BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A South Mississippi couple is making it their mission to get as many people living healthier and happier lives as they can, all while overcoming obstacles of their own.
Keithon Burnette and Francisco Marrero Philippi are just two people who love each other. However, being an interracial gay couple actively serving in the U.S. Navy in Mississippi is something they find hard to keep undercover in most settings.
But it’s love like their’s that is helping to reshape the culture of South Mississippi and redefining what it means to be strong.
“Marriage is marriage. Period,” said Burnette.
Despite being gay, they just want to be seen like any other couple.
“We go through the same day-to-day that Chief and her husband go through and vice versa, believe it or not," he said.
Six years together, and they say their passion is just the same as the day they met, but like any couple, they have arguments.
“It’s a give and take," said Burnette. “Every now and then, I’ll be like, you know what, do your thing.”
They also have a passion for fitness and healthy eating and want to share that love with other people in South Mississippi.
Looking at their sculpted backs, or large calves and biceps, you might say it’s hard to imagine these men ever being out of shape, but both say they were chubby from childhood throughout their adult lives. They wanted to change that, so they did.
“My husband came home and jumped right in with me,” said Burnette.
They began going to the gym every chance they got and pushing themselves to lose weight. Seeing their progress inspired them to try bodybuilding, and soon their careers took off.
“If you put your mind to it, if you commit to it, and if you hustle, you definitely will make it.” said Philippi.
The pair began to eat healthier foods and realized the effects their diet had on their bodies. The idea to get other people on board with healthier living came almost as a surprise to them.
“It started with a dream,” Burnette said, “I wasn’t able to sleep for the rest of that night. I wasn’t able to sleep until I put everything down on paper.”
A little voice inside Burnette’s head kept telling him to do more, do better, for his community.
He listened to it and now Charged up Grill, the couple’s meal prep business, puts out close to 1,600 healthy meals each week. They prepare the food in a small kitchen at Iron Works gym in Biloxi. The operation and “wiggle room” may be small, but their client outreach and social media following grows each day.
“That’s what I’m trying to put out to the community,” Burnette said about his business.
The couple have fewer struggles now than when they both enlisted in the Navy. At that time, “don’t ask, don’t tell” was still in effect for the military. It was a topic no one talked about and no one dared to approach.
“It was in black and white: 'Look, I don’t want to know...and if you are, don’t say anything,” Burnette said.
As time passed, the men learned they could not truly serve their country without being true to themselves first.
“Apart from the challenges, we have found a lot of support, a lot of love, a lot of understanding,” Philippi said.
While the couple aren’t trying to put a magnifying glass over their relationship, marriages are like their’s are becoming more of the norm. Even so, it still surprises them when people they would expect to shun them stop them at the grocery store or at the gym and ask them about workout tips or how to substitute certain foods in the cart for healthier options.
“I feel like we are changing the dynamic mindset of South Mississippi, of Mississippi in general," said Burnette. “I was born and raised here and there are places that I am petrified to take my husband. But at the same time, I see it has gotten so much better.”
They say they won’t discriminate or pass judgment when a person preaches to them about their marriage because that’s not how they want to live their lives. And despite anyone who may feel that way about them, Francisco and Keithon still want people in the community to know that they are “here for you.”
Being able to bench 500 pounds or squat 400 pounds is not what makes Francisco Marrero Philippi and Keithon Burnette South Mississippi Strong. It’s their drive to promote a happier, healthier Gulf Coast and encouraging other people to overcome their obstacles at all costs.
For more information on their healthy meal plans,