Before Jamila and Alfonso, also referred to as “Ali,” were partners in business and love, they were strangers turned into seat mates at a dinner party. The two were brought together for the first time by their friends for a birthday celebration at a beach house in Atlantic City in 2014. And while Ali wasn’t initially excited about the gathering, once seated next to Jamila, he couldn’t help but be delighted.
“I groaned but went and happened to be seated next to my future wife,” he tells ESSENCE. “We talked about Blackness in America and she mentioned some books I should read. I’ve been intrigued and learning from her ever since.”
Jamila describes their first conversation as a “Blackity Black” one. “We talked about everything from Black Panther politics to life as HBCU kids,” the Spelman grad says of her chat with Ali, a Hampton grad. “We’ve been talking every day since.”
While their initial connection was made over a hot meal, a constant presence in conversations and in their overall relationship ever since has been tea. The hot drink was a part of daily life for Ali growing up thanks to his Jamaican mother and became something that brought he and Jamila closer as they fell in love.
“When we started dating in 2014, tea was always at the center of our relationship,” Jamila says. “Whether it was Ali making me beautiful cups and pots of teas in his living room or us visiting tea shops for some date night fun, tea was our favorite third wheel. We quickly realized in that first year of dating that the way we bonded and communed over tea could be something to replicate for others.”
With that, the couple decided to work together to build a business. The end result is the popular Brooklyn Tea, which has a brick-and-mortar spot in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood. It’s become a favorite of many, including of Shonda Rhimes, as well as a big success. It’s also tested Jamila and Ali’s relationship in a way that’s made them better.
“Being in business together has made our relationship stronger,” she says. “We can definitely be stubborn and not the best at hearing out different approaches, especially when we first started dating. However, workshopping ideas with friends and getting feedback from customers allowed us to witness each other’s ideas get approved and celebrated. It was humbling and a constant reminder to truly value what the other person was bringing to the table.”
In seven years they’ve survived job stress, entrepreneurship, dealing with loss, and the regular ups and downs of a relationship to make it down the aisle. When it was time to celebrate, the couple went all out. They also stuck to their roots of keeping things as Black as possible. They planned a wedding and reception that spotlighted fellow Black business owners and vendors, from the cake creator to the caterer and even the actual venue. All Black everything.
“Our company, Brooklyn Tea, is indebted to so many people intentionally seeking to support a Black-owned tea brand so it was really fun thinking about the amazing entrepreneurs we already had relationships with and how they could be part of our day,” Jamila says.
Check out the ways in which the couple made Black-owned businesses, and their baby Brooklyn Tea (you have to see the cake!), a part of their special day and learn more about their love story.
Photographers: Lizette London, Bryndan Moore
Venue: Awaaba Mansion at Noble Lane
DJ & MC: Dapper DJ Productions
Catering: Greedi Kitchen
Flowers: Brooklyn Blooms
Makeup: Viodelda Contreras & Nafeezah Wallace
Groom’s Tuxedo: Kyris Kustoms
Bridal Gown: Pantora Bridal
Wedding Cake: BCakeNY
Champagne: Happy Cork
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How They Knew They’d Found the One
“It wasn’t just one moment for me,” Ali says. “I looked back on all Jamila had done to make my dreams of entrepreneurship come true, how she pushed me to be a better person, and I thought ‘Oh, I am going to marry that girl.’”
As for Jamila, she says it was the resilience of their relationship that let her know she’d found her match.
“Our first year of living together was tough because I recently lost my aunt and I was very unhappy at my job,” she says. “When we were able to make it over that hump and year two was such a joy, I thought ‘We can survive it all. Ali is my partner for life!’”
Ali had a big proposal planned during a trip they took together to Ghana in 2018. But when the ring he meticulously designed was delivered and looked different than he’d hoped, he had to go for a Plan B and propose two months later in their go-to place: Brooklyn.
The Proposal, Continued
He told her they were leaving their Brooklyn Tea shop to go out for dinner, but he had something else in store for Jamila.
“We left our new and only staff member an hour before closing so we could catch our reservation, or so Jamila thought,” Ali says. “We began driving towards Downtown Brooklyn and Jamila was excited about the idea of a new restaurant. I parked the car and soon we were walking on the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade. A few months earlier I asked Jamila what her favorite location was in Brooklyn so I knew this would be the place. I also looked up the best spot for an optimal view of the bridge and city. When we walked to those exact coordinates, I got down on one knee and asked Jamila to marry me.“
The couple chose the Mansion at Noble Lane in Pennsylvania as their location to say “I do.” Aside from the fact that the sprawling, gorgeous mansion sits on 22 acres, one of five estates owned by Awkaaba Inns, it is Black-owned and the property of a good friend.
“Akwaaba Mansion is our business Godmommy and we were so eager to show off the beautiful Poconos estate so guests could feel its majesty,” Jamila says.
All Black Everything
Going with Black vendors was easier than some might expect because Jamila and Ali already knew so many. Brooklyn Blooms provides floral arrangements for Brooklyn Tea, so they were the florists for the big day. Pantora Bridal is their shop neighbor and so getting a dress from the Brooklyn-based Bridal shop was a no-brainer. Caterer Greedi Kitchen offers Brooklyn Tea at her restaurant. BCakeNY makes the popular Biggie Smalls cookies sold at Brooklyn Tea, so they had to make the cake. The DJ and the photographer are HBCU grads like the couple, as well as Brooklyn Tea patrons. They wanted to celebrate some of their favorite businesses and people as they simultaneously celebrated their love.
A Daddy-Daughter Moment
A beautiful moment as father and daughter, surrounded by lush greenery, made their way to the altar.
“We had 125 guests total. Each guest was told to get tested for COVID and that they would have to show proof of negative results,” Jamila says. “We also strongly encouraged mask-wearing even though their tests had to be negative to attend the wedding.”
A Closer Look at the Decor
The couple kept it simple, with an emphasis on Black opulence and soft lighting.
The Wedding Party
Black opulence was also found in the wedding party. They were decked in Black and looked quite lavish.
A Personal Pic
Bubbles and good vibes surrounded the bride and groom, now the Wrights, as they exited their ceremony.
A Piece of (Cake) Art
This stunning cake, a nod to the couple’s business, Brooklyn Tea, was crafted by Black-owned vendor BCakeNY.
Jamila and her sorority sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., performed the ‘Sweetheart Song’ at the reception.
Time to Party
The guests came together in the glowing reception tent to dine and dance.
Get By With a Little Help From My Friends
“My favorite part was sharing the vows,” Ali says. “I got to workshop my words with my groomsmen who were all married. Getting their advice and encouragement was a magical moment. Then getting to hear Jamila say her vows was all I needed.”
The Bride’s Most Memorable Moment
“My favorite part was watching all the married couples on the dance floor during ‘Last Couple Standing,’” Jamila says of the wedding game. “One by one, the younger couples exited the floor until only the couple with the most years of marriage remained. They won at 50 years and they were also my new in-laws. That felt like a good omen!”