The first time Michael Gordon asked Kerry-Anne Perkins out on a date, she said no.
It was 2013, and Kerry-Anne was focused on medical school, not dating. Plus, they'd met at their gym in Philadelphia, where Kerry-Anne's mind was on her workout. "I'm not here to find a man," she recalls thinking, adding that she "didn't like being approached in the gym."
But they had mutual friends and kept in touch over the years. When Kerry-Anne moved to New York for her residency in gynecology, the two continued to text sporadically. Sometimes it would take Kerry-Anne several months to respond, but he didn't give up.
"He was absolutely really patient and he was a gentleman," Kerry-Anne says.
He was very patient. Seven years after that first meeting at the gym, they got married in Philadelphia, with Black Lives Matters protesters witnessing them together and cheering their union.
In 2015, they had their first date. Kerry-Anne came to the Philadelphia suburbs, where Michael lived, and they went out for a quiet dinner. "That moment sparked it all," says Michael, now a 42-year-old engineer and product manager. "After that, we became a little more direct with each other. We started talking more and spending time together more."
They dated long distance, from Philadelphia to New York, relishing short visits of 12 to 48 hours. "We just made it quality time, and have really good memories," says Kerry-Anne, 35. She said that "there were definitely a lot of moments of loneliness. . . . We tried to make up for it with long conversations late at night."
Kerry-Anne says that, for them, the key to weathering the long distance was to always have the next visit scheduled on the calendar so that there was something to look forward to. They took turns planning special dates that they'd both enjoy.
They got engaged in January 2019, Kerry-Anne moved back to Philadelphia and they started planning a wedding for May 2020. Then the coronavirus pandemic happened. They postponed their large celebration but didn't want to wait to get married. So they found additional vendors and planned a smaller wedding with 21 family members on Saturday at the Logan Hotel.
When it was time for their first look before the ceremony, Black Lives Matters protesters were walking on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, headed to where Kerry-Anne was waiting to meet Michael. Suddenly hundreds of strangers spotted Kerry-Anne in her wedding dress. They started cheering and yelling "Congratulations," while surrounding her and telling her that her groom better treat her right.
Out of the throngs of people, Michael appeared and grabbed her hand, and the couple raised their fists in joyous solidarity with the protesters. Holding hands as the crowd around them hoisted protest signs and banged on drums, Kerry-Anne blew Michael a kiss. "We were just feeling the people and the love around us," Kerry-Anne says of the spontaneous demonstration of love, in the middle of a roving Black Lives Matter protest. "It was so powerful."
The protest wasn't about them, but Michael says they support the Black Lives Matter movement, adding that "black love matters," too. "We were there as black love. … We're so happy to have an opportunity to put a positive spin on the movement, the day, all of it."
The night before the ceremony, Kerry-Anne had told her officiant, the Rev. Roxy Birchfield, that she didn't want her to post any pictures on social media. But when Birchfield saw the protesters celebrating them, she had to capture it. "I could not help putting that on the internet," Birchfield says of the video she posted on Instagram. "The world needs to see this." After the fact, Kerry-Anne said she was fine with it, and asked Birchfield to tag her. (Birchfield was also one of the officiants on Netflix's recent hit "Love Is Blind.")
The Philadelphia Inquirer, Vogue and other outlets wrote about the couple.
For the minister, watching the couple holding hands with their fists in the air reminded her of God creating a rainbow for Noah after the flood.
"Though it feels like everyone is turning on everybody … there is hope. I had hope again," says Birchfield. "It was amazing to see an image of not just black life, but black family."
After a few minutes of cheers, the protesters marched on, and Kerry-Anne and Michael walked down the aisle to say their vows.