It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day, though I have no quote from Dr. King to share. There are no shortage of inspiring and challenging words from his life, but I wanted to share the wedding of a challenging and inspiring couple, instead. When I say challenging, it’s meant in the very best way possible… full of respect and gratitude. I am not so arrogant as to think my words can add to their story, it’s just to set the stage. A true revolution of values has to start with the people we encounter in our everyday lives. I’m fortunate enough to have met these talented designers and thinkers, having conversations about creativity, race, friendship, and vulnerability. Alicia and James have infectious, joyful laughs, and tack sharp minds, which I can only imagine fuels their daily creative jobs. However, it is their thoughtfully unflinching discussion of race on social media that I admire most. I admit I have to do much more listening than speaking when it comes to race in this country, but I don’t mind learning, and I love smart dialog.
All of that is meant to give context to this elopement, which is easily one of my 2015 highlights. The day started at the Steven Smith teahouse, and only got more Portland from there. Watching Alicia (Ah-lee-cee-uh) and James look at each other, take in the beautiful Oregon fall, and back to each other… I found myself appreciating my home state, and my own marriage. Elopements are so very different from a full-day wedding, and they allow for more time to think, at least, for me. I thought a lot about how technology allowed their families to “be present” for the ceremony, and provided a new twist on family formals 😉 I thought about my past bride Patty, and the discussions we had as she asked if I had any wedding with people of color, so she could “see herself in the images” of my portfolio. At the time, I had nothing to show her, which was not by design, and I would have loved to enthusiastically say YES. The truth is, like attracts like with this job, and at the time, there wasn’t anything I could do about it. The sad thing is, I never even thought about it. I loved everyone, I respected people no matter what their race was, however, that wasn’t enough. It didn’t give a voice to Patty and Marcelino in my portfolio, although it thankfully did give them confidence that we would be a good fit. I hadn’t made an effort to MAKE my work more ethnically diverse, and that bothered me. This video has been floating around lately about the difference between being non-racist, vs. being anti-racist, and it perfectly explains why.
Over the years my work has become more representative, and I am thankful for that, though I am more thankful that people like Patty, Ayantu, and Alicia have helped to make me more aware of what might be communicated to people through what my work doesn’t show. I want what I do to show life from as many angles and vantage points as possible. That’s the goal.
WORDS FROM THE BRIDE:
James and I have been together for 11 years, and engaged for the last two years, before we decided to tie the knot last month. Often we jokingly refer to our relationship and life together as an anomaly: we hardly see or meet other dark-skinned African American couples, we are the only African American designers in our offices, and have recently become New York transplants in the state of Oregon that is 84% Caucasian.
James received an amazing career opportunity in Portland and began working and living in the city over the summer, while I continued my career in NYC until we figured out next steps for a permanent reunion. After a few visits to quell the sadness that comes with a long distance relationship, we both equally fell in love with Oregon’s beauty and calm and decided to elope in this new, amazing place.
As designers, we always look for visual inspiration as a natural part of the creative process. We searched high and low for examples of other elopements featuring people of color, bridal hairstyles for afro-textured hair, and cultural depictions that felt true to us, but struggled in finding anything commensurable. Sadly, the same applied to wedding blogs where countless hours were spent clicking through archives to find anyone that looked remotely similar to us, and that didn’t fit the cookie-cutter representation of the all-American standard. The reality of this is that a lot of African Americans get married, it’s just not celebrated as often in popular media.
Sadly, like most images and publicized content in media, it’s hard to find anything that is representative of strong black unions. This has been a problem for years and, what we have personally come to believe, has penetrated and negatively influenced the very core of black self-love, community, and identity.
When we decided to elope and put most of our funds into documentation of such a huge milestone (Jay is magic), we had no intentions of making a political statement nor did we have any socially disruptive objectives. Instead, it added to our decision to marry on our own terms, wholeheartedly celebrating like it was our last day on earth, and creating a moment that would live on in the form of memory and image for the rest of our lives.
We believe greatly in creating new opportunities where we’re not given equal opportunities, and not succumbing to defeat when it comes to those that deny our place in the world. We also know from experience that though we do not see many representations of ourselves in our everyday lives, it’s important to let the world know who we are versus the world defining our existence.
Together with Jay, we’ve decided to share a marriage that’s not typically seen on wedding blogs, social media, or in portfolios. We also want to contribute to a greater change that will help others recognize that equality in representation is extremely important in establishing inclusivity. In the end, we’ve managed to communicate volumes far greater than, ‘African American weddings,’ and are giving people a chance to see another version of marriage. In doing so, we hope to incite inspiration for those looking for some semblance of themselves that is not represented elsewhere and introduce one more reason to celebrate.