For many, honoring Black History Month is as much about changing the future as it is about appreciating the past—a belief that we believe extends well beyond the month of February.
In the last few years, leaders in the wedding industry have come together to form Black-founded organizations, such as Ethos West Collective and The Black Table, to celebrate Black talent, elevate Black voices, and push for a shift in an industry built on love into one that truly prioritizes unity through inclusivity and diversity. By providing resources, support, and a sense of community that uplifts and empowers, these platforms hope to increase awareness of the Black excellence that exists in the events industry. They, along with countless others, are making history and are paving a way for the better tomorrow.
In honor of Black History Month, we highlight some of the changemakers who are shaping the industry and helping couples define their own history. Below, what career, love, and legacy mean to them.
Stephanie White of Odylyne The Ceremony
Founder and creative director of Odylyne The Ceremony Stephanie White is a designer with an ethereal and free-spirited approach to bridal attire. Though the Los Angeles-based creative loves seeing her work come to life on her brides, her favorite wedding moment is always the vows. “Beyond the dress, the flowers, and the food, there is the love,” White says. “This is the time where you can really see and hear the love between two people. The vows also remind you of why everyone is there in the first place.”
White recalls New York Bridal Fashion Week in 2017– her first time showcasing in front of editors and buyers—as the "most magical night" of her career. By taking time this month to remember the legacies of those before her, those who sacrificed to allow her that privilege, White honors Black History Month by giving thanks to her forebears and hopes she’s able to pave a path for other minority designs to follow in future.
Nneka C. Alexander of Brides by Nona
Nneka C. Alexander, owner and creative director behind the couture bridal label Brides by Nona, designs customized gowns that are "never before seen anywhere else but in her client’s dreams." She’ll never forget the day she got to dress model Cynthia Bailey in two custom creations—and while Alexander considers that a standout moment of her career, the part of her work she loves most is the moment a bride first sees herself in the gown. “It is one of the most genuine reactions you will ever witness,” the designer says. “And for me, that is all the gratification I need from the sometimes hectic nature of the job.”
As she reflects on the progress of the Black community this month, she’s inspired to set an example for the up-and-coming designers behind her. “This fuels an internal drive to push further, work harder and pave the way for the future generations just as these great Black men and women paved the way for me.”
Andrea Pitter of Pantora Bridal
At 31 years old, Andrea Pitter, designer and owner of Pantora Bridal, says she’s been a designer for nearly half her life. She was twelve years old when she knew what she wanted to be, and she originated the idea of Pantora Bridal over a decade ago. It wasn’t until seven years ago that they opened a physical location in Brooklyn, New York.
She counts surviving year one as a business owner as one of her most memorable moments. “I remember being brought to my knees at our anniversary party,” Pitter says. “It was then that I realized my ‘why.’ I love being able to provide a service and product to underrepresented women in this industry.”
When she thinks about how far the Black community has come over the decades, Pitter believes that her success, her brides, and the team supporting her at Pantora are her ancestors’ wildest dreams.
Summer Newman of Summer Newman Events
Summer Newman spent ten years coordinating large-scale events for major film studios and nonprofits before finding her true passion while planning her own wedding. As “a big city gal with roots in Southern hospitality” she founded Summer Newman Events—a full-service wedding planning and design company based in Southern California—with an unwavering appreciation for gracious hosting.
“My favorite wedding moment goes in slow motion every time for me: It is the moments that lead up to the bride walking down the aisle,” Newman says. “I’ll ask her if she is ready to walk, she’ll usually take a deep breath with a nod or a simple ‘yes.’ There is this moment when you can tell she focuses on her life partner...and something happens. I can't quite describe what that something is in a word, but it is magical.”
Newman knows she is able to experience a privileged life because of the others that came before and will never take that for granted. “Every month is Black History Month for me because I feel incredibly thankful year-round for the civil rights leaders, the nameless individuals who fought behind the scenes, and my direct ancestors who have paved the way for me.”
Michelle Norwood of Michelle Norwood Events
Founder of the eponymous New Orleans-based planning and design company, Michelle Norwood says her brand was founded on the art of intentional planning and design with a New Orleans personality.
For Norwood, every wedding is “special, unique and a little bit crazy” and she loves every second of it. “Most of my clients become friends after the wedding and we are forever a part of each other's lives,” she says. “It's truly special to me that my work transcends into lifelong connections.”
Norwood wants people to remember that Black history isn’t just about all the bad times we’ve been through. "It’s about integrity, leadership, and determination. It’s about showing your true character and the resilience we have as a race," she says.
Chioma Nwogu of Dure Events
From intimate affairs to opulent soirees and corporate events, creative director Chioma Nwogu has been running the show at Dure Events, a Houston-based event planning company, for over a decade. Nwogu has amassed a wealth of industry experiences over the years, but her love of love keeps her enthralled by the industry. “It’s the center of who I am as a person and it’s the thing that drives me as a creative,” she says. “Watching two people publicly declare a lifetime commitment to each other before God and their loved ones—there’s nothing quite like it.”
"Victory, triumph, and vindication" are what come to mind for Nwogu when she reflects on the history of the African American people. “It’s a celebration that despite everything, we continue to persevere and fight to claim the spaces that should have been ours anyway,” she states. “It’s knowing that our voices matter.”
Guerdy Abraira of Guerdy Design
It’s all about “good vibes only” for Guerdy Abraira, founder of Guerdy Design. She says being the facilitator of the most memorable events in people's lives is the most rewarding part of her job. As someone who makes a living out of celebrations, Abraira believes we should celebrate each other's diversity every day but says Black History Month is a way to honor the historical achievements of our ancestors. She says this is a time to “highlight African Americans that have helped to pave the way for freedom and the ability to pursue one's dreams and personal advancement despite the color of our skin.”
Andrew Roby of Andrew Roby Events
Proud Army veteran and event storyteller, Andrew Roby is an award-winning Washington D.C. wedding planner and the founder of Andrew Roby Events. The company provides turn-key event, conference, and convention planning solutions, but Roby says the most whimsical and enchanting of all the things they do are weddings. “Weddings offer a certain type of thrill,” he says. “It's bringing generations together as a family in the name of love.”
Roby believes that Black history is everyone’s history and that is especially significant to the wedding industry. “Where would we be today without Valerie Thomas creating the illusion transmitter which made video and imagery possible? Or Lewis Howard Latimer who invented the incandescent light bulb allowing decorative and advertising lighting to be possible?” he asks. “Thomas L. Jennings created a method of dry-cleaning so that our wedding gowns and tuxedos can be cleaned, and Frederick McKinley Jones allowed our food and beverage industry to receive perishable goods.”
Chanda Daniels of Chanda Daniels Planning + Design
Chanda Daniels works in weddings because she lives for telling love stories through the wedding planning experience, so much so that she leads two event planning companies in the San Francisco Bay area as the founder of A Monique Affair and the creative director of Chanda Daniels Planning + Design. While the former was launched in 1999, the latter was created in 2019 with a focus on highly customized wedding weekends.
When she started to communicate her values—diversity and inclusion—through her work she realized being 100-percent authentic was the biggest asset in her career, regardless of what she was being shown in the industry. She feels that Black History should be celebrated all the time. “When people decide to take the time to hear us, then they see us. And that would take more than one month," she says."
Alicia Rinka of Alicia Rinka Photography
Alicia Rinka’s penchant for photography was born from her degree in communications and a love of fashion. Now Rinka leads a team of Colorado-based photographers, who have been capturing imagery for refined clientele for over seven years.
Rinka feels that Black History is about a balance between past and future. In fact, her entire business is built on creating living history by immortalizing moments of emotion for their clients. “Being able to capture subtle gestures or laughs is truly an art form,” Rinka says. “Creating imagery that is historical for clients really fills a sense of joy for me and multicultural weddings will forever inspire me.”
Kareem Virgo of Reem Photography
As the founder of Reem Photography, Kareem Virgo heads up a Florida-based “D’Reem Team” of destination wedding photographers specializing in documenting love. A nod to his first name, the company’s title was actually created by his wife as an acronym for “reliving each and every moment.”
Virgo sees Black History Month as a moment that celebrates all African Americans and our vital role in United States history. In 2020, the photography team carved out its own important role during the pandemic by providing virtual photography sessions through Facetime. “We had no idea how much positivity this would spread, but we know we wanted to touch the masses during these interesting times,” Virgo says. “Our sessions have been completely free, as this was simply intended to spread positivity during a time that is very uncertain for most.”
Rhea Whitney of Rhea Whitney Photography
As a wedding photographer, coach, and educator, Rhea Whitney finds purpose in teaching rising professionals how to build a profitable photography business when she’s not behind the camera herself. Behind the lens, she takes pride in producing modern, yet timeless images that clients can cherish for years to come. “I like to think about creating images that will stand the test of time and really show my clients in their beauty and glory on their wedding day,” she says.
It’s especially important to her to capture Black love in a regal way. “My clients represent Black excellence and many times are a representation of...doctors, lawyers, small business owners, and corporate America executive-level employees,” she says. “Our love deserves to be celebrated and shown as the kings and queens that we are!"
Stanley Babb of Stanlo Photography
"I'm there to capture the uniqueness and emotion of each wedding,” says Stanley Babb, owner of Stanlo Photography. "We’re always paying close attention to the environment, listening in on conversations and anticipating that smile, laugh, tear, or hug...we’re waiting for that expression.”
The Bahamas-born, South Florida-based photographer enjoys documenting love stories against some of the most stunning backdrops around the world. For now, destination weddings may be on pause, but Babb is taking time this month to appreciate the journey of our community by reflecting “on how far we’ve come, and how far we’re going to go."
Roxanne Birchfield of Married by Rev. Roxy
Since 2016, Reverend Roxanne Birchfield has been providing marital counseling and officiating weddings as Married by Rev. Roxy. You may recognize Rev. Birchfield from her appearances on shows like Love & Hip Hop, Married at First Sight and Love is Blind or, perhaps most recently, when she married Dr. Kerry-Anne Perkins and Michael Gordon in Philadelphia—the wedding that went viral in the middle of a Black Lives Matter march. “I was the one that decided to post their video on social media and it became an international symbol of hope,” Rev. Birchfield says. “This became the modern version of the iconic photo of a sailor kissing a woman in Times Square in 1945.”
With a degree in Black studies, Rev. Birchfield appreciates the Black individuals who have paved a way for where we are today in her everyday life. However, the month of February does hold special significance. “Very specifically, [February] is a time to meditate on the sacrifices and contributions that African Americans have made to the scientific, educational and social justice fabric of the United States of America and their individual journeys to freedom,” she says. “May their stories continue to live on for generations to come.”
Lisa Zachery of Papered Wonders
This year, Lisa R. Zachery is celebrating 20 years as owner and CEO of Papered Wonders, as a specialty print and graphic design company. Stationery is one of the few tangible reminders of wedding day magic and Zachery always aims to capture the essence of that special day with her products’ very first impressions.
Despite being involved in all aspects of the event—save the dates, invitations, programs, menu cards, favors, thank you cards—stationers are not usually involved in the wedding day, but Zachery still gets to enjoy her favorite wedding moment on paper. “When we print the vows for couples, we are doing more than providing a space for memory, we are impressing the words into their spirits and helping to create a bond that is not easily broken," she says.
Zachery loves highlighting Black love and celebrating the beauty of Black History every single day of the year, but she especially enjoys spotlighting our culture during the month of February. “It inspires us to dream, to create and empower generations to come," she adds.
Alexandria Hammond of GetPlated DC
Keyon and Alexandria Hammond, the husband and wife team behind catering company GetPlated, believe weddings allow a creative outlet for couples to express their style, and they would know since they even catered their own wedding! Keyon is a classically trained chef at the helm of the kitchen while Alexandria brings her distinct eye for details to all of their event logistics—together they bring “a well-defined palette, fun culinary attitude, and most importantly, love” to weddings and events around Washington D.C. and beyond.
For the Hammonds, Black History Month is a "way to celebrate our history and thank the giants that came before us." “It's a rich culture and should be shared 365 days a year! We hope we're making our ancestors proud," she adds.
Vernitta (Ninah) Weddles of Ninahwee
Vernitta (Ninah) Weddles has been doing hair since she was nine years old, braiding her sisters’ hair and later turning her hobby into a side hustle as she grew older. Eventually, she found her niche in the beauty industry as the owner of Ninahwee, providing hair and make-up for brides and particularly specializing in hairstyles and makeup for Black brides. She values the ability to create art through cosmetics and to discover the natural beauty of brides on their wedding day.
This Black History Month, Weddles wants to honor Madam C.J. Walker, a pioneer of the African American beauty industry who created her business opportunities at a time where there was none. Her favorite Walker quote: “I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them!”
Keanna O’Quinn of Honey+Vinyl
Keanna O'Quinn founded Honey+Vinyl in 2013 as a boutique music company specializing in music design. Better know as the Sonic Sommelier, O’Quinn says she feels lucky that couples choose Honey+Vinyl to score their special day, weaving their story together through music; though her favorite thing to hear at weddings is the father-of-the-bride speech. “Dads always seem to know the right thing to say at weddings. I find that these moments usually include the sharing of wisdom of valuable life nuggets with a little humor. And I'm very close with my father, so it pulls at my heartstrings every time.”
O’Quinn feels especially connected to her ancestors this month. “There is a sense of pride that comes with knowing that my ancestors have passed along the resilience and fortitude to overcome any challenge that may arise,” the Sonic Sommelier says. “This month is meaningful to us because it inspires us to continue the work and move the needle in the direction of change."