Nikki and Amena Marry in a Symphony of Love

Amena looks radiant in her walk down the aisle. Photo by RMN Photography

Amena looks radiant in her walk down the aisle. Photo by RMN Photography

Written by Zamara Perri; Photos by RMN Photography

When Amena Johnson and Nikki Brooks exchanged wedding vows on a beautiful, sunny, September afternoon, both women were surrounded by absolute love. The wedding took place on a hill overlooking the Patuxent River on grounds of the Billingsley Mansion in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The outdoor setting served as a naturally beautiful backdrop for a couple whose love is natural, unfiltered and genuinely sweet.

The wedding, themed “Wine, Music and Art,” was a reflection of all the couple’s favorite things and included their favorite music, some of Nikki’s art and Amena’s favorite wines.

Three years after meeting and falling in love, the couple wanted their wedding celebration to not only celebrate their love, but the people who love and support them. The love of their 100-plus friends and family who celebrated with them was evident in the laughter and conversations heard that day.

Click on any of the photos below to launch the slideshow!

Looking back, the couple said their wedding day was one of their best days so far.

“Having my best friends and family there made it so fun,” Nikki shared. “Seeing my aunt was really important because my mom didn’t come. She led the soul train line. She’s always been there for me. Seeing her there, made me think everything is all right. On top of that, I was marrying the woman I wanted to be married to so the day was beautiful.”

For Amena, having her traditional Christian mom attend the wedding was one of the best gifts that day. “I didn’t know she was coming until Friday. (The wedding took place on Saturday),” Amena said. “When I told her I was engaged, she said she was not going because [gay marriage] was against her beliefs. I sent her an invitation anyway. I called her on Friday and asked her, ‘I’m I going to see you tomorrow?’ She said, ‘yes’ and I made arrangements for her to get to the wedding on time.”

The couple wrote their own vows, which brought their guests to tears. For family and friends who had known these two women for years and even decades, the vows rang true.

“I enjoyed hearing my family and aunt say, ‘It’s amazing that Amena gets you so much.’ A lot of the people in my family have been protective over me. My aunt was ecstatic,” Nikki recalls.

“People said, ‘Wow you are truly happy and it’s great to see you so happy,’” Amena adds. “Sometimes I’m a crier and sometimes I’m not. I didn’t cry at all that day because I smiled all day; I was truly happy to marry the woman I wanted to be with.”

All in all, the couple said they wanted their wedding to be about all the people whom they invited. “We wanted our guests to feel included because this was also for them,” Amena said.

Nikki agreed, “We were throwing a party because we loved each other and we love y’all and that’s what we wanted to convey.”

The couple’s love for their friends and their friend’s love for the couple was so evident. One of Amena’s friends traveled from South Africa to support them on their special day. Several of the speeches from close friends were heartfelt; the wedding officiant, who is a close friend, was so excited and emotional that she forgot to announce the ring exchange; and the wedding party danced up the aisle before the ceremony and back down the aisle afterwards. On that day it was clear how much the wedding guests were truly in love with Nikki and Amena as a forever couple.

Nikki & Amena Talk Shopping for Wedding Outfits from a Black Lesbian Perspective

Nikki and Amena shop for wedding outfits.

Nikki and Amena shop for wedding outfits.

Aside from the vows, the food and the partying, what wedding guests look forward to most at a wedding is the big reveal of the outfits. Like most lesbian couples, Nikki and Amena have had to, by default, adapt their wedding day to reflect their own new traditions. Before the two unveil their wedding day gear for their guests this weekend, they shared with us their thoughts on picking an outfit from the perspective of a black lesbian couple.

Black Lesbian Love Lab (BL3): Some women think and dream about their wedding day ever since they were little girls. Growing up lesbian, did either of you ever think about your wedding day? 

Nikki: Actually no, I was still stuck in la-la land and just being a kid.

Amena: I thought about it but it was not an every day thing. I am not the type of person that had every thing planned out before I was in a serious relationship. Getting an education, living and supporting myself on my own were the things I dreamed about as a kid.

BL3: Amena selected her wedding dress, long before you did, Nikki. As a woman with a more masculine gender presentation, what was shopping for your wedding outfit like?

Nikki: I had the year to plan, browse and really shop for what I want. It was also fun having family to help in the process. My cousin and my sister helped me pick out my outfit.

BL3: Do you have in mind what you want to wear on your wedding day?

Nikki: I do, but dare not share 😉

BL3: Amena, what kind of dresses did you look for?
Amena: When I went to look for dresses I was pretty open. I tried on several different types of dresses. I kind of thought I would end up in an off white or champagne color. I was surprised that these colors did not look that good on me. I also didn’t want a princess dress. The dress I chose is not a princess dress, but it is more poufy than I thought I would like.

BL3: Did either of you have any major concerns about your outfits?

Nikki: Always the look of the outfit, and how it will complement my shape and size. I won’t say my biggest concern is this, but I do think of how my *”broom’s” party will complement me. I am allowing the people in my broom’s party to purchase or rent their own outfits. I want to make sure that everyone’s colors are the same shade.
Amena: I wanted a dress that I felt comfortable in. I didn’t want it to be so flashy that [my family and friends] noticed the dress more than me.

BL3: Nikki, what is the most important feeling that you want to have when you look in the mirror on your wedding day?

Nikki: The feeling of looking sharp and a perfect reflection of the beautiful woman I’ll be marrying.

BL3: Any wedding outfit shopping tips for women who prefer a more masculine style of dress?

 

Nikki: For my fellow women who wear suits, go to a place that is gay friendly; it makes the experience more comfortable. I did go into one men’s store and the salesperson completely ignored me. I definitely felt why. If people don’t interact with you or you feel like they are treating you funny, leave. 

BL3: Amena, since this is a lesbian wedding, does the dress mean anything different in your opinion? Was dress shopping still exciting for you? Has Nikki seen the dress yet?

Amena: I don’t think it was much different for me than a straight bride. I think the fact that Nikki and I can get married legally plays into that. If this was not going to be a legal ceremony I may not have been as excited.

I was actually more excited and nervous than I thought. Wearing that dress makes it more real.

Nikki has not seen my dress and I have not seen her suit. We want that element of surprise. We will have a “first look” before the ceremony to see each other in our outfits. Not many people have seen my dress. I can’t wait to show it off on our big day!

*Broom is a mashup of bride and groom. Since Nikki is more of a tomboi, she chose to call herself a “broom.”

Nikki & Amena Talk Wedding Budget and Reveal Their Most Expensive Item

Amena and Nikki's paid for their September wedding through compromises, DIYing and side hustles.

Amena and Nikki’s paid for their September wedding through compromises, DIYing and side hustles.

Nikki and Amena have been planning their wedding for about a year. For this couple, their wedding day is about  celebrating their love for each other and the love and support they have received from their family. As we get closer to the big day, we asked the couple one of the most important questions for planning a celebration of this magnitude: How much does the big day cost?

Black Lesbian Love Lab (BL3): How did you settle on a budget for your wedding?

Nikki & Amena: We both looked at each other perplexed about how to answer this question. It is difficult to answer. At the start of this planning process we knew we did not want to spend a ton of money on our wedding but we did want to have the wedding that we wanted. We started with $5,000, but as the process went on we had to increase that number for several different reasons. Eventually we decided on a list of must haves, things we could do without and things we could DIY. After doing some research, we came to a budget that we felt was manageable and would get us the wedding that we wanted.

 

BL3: What do you believe should be the most important part of your wedding day? And how much did you budget for that?

Nikki & Amena: When we talked to married people they have all told us, “The day goes by so fast.” When we had our engagement party, I remember thinking that it went by in a blur. For this reason we wanted to make sure that we captured as many special moments of this day as we could. Photography was very important to us and we were not willing to skimp on this part of the wedding. We budgeted $2,500 for this expense. This is an example of having to decide between a must have and a thing we can do without. We had to decide between photography and videography because we could not afford both.

 

BL3: If money were no object, what would you do differently in planning for your wedding? 

Nikki & Amena: We would have a band, a classic car and a videographer.

BL3: What item (s) did you have to cut from your wedding to accommodate your budget? How much did that save you $ wise?

 

Nikki & Amena: We cut a videographer because good quality videographers start about around $3,000. This was simply not in our budget.

 

BL3: What were you not willing to compromise on to make your wedding special and memorable? 

Nikki & Amena: As we said before we knew that not having a photographer was not an option. We also knew we wanted a wedding cake. The alternatives to cake did not appeal to us.

Amena & Nikki: Our DIY Wedding Will Have Handmade Charm

Amena and Nikki are DIYing some elements of their wedding.

Amena and Nikki are DIYing some elements of their wedding.

As Amena and Nikki get closer to their wedding, planned for September in Upper Marlboro, Md., we check in with the couple to see what they are up to next. We find out that they have decided to DIY (do it yourself) parts of their wedding. They share more about the process below:

 

Black Lesbian Love Lab (BL3): Why take the DIY route in getting some items ready for your wedding?

Nikki: Because we feel more personally attached to the process.

Amena: A wedding is something that is deeply personal. I think it is important to put pieces of ourselves into the event. For me this is not just about the wedding day, it is also about the preparation leading up to it. The work and love we are putting into our DIY projects, reflects the work and love we put into our relationship, and of course DIYing some things cuts downs cost.

 

BL3: What are some of the items you’re DIYing? Why these particular items?

Nikki & Amena: Centerpieces, favors, flowers, save-the-date cards, invitations and wedding planning.

 

Nikki &Amena: As far as the stationary goes in this day and age, it is pretty simple to DIY those elements and definitely less expensive. We used Shutterfly for the save-the-date cards and Vistaprint for the invitations. We had coupon codes for both sites, so we got them for even less. We are going to add some embellishments to the invitations to make them more personal and more elegant.

 

Flowers are VERY expensive. We are not having many floral arrangements, so we are ordering flowers from Costco. Our centerpieces and favors are very personal and go along with the theme of our wedding. Our theme is wine, art, and music. I love all things wine. Nikki is an artist and art teacher and we both have a love for music. We wanted these items to reflect who we are as individuals and a couple.

 

Amena: I love planning projects so there is no need for a wedding planner. Although I am enjoying being my own wedding planner, I will have a day coordinator. This person will handle everything the day of the wedding and takeover communication with vendors the month before the wedding.

 

BL3: Where are you going for ideas?

Nikki & Amena: Pinterest and wedding websites

Amena: I have become obsessed with looking at real wedding photos.  I look at Off Beat Bride and Pinterest quite a bit. I have gotten a lot of ideas from these sites.

 

BL3: Some people are natural at doing some things themselves! What about you and Nikki? 

Nikki: I am an artist so anything that has to do creating some form of art comes very naturally.

Amena: I like decorating and planning. I am LOVING planning this wedding. The fine details like the minute-by-minute schedule and how the favors should be placed on the tables excite me.

 

Amena & Nikki: Selecting Vendors 101

Nikki and Amena  selected the Billingsley House in Upper Marlboro, Md., as their wedding venue.

Nikki and Amena selected the Billingsley House in Upper Marlboro, Md., as their wedding venue.

Black Lesbian Love Lab (BL3): So you ladies are six months away from your wedding day! How is your search for vendors going?


Nikki & Amena:
Wonderful! We are in the process of signing the contract with our last vender—a caterer.

 

BL3: Tell us what vendors you selected?
Nikki & Amena: We selected the Billingsley House in Upper Marlboro, Md., for the venue; Edibles Incredible Desserts from Reston, Va., for the cake, Rachel Naft Photography from Arlington, Va., and

Kloby’s Smokehouse in Laurel, Md., for the caterer.

 

Nikki and Amena sample cakes, cakes, cakes!

Nikki and Amena sample cakes, cakes, cakes!

BL3: Were there any vending experiences that stand out so far?
Nikki: The taste of our wedding cake. The way the baker put the ingredients together is mouthwatering. I still crave the cake. I’m going to go back and get some! Lol.
Amena: I thought Nikki was going to mention our photographer. She is awesome. When we went to meet with her she showed us her work and we were taken aback.

 

BL3: As a lesbian couple what’s the most important thing to you about your vendor?
Nikki:
That they are gay friendly. That they are really going to meet our needs without judgment.

Amena: The first thing I ask vendors on the phone is, are they OK with a lesbian couple as clients. I like it better when we can go visit first so I can see the reaction on their face and the way they talk to us.

 

BL3: Have you had any experiences that have made you NOT select a vendor?
Nikki & Amena: Yes, it has surprised us how many vendors communicate with you and then disappear. Twice we have met with people, had phone conversations and gotten quotes then never heard from them again. They were both caterers and we were interested in their services. We are not going to chase people down so we moved on.

 

We also met with a photographer who only showed us photos of babies. When we asked her if she had any samples of weddings, she showed us an engagement shoot. Since she could not show us samples of what we were buying, we did not go with her. The photographer and the caterer took the longest to find.  Just like in a relationship we went through a lot of duds before we found the one.

 

BL3: Do you have any preferences for LGBT vendors?
Nikki & Amena: No. As long as the vendor is LGBTQ friendly, we are fine. We are interested in finding vendors that will do the best job.

 

BL3: Are there a lot of LGBT-friendly vendors in the Washington, D.C., area where you live?
Nikki: Yes, as far as we know we have not run into anyone who has had an issue with our sexual orientation.

Amena: But I do expect it was an issue for one of the caterers that stopped contacting us. They were a husband and wife. Nikki talked to the husband and he sounded very enthusiastic. When I got on the phone with the wife, she seemed surprised to learn we were two women. When I have talked to some of my straight friends about vendors they have said things like, “I would have never thought to ask if a vendor was OK with my wedding for any reason”. It is a shame that is the first question we have to ask is, “Are you LGBTQ friendly?” before getting down to business.

 


Nikki and Amena, a Maryland couple engaged to be married next fall, have agreed to share with us their journey to the altar.

 

 

Amena and Nikki: There Were 48 People Involved in Their Engagement

Amena and Nikki were engaged on March 22, 2014.

Amena and Nikki were engaged on March 22, 2014.

Amena was pretty much done looking for love when Nikki came, unexpectedly, into her life. Two years after their first meeting, this Maryland couple is happily planning their fall 2015 wedding. The couple shared their story over dinner at their Maryland home:

Black Lesbian Love Lab (BL3): Why did you decide to get married?

Nikki: It was almost instinctive. I took her last December to the jewelry store to find out her taste. I got the ring later on when I was with my sister.

Amena: When Nikki and I went to the jewelry store over Christmas, I rolled my eyes all the way to the back of head. I just didn’t think it would happen anytime before my birthday in June or our second anniversary in September.

Nikki: One day I kept driving past the jewelry store with my sister. I started interviewing myself. When a person influences you to change your life for the better … that’s how I knew Amena stands out from the others.

Amena: I often say that marriage was always more important to Nikki than me. Before we got engaged, Nikki would always say she wanted her family to validate our relationship because I think she’s gotten the message that these were the only kinds of relationships that her family values.

BL3: Tell us how the actual engagement went down.

Amena: Nikki asked me to put some pictures on her website when I came across a picture of two rings in her [folder]. A couple days later, the pictures were still there so I copied it and sent it to my friends because I knew she would ask their opinions before buying it. I still didn’t think it would happen when it did on March 22. My friend Jamillah came to town for brunch at Busboys and Poets [a Washington, D.C., restaurant] on a Saturday at 11. She wanted to go to the one all the way downtown when there’s one nearby.

When we sat down to breakfast, I felt this presence over my shoulder. I looked up and saw Nikki. She gives me a nervous kiss and I was wondering why she was there because she’s crashing girls’ day. She’s normally good about that. She got a chair and I’m wondering what is going on. Then Nikki pulls the ring box out of her pocket. And I’m like, is this really for real? Nikki slides the box over to me. She tried to get on one knee and I said, “Don’t do that because people were looking.” My friend finally asked if I’m going to say something. I said, “Yes!” My friend then jumps up and leaves. I then started texting people to tell them, “Hey, I just got engaged.” But nobody was saying anything. It turns out Nikki told 48 people about the engagement. Some people wouldn’t give it up until the very end. Apparently Nikki was supposed to have proposed at 3 p.m. but she couldn’t wait and did it at 1 p.m. People have this idea that I’m nosy.

Amena & Nikki: A Sincere Smile Leads to a Love Connection

Amena and Nikki are engaged to be married in September 2015.

Amena and Nikki are engaged to be married in September 2015.

Amena, a university LGBT program coordinator, and Nikki, an art teacher and artist, has agreed to let Black Lesbian Love Lab tag along as they plan their wedding over the next year. Occasionally we’ll share photos and stories leading up to this Maryland couple’s special day. Below, they share how they met:

Nikki: As a teacher, kids make you forget, you get senile. I forgot I didn’t have a dating life for a long time. Then somehow it dawned on me, it’s getting kind of lonely. I was almost 40, and I didn’t expect to be on this Earth and not share my life with someone. So I went on the dating site Plenty of Fish. I had a couple flops, then met someone who I was supposed to go out to dinner with and she stood me up. I canceled my account. But the next day, I decided to get back on and Amena’s face popped up again. I had seen her picture before and it’s a mystery to me why I hadn’t contacted her before that. I looked at her face and really studied it like I was studying a canvass. She had a really genuine smile. I sent her one line and it was: That’s a sincere smile.

Amena: I had just got out of a relationship in June 2012 and told my friend:

“I’m done. I’m ok. I’m not done with relationships, but I don’t need to get married. I don’t need to have a lifetime partner.” I meant it sincerely.

I was having a really bad day when Nikki’s message popped up on the phone but she had no photo, no extensive profile and I don’t talk to people like this. When I got her message, I thought, “That’s nice.” So I responded, “Thank you.” Then Nikki comes back and asked me a question and I answered. We went back and forth for a couple weeks and I don’t normally entertain people without even talking on the phone. Then she said she’s coming to town on Labor Day and could we get together. At that point I still hadn’t seen a picture of her and she had seen all of mine.

I asked for her picture and she looked like my friend. She looked like a femme, she had a relaxer. I’m not into feminine women and I don’t date women that have relaxers. I thought, she looks nice, we could be buddies. We met at the Busboys and Poets [a popular Washington, D.C., restaurant] at 14 and V where we (eventually) got engaged. I’m looking for the person in the picture but I see Nikki—this person who has a football walk come up. This is not the person in the picture. She even brought her sister.

I thought she was nice or whatever but didn’t think she was going to be girlfriend material. Kim, Nikki’s sister and I talked, but Nikki at this point still hadn’t said anything. At that moment, I felt no chemistry. Afterwards Nikki walked me to my car and we talked for an hour. She invited me to dinner at her place in Fredericksburg, Va.

When I walked into her house, CNN was on and the Democratic National Convention was on. I thought, points for that. She was so nervous. She cooked spaghetti and we watched the convention. We were like kids on a first date. I had to tell her it was okay for her to put her arms around me. When I was leaving, she sat in my car and asked if she could kiss me and I said yes. We kissed and at that moment, it hit me like electricity and we’ve been together ever since.

Click here to read their engagement story.