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A Relaxed, Africana Beach Wedding

Feminist and fun

Lorenzo, real estate broker and appraiser & Jalondra, full time student doctoral program in Ethnic Studies 

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: A relaxed, Africana, feminist beach wedding, and fun wedding weekend.

Planned Budget: $4,000

Actual Budget: $7,000

Number of Guests: 60

Where we allocated the most funds

Food. We had pre-ceremony fruit and scones and a delicious family-style brunch. Our wedding bracelets (which we exchanged instead of rings) and Jalondra’s custom jewelry was the next biggest expense.

Where we allocated the least funds

Stationery, flowers, transportation, alcohol. We had no save-the-dates, and ordered simple invites from a cheap website. The only flowers were the bouquets and flower girl petals, gifted by a family friend. We made centerpieces from feathers and cowry shells. Instead of limos, we rented a large van to cart the bridal party around. The wedding was dry. Most vendors were friends and community businesses who cut us deals. The dress was a discontinued sample. Looking at the costs of our major needs we are surprised at how much we still spent; the little things that don’t usually get counted—two nights in a hotel near the venue, craft supplies, gifts for bridal party, paying at the last minute for labor for projects I couldn’t finish, like burning and packaging eighty CDs, really added up.

What was totally worth it

Taking a lot of care with our ceremony. We asked a married couple who are good friends and mentors of ours to conduct our ceremony. Michael Datcher, a writer, did a drumming call to attention and performed a poem as part of the processional, and also did a libation, which invited the guests to call their ancestors into the space. Monica A. Coleman, a theologian and minister, wrote a beautiful ceremony, which was spiritual without being Christocentric. It included elements such as community vows, a bracelet blessing, and a jumping of the broom, an African American tradition that honors our enslaved ancestors who could not legally marry. The chairs were arranged in a semi-circle to direct the energy inward. We asked for an unplugged ceremony, because we wanted guests to be focused on experiencing, not recording the event. We walked away toward the water right afterward and had a few special moments to ourselves. It was serene and utterly transformational, and it prepared me to be cool about the things that didn’t go perfectly afterward.

Inviting more people out. We had both an after party at a local bar that night and a potluck picnic celebration the next day. Our families were skeptical because they thought guests who weren’t invited to the ceremony would be offended. And maybe some were; the turnout at the other events wasn’t nearly what we expected. But so many people were happy to come out and support us and celebrate with us however they could, and we were truly touched by that. It was exhausting, but the wedding weekend allowed for us to have a fuller experience that was comfortable for everyone who attended each event.

Planning it ourselves. It was hard work, and there were probably aspects that might have been better executed had they been handed off to a professional, but seeing our vision through from start to finish was more important than perfection. And we got really great support from some of our family and friends.

Our beachfront venue was less than a thousand dollars. It was kind of a bare bones facility and there are a lot of practical, ugly things in the background of our pictures, like exit signs and trashcans, but it made our dream of a beach wedding that wouldn’t require guests to travel between locations or us to spend a fortune possible. We were able to bring in our own food and staff.

What was totally not worth it

Matching bridesmaids dresses. Big source of drama and stress, as I wanted a particular color, had a wide range of body types, and wanted to stay in the forty-dollar range. I wish I would have just given some broad guidelines and let people get their own dresses. It ended up looking beautiful, but when I saw how well the hostesses’ (who I had just told to be summery and match a peacock feather) outfits worked out, I wish I had just done that with everyone.

A few things that helped us along the way

Being organized and then delegating and letting go. We started planning about five months in advance. I created a monthly checklist and downloaded all of the APW spreadsheets. I used templates from my grantwriting work to create a budget with fixed and per-person costs. I bought the decorations way ahead of time and a friend helped me prep and pack them, and I handed off all the items to a former student I had hired for day-of assistance a few days before. I also gave her a binder with contracts, spreadsheets, vendor payments, petty cash, floor plans, décor inventory, ceremony music, and timelines, and didn’t have to answer any logistical questions after that point.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Don’t lose the larger picture and miss simple solutions because you’re looking too hard at one part of the puzzle. Be firm, direct, and clear as possible with people and don’t avoid confrontation with them; the earlier and more honestly you address any issues with vendors, family, or bridal party, the better. If your wedding setup is DIY and you don’t want your family and bridal party working the day, recruit more staff than you think you need. Using small businesses that don’t focus on the wedding market and buying wedding outfits at regular stores are great ideas to make your wedding cheaper and more personal, but be conscious that with avoiding the WIC, you will lose some time, polish, and convenience. Stop doubting yourself! Take deep breaths and be confident, but not defensive about your choices.

Favorite thing about the wedding

We really, really loved our ceremony and our wedding jewelry, and the fact that we had it on the beach on a beautiful day. But Lorenzo says the best part was the honeymoon.

Other Notes

We brought in a lot of touches that celebrated our story, our interests, and Africana cultures. The peacock feather motif was inspired by the fact that we both have tattoos of quill pens. My husband loves music, so CDs of a neosoul soundtrack of our relationship doubled as the favors and escort cards, directing guests to color-coded sections to sit in. Having sections: one for immediate family, one for extended family, friends, etc. was way easier and more flexible than doing a table-by-table seating chart and we heartily recommend it. We danced a Cuban salsa for our first dance and had a live artist at the reception. My father did a blessing of the meal rather than a father-daughter dance, and we jump started the party by inviting all guests (not just single) to the dance floor for the garter and bouquet, which we threw at the same time—we said whoever caught it would be blessed by our love. My five-year-old niece caught the garter!

I am not a crafty person, but I actually made a lot of stuff for the wedding: centerpieces, boutonnières, corsages, programs. As I seem to be incapable of following even lazy-girl tutorials, I took a lot of pleasure and pride in coming up with and making these things, even if half of it fell apart before the day was over. We had some great mishaps, including my husband splitting his pants and me forgetting my garter and tying one of the grandma’s corsages around my thigh.

Our wedding wasn’t perfect. A few things did not unfold as we wanted them to. For me, the combination of being both a giving people pleaser and a hardhead planning a nontraditional, less formal wedding produced a whole lot of stress. But the more distance we have from the day, the more we can focus on the joy and beauty of it and the pride of standing up for ourselves and putting together something that was meaningful and unique, and we believe that everyone saw and supported the vision in the end.

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