When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Here, we spoke to two Black feminists committed to public service who live in different states but see each other every two weeks. Paris Hatcher lives in Atlanta and works as a reproductive justice organizer and consultant (she founded Black Feminist Future and Black Freedom Outfitters), while M Adams lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and works as the executive director of the nonprofit Freedom Inc., which is devoted to ending violence within and against low-income communities of color. Their wedding celebration last December included a libations ceremony followed by rum flights, a French fry bar and a lemonade bar, and at least four different types of cake.
Paris: We met in 2014 at a White House meeting for LGBT leaders of color. When M came in the room, my friend Mary Hooks said, “Oh, M is here. You’ve got to meet M.” I was like, Wow, this person is very attractive. I was really impressed with the work she is doing.
M: I remember liking her right away. I kept it pretty clean at work, but I was hoping she would come to a party later that night but she never did. I didn’t really get a chance to connect with her until the following year, at a Black feminist forum in Brazil in September 2016.
Paris: In Bahia, Brazil. I was minding my own business. She asked me on a date, and I said no, but she was very persistent.
M: I’d liked her since D.C.!
Paris: We talked at a party, and within the first ten minutes I knew I was in love with her.
M: Within ten minutes. It was like that. Of course I thought she was beautiful, she’s incredibly beautiful, but I could almost see her synapses firing, the way she took in information and what she offered. I was like, Wow, this is a mind I want to know. This is somebody who I want to listen to forever, talk to forever, shape the world with together. She felt like mine.
Paris: We both proposed. I proposed first, in December 2017. I live in Atlanta, she lives in Madison, but it’s the right choice for us because we are soul mates. But anyway, that December I booked a surprise trip to Rovaniemi, Finland, in the Arctic Circle. She was so surprised. I got it on video. We went on a reindeer sleigh ride, we went on snowmobiles, we met huskies.
M: I really like cold weather, she not at all. She had planned really romantic things, and she found this private plane tour that would take you in the sky for a really close look at the northern lights. We landed and went to this park and she proposed right there in the snow.
Paris: I got her a Cartier love bracelet. She was totally surprised, and she said yes. A few months later, her proposal in April 2018 was multifaceted: We were getting ready to go to Brazil, back where we fell in love. We were flying out of D.C., so she had my mama come, my brother, my family, which is very important to me. At dinner with them, she pulls out this gorgeous 1920s ring and proposes.
M: She had been envisioning what she wanted in a wedding for a while. I didn’t have the details like she did, but we both wanted it to be really family- and community-oriented. We think that our love and success is a testament to the strong community we’re in that affirms us, that values us, that keeps us good as individuals and allows us to be a strong union.
Paris: We knew we wanted to get married in a place of significance for Black people. The South is where I’m from, but it’s also where our ancestors are. It’s Black land. The Penn Center on Saint Helena Island in South Carolina was just so perfect — it was the first school for Black people in the U.S., started by freed Black people. They have the original school, many original buildings, a museum. The grounds have these big, gorgeous oaks with the beautiful Spanish moss. We got married in one of the old halls.
M: Paris loves vintage-y things. We had these vintage-y paper dolls designed of us for the save-the-dates, with outfits we actually own, books we read. The theme of the wedding, in terms of dress, we wanted a 1920s, ’30s look. We chose a color palette, and asked our bridal party to wear gray. My party wore suits, but they were each a little different and they were able to put their own flair on it. Her side wore all gray, and our accent colors were an oxblood, eucalyptus blue, a soft blush. We love flowers, so we made sure we had lots of lush, jewel-tone flowers, burgundy peonies, blue thistle, peach and blush roses, by Rhapsody in Blooms.
Paris: Our planner, Stephanie Grant at Aryn Olivia Designs, made everything possible. We had balls hanging from the ceiling, old glassware, an altar to honor our ancestors and people who have passed, pomegranates with people’s names on them, a photo booth with the moon.
M: I got a suit custom-made at a place called Duchess Clothier in Portland. It was a three-piece black jacquard suit in a floral pattern. The lapel did have a sheen, but there wasn’t the lining down the pants, so somewhere between a suit and a tux. I had a custom white shirt, and I had my mother’s name stitched on in gray to carry her with me. I got everybody bow ties in gray, and mine was oxblood velvet. My wedding gift from Paris were emerald earrings, because my mother’s favorite color was green, and oxblood shoes.
Paris: So I wanted, again, a ’20s vintage situation. There’s a designer named Eliza Jane Howell who’s based in London who I’ve been following for a really long time, and her stuff isn’t sold in the U.S. I didn’t feel good about buying it online — and I’ve always wanted to take my mom to Europe, and my name is Paris. So I brought my mom to London and Paris and said, let’s go shopping for my wedding dress. We actually ended up getting it from a boutique, Gillian Million. Same designer, but an older style of dress. It had the detailing I wanted, and a cap sleeve.
I got a feathered shoulder piece from BHLDN. When I saw it, I was like, this is going to set it off.
M: I got dressed in the big house we rented for the week, and I was waiting outside on the balcony for the first look. I was so nervous, I don’t know why — maybe because I didn’t believe it. Then she touched me and … I can’t even describe it. She looked, oh my God. Beautiful is not a big enough word. She was crying and all I could think about was just to hold her.
Paris: So I don’t cry. I am not a crier. She turned around, I burst out crying. I was so overwhelmed with love, and I felt so much gratitude. It was like, Wow, I get to marry this person. I am so happy. I am so lucky that we found each other, that we did the work to be with each other. We go back and forth between Atlanta and Madison with a commitment to see each other at least every two weeks. We talk and text daily. We do dates via Zoom or FaceTime. Living separately is temporary but our love is forever.
M: At one point I heard this bigger cry and I looked at her, but it wasn’t her. It was her mom, crying in the next room.
Paris: She’s bawling. I’m like, “Mama, please stop crying so loud.” Our ceremony was officiated by Angela Denise Davis, a Black lesbian and theologian. It started off really awesome, because M walked down to a Biggie Smalls song, so people were just cheering, woo, clapping. I’ve never seen that before at a wedding.
M: What Angela was able to do for us was to really infused our values into the ceremony. She gave a tribute of reverence for the space we were in, talked about why it is important for us to be doing freedom work and be united, how to maintain love. Then we had the eight bowls ceremony, led by our friend Aleese, a reverend. I don’t know if you’re familiar with a libations ceremony, but there are elements you taste and with each, you’re told the significance. Our cultural practice of libations comes from Black U.S. traditions, which connect us to Black and African ancestors as well as Black and African folx around the world. We use this ritual in major events like weddings, but also at New Year’s, meetings, and any time when Black people, power, and love convene. You eat cayenne, and she’ll say what it could mean for your marriage.
Paris: Lemon, when life is tart. Chocolate when it’s smooth. Honey to keep it sweet. You know, just all the different elements. And we jumped the broom, a classic Black tradition started by enslaved Africans to mark their weddings, and it was just fantastic. We had a cocktail hour, and our friends Cherisse Scott and Monica Raye Simpson sang and we had some hors d’oeuvres and a spiced apple cider. We had a rum bar with rums from all over the world, and the cider was so delicious with some rum in it. Again, we really wanted to support Black vendors, and so for the caterers we worked with Farmer and the Larder, based on the sea islands of Georgia. They were recommended by a good friend of ours.
M: I don’t drink so I was like, I want a lemonade bar. There was fresh-squeezed lemonade, and you could add mint to it, add berries, add liquor.
Paris: We got married outside in a tent because we anticipated rain, but the full rain didn’t happen until much later in the evening so the happy hour was actually outside. Then we had dinner and the reception inside in the hall. Dinner was red snapper, chicken with preserved lemons, rice and peas, cauliflower, cornbread, a great salad. It was some good food.
M: We really wanted a low-country Black theme, in keeping with South Carolina. They made me gluten-free cornbread. Our first dance was to “Beautiful” by Tweet. Because it’s about finding someone so beautiful, the love being beautiful, the connection being beautiful. That song spoke to us. The DJ, Althea Lawton-Thompson, was fantastic. Great R&B from the ’90s, current pop and rap. Great energy. At one point, everybody was giving us lap dances, and so the DJ was playing for that, too.
Paris: I’m telling you, people showed out. They got down. Beyoncé, house music, reggae. For the cake-cutting, M is gluten-free and dairy-free, so she got some gluten-free, dairy-free cupcakes from her favorite bakery in Madison called Bloom Bake Shop. And there’s a cake lady in Greenville, North Carolina, who has been making my family awesome cakes for years now. I asked her to make us all different types of cakes — she made us some sour cream pound cakes, some carrot cakes, red velvet cakes, all different types. We cut into one of those.
M: More drinks, more dancing. Folks gave speeches, two from each side. We did the wobble and the electric slide somewhere in there. There was a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar, a French fry bar as our late-night snack. We wanted the guests to be like, this was an incredible celebration.