Black Lives Matter To Me
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
Why this post? Because I want to be clear with potential Black clients that I’m attempting to make a space in which you will be seen and listened to. Because I want white clients to know the work I am doing and where I am coming from. Because I want colleagues in the wedding industry to know where I stand and that I am available for conversations, however uncomfortable, if it means making progress in working towards equality for Black people while taking some burden off of our Black colleagues and clients so they may put their focus on working and living.
This post is not a repository for all of my good deeds or a place to pat myself on the back. It is simply a place to share work that I have begun to do and how I came to it. Fear of saying the wrong thing and being called out on it has made it hard for me to speak up on any issue and this is no exception. But speaking up without engaging in performative allyship or calling out others on what they should or should not be doing is something I hope to be able to achieve. For me, that takes thoughtful consideration, listening and learning. For me, that means a blog post here rather than a stream of posts/likes/shares on social media. Ultimately, I hope that if you are reading this, whether you hope to work with me in some way or if we have met before, this can be a way for you to know me a little better.
A few years back, while I was volunteering with a Portland non-profit called City Repair, a group of volunteers and the directors were having discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion. I brought up something that my neighborhood association was struggling with: how to encourage and include more diverse neighbors into our very white meetings and events. Besides flyering all the houses and apartments with notices and making announcements on websites and local newspapers, we were at a loss. Someone at the City Repair meeting brought up a new-to-me concept (one of many I would encounter at that organization, including the pretty racist natures of neighborhood associations in the first place) in response: Black people and Indigenous people may simply not show up to an event, even if organized by a progressive organization like City Repair itself, because mostly white people are present. Black and Indigenous people may be busy with the business of living and working on their own community organizing. Why would they want to stop their life or work to essentially be a token person of color in a space. I was told white people have to meet Black and Indigenous people in their spaces, with respect. By listening, we can learn what they are working on, build relationships, and ask how we can be of service to the Black and Indigenous communities. Maybe then we can start bridging to other groups like neighborhood associations and City Repair types of nonprofits because we have real relationships and understand where we can truly support each other. This got me to take a look at who I was spending my time with and why. My behaviors did not change drastically, but my thinking began to change.
Around that same time, or a little later, in the summer of 2018, I began following Layla F. Saad on Instagram (@laylafsaad) and I began doing the personal work of dismantling white supremacy, guided by her 28 day challenge called Me and White Supremacy. The title made me a bit tense. White supremacy is not a term I ever wanted associated with me! As uncomfortable as I immediately was, I was also ready to dig into the work. Each day there was a new writing prompt for anyone following along to think about and then write about. Ms. Saad made it very clear that we could not be spectators, popping in to read the prompts and failing to do the follow up work. It took me more like two months to get through the 28 prompts. The work is not easy, it is deep, and I did not want to glaze over it. I wanted to poke at the tender bits and really sit with the prompts. Did I feel any less tense on the last day than I did at the beginning? No. But I was starting to understand my relationship to white supremacy. I realized I had been ignoring or denying any relationship to white supremacy and in that state I could not do anything real about ending white supremacy or creating equity for Black people.
Last year, Layla F. Saad turned the Instagram challenge into a best selling book, still called Me and White Supremacy, and I look forward to picking up a copy as I continue to do this work. So far, this work has taught me where my prejudices lay, where I have blind spots, where I have privilege and where I feel uncomfortable. It has not turned me into an instantly perfect ally by any means. This work has inspired me to take small, imperfect steps to support Black people and other Indigenous people of color. This work teaches me not to say empty words, but to speak up when needed and to otherwise do the work consistently, especially when nobody is watching.
Back in February of this year, before the pandemic hit, I attended an alternative wedding event called Altar(ed) where wedding vendors who are sick of the status quo of the wedding industry, including the white centering in the marketing, advertising, and magazines of the biggest names. The creators of the event invited speaker Kheoshi Owens, founder of Empress Rules. She spoke about equity, implicit bias, and diversity, equity and inclusion. She challenged us to have a more diverse group of organizers and participants the next time we met as a group, or to consider not holding the event. Why would we want to go on without including Black people and Indigenous people of color? If we are not thinking of people who should be involved, why is that? There are a lot of excuses we white people can make for not being a part of a more diverse event and Ms. Owens highlighted them for what they really are, just excuses. For me, this circled back to the conversations shared at City Repair. I was seeing myself in yet another space that I loved with people who were doing good work - but without Black people as an integral part. I look forward to seeing where this takes me and the other rad wedding vendors that I met at this event.
I want to end this post by highlighting some Black owners of businesses that I have either worked with or have a personal relationship with. I don’t think any of them are exclusively wedding related, but very well could be - enough that I would like to share them with you here if you have read this far.
For couture fashion inspired by West African style, Jean Pierre Nugloze at N’Kossi Boutique can set you up. Original suiting and gorgeous dresses cover his downtown Portland, Oregon shop. He also does alterations. I commissioned a jacket from him, which you can find a picture of on my Instagram, and it is stunning! N’Kossi’s Instagram is @nkossi_boutiquedafrique.
Looking for a photographer for an event, or want to include a photobooth at your reception? Check out Sika Stanton. I have worked with her in a party setting where she took candid pictures throughout the night and in a formal photoshoot setting. She was a master in both contexts and made my Instagram feed 1000 times cooler with her photos. Check out her Instagram @sikaafi.
My face has had the divine pleasure of being beautified by the talented hands of make up artist Bemnia. Trust and believe they could do the same for you. I think their Instagram @bemnia allows their work to speak for itself!
The very first wedding I officiated was for a couple that I knew well, so I got to enjoy the food at their reception (normally, I duck out after the ceremony as soon as the paperwork is signed) and I am glad I did because they had invited the sisters from Miss’ipi Chefs out to the middle of nowhere Washington as their caterers. There was magic in their home style food and I remember it four years later! Their Instagram is @missipichef50. Update: Melinda at Miss'ipi Chefs has shared that she does not cater weddings, but maybe you can still reach out for a rehearsal dinner or a great work function!!
Lastly, I have a recommendation that, I’m embarrassed to say, I have not fully vetted. I know Ayomide through friends at City Repair, but I have never been to her chocolate shop...and I am a chocoholic! Well, I just ordered a Chakralot 7 set and a set of Dream Chocolates from Portland Chocolate Laboratory and I cannot wait to update this post with how my experience went eating them. Chocolate very much makes me think of love, so I hope my wedding clients can at least have a date with some of this chocolate and dream up how to incorporate it into their ceremony or reception! Find them on Instagram @chakralot. Update: The Chakralot 7 set was so much fun and so tasty! The box of chocolates comes with a link to a guided meditation. The complex flavors and the relaxing meditation are a great mini-escape. The Dream Chocolates box comes complete with dream journal, a pencil, pencil sharpener, glass vial filled with dream herbs, a dropper of dream herbs in oil, and three chocolates, one for each night. For someone like myself, who doesn't often remember their dreams, these Dream Chocolates really helped me to remember them. While these products may not be specifically wedding related, I think they would make great gifts for members of the wedding party or fun during a pre-wedding party with your "'I do' crews."