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This Couple Surprised Everyone with a Wedding at Their Engagement Party in Washington D.C.

By Shayna Seid | Photography by 

Steve Jackson, Chynna Keys, & Stephen Miller

Shamora Alakhum Merritt and Bryan Daniel Freeman met while attending the same graduate school. They were in different programs, but when hers was hosting a talent show, they nearly performed a song together, as a friend informed each of them that Shamora could sing and Bryan was a classically trained pianist. The two didn’t end up on stage, but after a few run ins at a dance club and BBQ, they started talking more. 

After three-and-a-half years together, Bryan proposed while on a trip to Thailand. On the island of Kohlanta, he told Shamora that he’d made an exclusive restaurant reservation. “As I was getting dressed, I noticed a few things out of the ordinary like the rearranged lawn furniture of the resort…and the photo shoot Bryan suggested we take before the restaurant—he hates pictures,” Shamora says. 

They walked over to a beautiful area overlooking a cliff, and the hotel receptionist snapped a few photos. Then, music began to play, and Bryan was down on one knee!

The couple’s original plan was to host a destination wedding on April 4, 2020 but the stress of planning took over, and they shifted to turning their engagement party in Washington D.C. into a surprise wedding. The venue, women-owned brewery Republic Restoratives, was already booked, since they decided on the surprise two months out from the date. “It has the industrial warehouse look, with exposed cinder-block walls, open ceilings, polished cement floors, and shiny metal piping where their signature spirits are made,” Shamora explains. “It didn’t take much to transition from an engagement party to a wedding because the space was so adaptable.”

“The most exciting part of planning was designing my custom-made dress,” Shamora says. The idea for the gown was inspired by a particular night out with her friends, while she was attending Howard University. By some strange fate, everyone at this particular spot was wearing white, except for her—she was in a colorful dashiki. Ever since that moment, Shamora dreamed of wearing a colorful gown, while everyone else was dressed in white. 

Through Instagram, the bride found her dream designer, Syreeta C Fashion, and she shared her Pinterest board with design details: long sleeves, culotte jumpsuit, ruffled bottom, and detachable train. The next step was sourcing the fabric, and after not finding what she imagined, Shamora decided to design her own floral print.

“When the jumpsuit dress was finally finished, I was floored,” she says. “Syreeta was able to make my dream dress of 10 years—my vision—into a beautiful work of art.” And on the day-of, the bride got ready with her friend and makeup artist ByLingaLooks, who traveled from Atlanta to support Shamora.

On June 1, 2019 in the private wine barrel room upstairs, the couple’s fathers led the surprise ceremony. “Both of our fathers practice spirituality in their own right, with my father, a Goddess Priest, and Bryan’s father a Babalou,” Shamora explains. “Thus, we gave them the honor of creating our nuptial ceremony, and they made it beautiful, meaningful, and deeply rooted in our foundation of love.”

And none of their friends or family knew it was a wedding ceremony until Shamora started walking down the aisle! “Our guests had never heard of a surprise wedding at all and were completely taken aback,” the bride says. “I remember hearing gasps and squeals, as I entered the room for the first time.”

After sharing heartfelt vows and being pronounced as husband and wife, the newlyweds were greeted with hoots and hollers, as they made their way downstairs. Shamora took off her train and skipped to the dance floor to perform a choreographed dance with Bryan to “Time of Our Lives” by Pitbull, followed by the father-daughter, mother-son, and mother-daughter dances.

Then Bryan’s band performed a set that had everyone energized on the dance floor. And later, the new Mr. and Mrs. performed an original song Shamora had written, called “I See Light,” and the two cut their red velvet and carrot wedding cake from Baked & Wired.

Near the end of the night, Shamora and her bridesmaids danced a choreographed routine and glow sticks were passed out. “Our guests sang us off at the top of their lungs to the song ‘We are Young’ by Fun,” the bride remembers. “It was just magical.”

After the reception, Shamora and Bryan went home to make a quick change for the after-party. And they rejoined their friends at a music hall, where they danced the night away on the rooftop.

The next day, they all took wedding portraits at The Arboretum, followed by a bottomless brunch in downtown D.C. Unfortunately, their June 2020 honeymoon in Asia was cancelled, but they spent three heavenly weeks in Mexico instead.