Church Ceremony with Nigerian Traditions + Chic Ballroom Reception

Mercy Odueyungbo and Antonio Jackson

Photographed by: Carasco PhotographyLocation: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Antonio Jackson didn’t make the smoothest of entrances into Mercy Odueyungbo’s life. He physically ran into her at the student union of the University of Iowa in 2002. Mercy asked for an apology, but instead received a puzzled stare. “I was stunned and could not speak,” Antonio recalls of his reaction. While Mercy may have initially thought Antonio’s response was simply a lack of manners from a college football athlete, he confesses that her brown eyes were the true cause. “Those eyes literally left me speechless,” Antonio shares. Despite his lackluster first impression, the groom made his own luck days later when he asked Mercy to be his science tutor. They became friends and a romance bloomed when she started medical school.

Over a decade after their initial run in, Antonio was ready to propose and began by asking Mercy’s parents for their blessing. “I was extremely nervous,” the groom admits. But the Odueyungbos turned out to be very supportive and helpful in organizing the wedding. “They are incredible people,” he says. “I gained a wife, a mom, and a dad.” Parental blessing secure, Antonio now had to plan a proposal as special as his future bride. Familiar with his love’s personality and ability to embarrass easily, he knew a showy public display would not be the right move. However, he did want it to be a surprise, which would be tricky to pull off considering he lived in Detroit at the time, while Mercy resided in New York City. That’s where her sister, Ope, provided assistance by faking an illness when her big sister tried to get together for a shopping trip. Instead of finding an ill younger sister, Mercy came home to discover a trail of roses leading to Antonio on one knee holding the little blue box so many women dream about. “I could not control the tears and excitement,” shares Mercy.

On a November afternoon, nine months later, it was time for Antonio and Mercy to become husband and wife. Cultural traditions from the bride’s Nigerian heritage were included in the ceremony. The wedding began with Mercy’s family and friends dancing to songs of their choice for 10 minutes, with Antonio’s family following in the same manner. The service then commenced with a prayer from one of the elders of Mercy’s Nigerian community. The groom looked dapper in a custom-made navy tuxedo with ebony lapels, contrasting with his eight groomsmen clad in classic black tuxedos.

The bride’s mother and father escorted her down the aisle. “They have both been equally present in my life,” says Mercy of her choice. She stunned guests in an A-line gown featuring an illusion back and beading detail on the train. Her seven bridesmaids exuded elegance in floor-length midnight dresses, all with long lace sleeves except for the maid of honor, whose frock boasted a sequined bodice and cap sleeves. The bouquets composed of orchids – Mercy’s favorite flower – and roses in varying pink shades carried by the bride and her attendants offered a preview of the floral décor of the ensuing celebration.

Centerpieces showcased large arrangements of ivory orchids and roses in vanilla, blush, and magenta hues accented by floating candles. The true focal point of the reception, however, was the extravagant six-tiered cake standing over five feet tall and embellished with an assortment of champagne roses. “Our wedding cake was definitely the star of the design,” Mercy enthuses. Small candles surrounding the confection added warmth to the look.

Consistent with her decision to have both of her parents give her away, the bride participated in a father-daughter and a mother-daughter dance. For their first dance as husband and wife, the newlyweds selected a modern take on a classic tune, swaying to Lauryn Hill’s cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Continuing the hip-hop influence of the festivities, halfway through the night Mercy asked the DJ to play a handful of rap hits. The younger attendees formed a circle around the couple, creating a dance-hall vibe for 10 fun-filled minutes. “The ambience and décor was definitely black tie, however the music and [energetic] wedding party, along with many of the guests, turned it into an outright party,” tells Antonio.

Communication is key for the bride and groom – for orchestrating the wedding and beyond. Antonio notes the importance of knowing your soon-to-be wife. “If she is a super planner, support and encourage her ideas and help with the execution. If planning is not her thing, pick up the slack in that area and communicate,” he explains. For her part, Mercy advises future brides to not sweat the small stuff. “Enjoy every minute of it, no matter what goes wrong, as something will always go wrong,” she says smiling. Having followed this recommendation herself, Mercy gladly reports that her wedding “was truly one of the best days of [her] life.”