Many moons ago, Jesse Greenblatt and Sam Walker met when they were undergrads at Wesleyan University. “One night we both ended up at Wesleyan’s coveted (and only) campus bar, The Cardinal’s Nest,” she explains. All of her friends had bailed on her at the last minute, but thankfully she spotted an acquaintance there chatting with Sam. “Our friend introduced us to each other and we made the connection that we had a class together and lived in the same dorm. We ended up talking at the bar the rest of the night until close.”
Seven years later, Jesse had finished up her graduate school exams (she’s pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at George Washington University) and was about to kick off her spring break with a little retail therapy, while Sam (a senior manager at a D.C. solar energy company) had started planning a surprise proposal at their shared home. “When I opened the door, I first saw our bulldog Buddha in a tux and then Sam walking towards me with a jewelry box,” she says. “I dropped all of my shopping bags and screamed.” The newly engaged couple then celebrated with friends at a restaurant in D.C. and the next day jetted off to Miami for a long-weekend getaway.
After initially considering hosting their wedding either in Miami and Tulum, the couple decided on having it in Washington, D.C., where they had been living together for the last three years. “We ultimately decided we could bring that fun and tropical feel to D.C.,” Jesse says. They found Dock 5 at Union Market, a large warehouse space with a food market attached to it, and felt like it was the perfect venue for their special day. “Sam grew up in New York, so we wanted a space that reflected the industrial feel of the city, and my mom’s side of the family is from Barbados, so it was important for us to also include some tropical, Caribbean elements,” she adds. “It was your classic interracial-Jewish-tropical-meets-D.C. wedding!”
With the wedding date set for late August, the couple started planning much of the event on their own, but later hired Amelia Colette and Kelsey Bethune of Tart Event Co as their partial planners about six months before their big day. “We also received design and style consultation from Dawn and Lauren at Something Vintage Rentals. Both groups worked so well together; they really brought our exact vision to life.”
Jesse knew she wanted a dress that would be easy to dance in. “I spent a weekend with my mother, mother-in-law, and two sisters looking for a dress,” she explains. “My sisters, in particular, are budding style gurus and both extremely blunt. I had no doubt that they would not tell me something looked good just to be nice.” She ended up going with the second dress she tried on: a gown by Kelly Faetanini. “I loved the way the dress felt on, it was easy to move in and super comfortable,” she adds. She had a veil made by Basia Custom Headresses and Accessories in New York, and for jewelry she chose Oscar de la Renta bamboo leaf earrings paired with a simple gold bracelet from Sachi Jewelry that Sam gifted her.
Meanwhile the groom wore a custom navy Seize sur Vingt suit he found at Groupe NY. As an added special touch, his mother worked with the team at Seize sur Vingt to design custom ties for Sam and his groomsmen that were made from a tropical leaf watercolor print she had painted. As for all of their attendants, the couple instructed them to wear outfits as if they were spending a night in Miami.
Jesse admits the ceremony was her favorite part of their wedding. The couple, who were both raised Jewish, had a reformed Jewish ceremony officiated by her family’s rabbi. “We told him we really valued having an inclusive, community-oriented ceremony and he knocked it out of the park,” she says. As an interracial couple, it was important for them to represent both of their families cultures in the ceremony. “At the end of the ceremony, after Sam stepped on the glass, we also “jumped the broom,” an African-American tradition that originated during slavery, which symbolizes sweeping away the old and jumping into a new beginning together.”
The reception at Dock 5 followed and instead of doing a traditional sit down menu, the couple offered a free-flowing, food market set up. They worked with Natalie Walker of Well Dunn Events to set up various food stations around the venue, including a prosciutto/mozzarella station, an oyster bar, an Asian station with fried rice and dumplings, a made-to-order pasta station from their favorite local Italian restaurant, a mezze station, and an arepa one, too. “We both love margaritas, so in addition to the big main bar, we had a smaller, one offering frozen and on the rocks margaritas—it was a bit hit,” the bride says. For dessert, they offered cupcakes and cookies from D.C. bakery Baked & Wired, who also made the chocolate wedding cake.
Speeches from friends and family followed, and Sam’s father chose his toast to talk about the importance of the Zulu word “ubuntu.” “The word, made popular by Nelson Mandela, essentially means ‘I am because you are.’ It reflects the importance of interconnection and collectivism,” says Jesse. “As Sam’s father explained in his toast, about a year before I met Sam, I learned about the word from a book I was reading, and it really inspired me. I ended up getting a small tattoo on my neck that says Ubuntu. Fast forward a year later, when Sam and I were just starting to get to know each other, and he spotted my tattoo one night. When he asked me what it said, I began to launch into the meaning, when he interrupted me and said, ‘Jesse, I know the word Ubuntu. I spent some time living in South Africa and wrote about the concept of Ubuntu in my college essay.’ Mind blown.”
For their first dance, the couple danced to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” sung by former American Idol contestant Les Greene, and which their DJ, Marvin Meyers, later mixed with Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis.” “Everyone went crazy on the dance floor when the beat drop,” the bride recalls. After hours of dancing, Jesse’s good friend Shermika surprised guests with a live Carnivale dance performance. “She led us in a 200 plus conga line to the parking lot for the after party,” Jesse says. “I have never seen my mom dance so hard. She got down!”
An after-party at Cotton and Reed, D.C.’s first rum and distillery bar, closed out the night, but the party was far from over for Sam and Jesse. “Our best friends convinced us to join them for Burning Man, so we left for the desert the next day,” she says. “Our parents thought we were crazy, but we both agreed it was perfect honeymoon for us and a great way to keep the celebration going!”