As thousands of people flooded the streets of Philadelphia on Saturday to protest George Floyd's death and support the Black Lives Matter movement, two people in particular stood out from the massive crowd: a bride and groom, inadvertently joining the protest with their fists raised just moments before saying their vows.
What was supposed to be Kerry Anne and Michael Gordon's first look before their wedding ceremony at the Logan Hotel ended up becoming a powerful symbol of Black love and community support that has resonated around the world as dozens of protesters stopped to offer compliments, cheers, and congratulations.
"It was extremely powerful, it's hard to even describe what it was like," Kerry Anne Gordon told BuzzFeed News. "I'm not sure if people were thinking about love or about protesting, or some combination of that. Some people were saying this is an example of Black love, an example of Black Lives Matter, and I felt it all."
The Philadelphia couple — Kerry Anne, a surgeon and OB-GYN, and Michael, an IT professional — have been together for about five years, and were originally supposed to be married in New Jersey in May before the coronavirus pandemic delayed their plans.
As a healthcare professional, Gordon said she understood early on that her wedding would not go on as planned, but was still crushed to have to postpone the big day she'd been planning for nearly a year.
"As a physician, I could see up close all of the changes the pandemic was making," said Gordon, who was born and raised in Jamaica. "A lot of our guests are international, so when the borders closed in March, that’s when it became a real conversation that we were having about postponing the wedding."
The couple originally rescheduled their wedding — venue and vendors included — for June 2021, but when the opportunity arose to hold a small ceremony at the Logan Hotel, which was offering its lawn to couples whose weddings were affected by the pandemic for free, they began to consider the option of eloping.
"Mike has always been for just getting the marriage part done and having the celebration part later, but I wanted everything to be done at once," Gordon said. "But at the time it was like, the reality of the pandemic is here, there could be two or three more waves of this. My spirit said, OK, we can do this in two weeks as best we can."
So the couple chose one of two dates offered to them by the hotel (Gordon liked 6-6-20), informed their immediate family, officiant, and photographers, and arranged for their big day to go on with just two weeks' notice.
"Our families did not know this was happening, we didn’t even have a Zoom setup," Gordon said. "We wanted to privately and quietly say our vows together. This was never meant to cancel anything, it's just a postponement. But we didn’t want to postpone our love for each other."
As fate would have it, what was supposed to be a small ceremony was made a little more stressful when the couple learned the night before about the Philadelphia protest scheduled for their wedding day, and the fact that the Logan Hotel was directly in its route.
When they learned there would be street and highway closures, they made frantic early morning calls to ensure guests coming into Philadelphia from out of town would be in the city in time for the ceremony.
"As I was driving there they started blocking off the highway, and I was anxious I wasn’t even going to get to marry her," the couple's officiant, Rev. Roxanne Birchfield, told BuzzFeed News. "Nothing about the day was easy, that [first look] moment was the highlight of the day. It was a very complicated day, so the fact that that moment happened and went global the way it did — you know what, it was all worth it."
Birchfield (whom you may recognize as one of the officiants from Netflix's Love is Blind) had been working with the Gordons for about a year before their wedding day, and was the one who suggested the couple might elope rather than waiting another year to get married.
Moments before the ceremony was due to start, Birchfield heard people shouting from the street. That was when she walked out to hear Kerry Anne being showered with compliments from protesters, and when Michael joined, she knew she had to capture the moment.
“I immediately thought, this has to be recorded, we can never describe this to anybody without proof," Birchfield said. "People can interpret it in many ways, but I felt that it was a monumental moment that uplifted and gave hope to the movement itself, because Black lives mattering starts with a family and a community.”
Though stressful at times, Birchfield said having the Gordons' wedding day coincide with the massive protest was a "full circle moment."
"It was a symbol of hope, symbol of peace, symbol of justice for the Black community," Birchfield said. "Right there and then, without words, everyone in that space felt those things that I described."
More than 14,000 people responded to a Facebook event for the Philadelphia protest Saturday, with comparisons being made to the city's crowd sizes when the Eagles won the 2018 Super Bowl.
"We’re the City of Brotherly Love, there’s power in numbers and for that many people to be there it helps get the message across," Gordon said. "To get out of their homes and beds in the middle of a pandemic, to come together in a unified and positive way without any kind of negativity, it was beautiful. I'm really proud of Philadelphia, proud of the protesters, proud of every sign that was held up, every word that was said."
Though it's been reported that the couple joined the protest following their ceremony, both Birchfield and Gordon laughed at the idea of the bride marching in the Philadelphia heat in her wedding gown and heels. But whether they joined or not, the movement and its message were ever present on the couple's big day.
"This was a representation of the fact that I’m about to start my life with this Black man who has made me the most proud woman there is, and is the best thing that ever happened to me," Gordon said. "For me to share that moment with him, to celebrate our lives and our future, everything that the movement incorporates, we are all about that. We were feeling it and living it."