently, over the last year, it led to my work with the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit that helps families in the South Bronx to build better lives by accessing affordable housing, stable jobs and programs for youth. In my role at WHEDco I raise money for our programs and report on the successes that I see: women becoming entrepreneurs, students getting into competitive high schools and colleges and artists having a safe space to share in a vibrant Bronx arts culture.
YT: What was one thing you wanted to share about your work (that you didn't get the chance to on air)?
SJ: It's difficult to choose just one-thing, especially considering the on-air plan was to focus on myself and my partner, and was never really orchestrated to present my work. The above covers it and I'd like to add one last thing: I am deeply rooted and connected to the Bronx because I grew up here and am thrilled to have an opportunity to engage in social change efforts through my work with both Jahajee Sisters and WHEDco where I can support the growing immigrant community of Indo-Caribbeans living here. As an Indo-Caribbean American woman this has been especially important to me.
YT: How did you and Chirag meet?
SJ: Chirag and I met four years ago at a South Asian networking event. He said he noticed me from the beginning of the night and wanted to approach me, but stood shy waiting to make his move until 10 minutes before the event ended. Chirag saw a spotlight pointed at me and it was the perfect window of opportunity since we were one of the last few to leave the event. He asked me to dance and we began talking about his recent move to NYC and me growing up in the Bronx. We connected instantly. Chirag gave me his information before we parted ways, with him placing a cute kiss on my cheek and walking away. The next morning, I emailed him. I am smiling thinking about it now, but I later learned that he was sitting on the edge of his seat all day hoping to hear from me. We emailed each other for about a straight week before going out on our first date where he invited me to a masquerade party, a first time for us both. He was romantic from the very beginning surprising me with a beautiful silver mask he brought along for me and taking me on very creative dates, like a self-setup candlelight dinner on top of the Brooklyn Bridge. For all of those reasons, I am not shocked that he would choose to declare his love on live television. I feel blessed to have him in my life.
YT: What was it like to be proposed to on live TV?
SJ: It was so amazing to be proposed to on live TV! Little did I know that my boyfriend (now fiancé) had been preparing for the last week for the memorable proposal that occurred on Thursday, October 24th, 2013. Two days prior the story that I received was that the show had reached out to my company's PR agent to interview a person who grew up in the Bronx and was giving back to their community. I had no idea the "interview" was actually a planned, surprise on-air proposal, hence my shock. The element of surprise did prevail and it was the happiest moment ever! I really could not have asked for anything more.
YT: There's been some negative backlash over the way Chirag proposed to you. What do you have to say to anyone who wrote poorly of your proposal?
SJ: I am unhappy about the recent backlash that was received from my on-air engagement to Chirag. He does not deserve to be labeled self-centered on feminist websites like Jezebel critiquing the entire experience when he is the most thoughtful person I know. I am moved by the beautiful proposal he arranged out of a genuine intention to make me happy. All of my close friends and family members cried when they saw it because of how sweet it was. My time on the show was never supposed to be about my work as it was about a proposal Chirag wanted to surprise me with on our four-year anniversary. Also, I am generally a very calm and centered person, which is a result of much of the personal change work that I have engaged in. It was disappointing for people to apply their own lens and cultural biases to interpret that I was pissed off and upset about not getting to speak about my work. Plus, Chirag has always been supportive of my social change work and activism, which is what I love about him.
Watch Simone and Chirag get engaged on the Today show below
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