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In June of 2020, we published an initial list of 70+ Black-owned wedding businesses. As part of our ongoing efforts to highlight and promote Black-owned businesses, we’ve started this series featuring individual vendors.
Today we're featuring Officiant Jimmie, an Oregon-based wedding officiant specializing in elopements in the Pacific Northwest. Many of these weddings take place in gorgeous places - on secluded beaches, snow-capped mountains, and other locations that likely require hiking boots. We sat down with Jimmie to talk about his path to becoming an officiant, his commitment to "seal it with a shot," and his experience as a Black business owner in the wedding industry.
What were you doing before you started officiating?
I have a background in working with at-risk youth. My job was as a peer support specialist where I helped students and young adults around our county who needed to be seen and heard and have their needs met. Right now my full-time job other than officiating is as an educational assistant at a middle school.
How did you start officiating?
Two of my best friends asked me to officiate their wedding - honestly, I never saw myself as the type of person to marry people, because I assumed to be an officiant you either had to be super religious or you had to look like somebody's aunt or uncle. And I was like, I don't really fit either of those criteria, but I found that I really enjoyed the process of building the ceremony script. When it came to the day of, I loved basically being a hype man for a couple in love - people I genuinely cared for.
And so I started thinking, “I wonder if I could do this as a little side hustle, maybe some couples who want to get married out in the middle of nowhere with somebody who's able bodied and isn't strict about religious beliefs when it comes to weddings. Maybe they'll come and find me.” I've done 94 ceremonies in three years and I'm already on track to clear about 30 more for this year alone.
How does the process work of getting to know your couples?
I'll talk to them, get to know them over the phone, and then I'll send them out a couples’ questionnaire, which basically asks, how'd you guys meet? What are some of your favorite things, like movies or TV shows or songs? What are three silly habits or facts that you know about each other? I really like stressing with couples that this is meant to be my inside look at the two of them. It's my chance to get to know them on a close and intimate basis and then bring it up on the wedding day.
What's your favorite thing about being an officiant?
The intimacy of it all. I get to see a love story that becomes so beautifully complex and unique grow into one of the biggest unions that you could ever imagine. I would argue marriage is possibly one of the most intense and really resounding things a couple can do together. So for them to trust me as the third guy to kind of lead them over that bridge to the next part of life, I think that's my favorite part.
I've made it part of my personal mission as an officiant to leave them with a little memento of the day. I make every ceremony script for my couples a hundred percent unique, and then I make sure to give them the ceremony script afterward in a brown envelope.
What would you say is the most extreme venue you've ever had to get to?
There's this place in Washington, the North Cascades. And there's an absolutely stunning, beautiful couple that I love dearly named the Foxes - Gabi and Brandon. They're the kind of hop in a van, go live their life on the road, photography couple. The hike itself was only about two and a half miles. And I was like, “Oh, two and a half miles, that's not super bad. I'm not out of shape. When it comes time to play a pickup game of basketball, I'll go pretty hard, or I'll go on walks. I’m not a workout junkie, but I can handle that no problem.”
...It was brutal. It was an absolutely stunning view. I couldn't even describe to you the look of the view - it felt like one of those things you would see on National Geographic when we actually got to our elopement spot. It was beautiful, but I kid you not, I probably sweated a good six pounds that day just getting my workout climbing up.
What is your favorite moment at every wedding?
My favorite moment is when I get to describe the couple’s love story or hype them up and tell them, “Hey, this is how we got to this location” - kind of playing the greatest hits of their life. Seeing that look on their face as I go along and weave them through the story of the two of them feeling like, “Hey, this is so cool. That was us. That's something that we got to do. That's something that we did experience.” It’s almost a combination of inside jokes told in a very loving and caring way to show them that this isn't just some accident - you guys were fated to do this.
My other favorite moment in my ceremony is getting to do what I call a “Seal it With a Shot” with all my couples. We do a shot of alcohol or beer or wine or whatever the couple wants to do. Couples are just so taken aback and so excited to be like, “Wait, we get to do like a shot of whiskey right now? That’s so awesome!” It’s my way of being like cheers to all that you have coming your way.
Could you talk about your experience as a Black business owner in the wedding space?
It really is a surprise being an officiant who is BIPOC, because the wedding industry is greatly lacking in diversity and lacking in color. Especially here in the PNW, because there's just not a lot of people of color in the area. I think with my experience as a wedding vendor, it's been one of those things where people have been almost pleasantly surprised, like “That's really cool that we happen to have a Black officiant.”
It also is something that helps me add representation, just like how I work in a middle school with students who are maybe not having the best home life or who come from a background similar to mine based on their skin tone. To see someone like me in that role, who's an adult and is there to guide them along this crazy path called life, is something that's huge.
Along with being able to see all these beautiful spots and locations for elopements and seeing some absolutely incredible things, it has been a really big reminder in the past couple of years why I never felt super comfortable going to some of these places as well.
My dad is Black and my mother is Hispanic, and when we moved to Oregon, we dealt with a lot of prejudices. I still remember the first time we went to our family church, which my parents have been going to for over 20 years now. I remember my dad, because he is a darker man, people in the pews were kind of turning around, looking and thinking, “Who’s this guy, like there’s a Black guy in our church?” And feeling that reminder that you're different and people notice that. So we never really traveled much around the state unless we knew specifically where we were going. There’s that fear because my dad is from the South and grew up in the sixties, so he was very united with those pains and traumas.
As an officiant, especially with as much time has gone along, you want to believe that things are so different, but every time I’d go to any offshoot from the state or a highway here in Oregon, I would always be greeted with Trump flags. This feeling of: you are a black man who lives in Oregon and that's not always a good thing.
My partner Meg really nailed it on the head - she goes on a lot of elopements with me. When she dropped me off for one of the elopement spots, she had pulled up on the side of the road a little ways away to change our baby's diaper and had two or three cars of people slow down, pull over like, “Hey, you okay? Everything all good?” Just seeing a single mom taking care of her baby, thinking, "Oh that's fine." And she was telling me how it made her realize and put into perspective that if it were me pulled over on the side of the road, either on a random country road or close by housing where there are not a lot of people of color, it wouldn't be greeted with, “Hey, how can we help you?” It'd be more of a, “What are you doing out here?”
It's been one of the things that I've known about most of my life, and even though the George Floyd tragedy was a tragedy, it in its own way has been something that's really opened up a lot of conversations and opened up a lot of people to experience something or think about something that they might not have. It’s led a lot of hard truths to arise, but at the same time, I think it's given people more perspective that we’ve got a lot of work to do.
I'm a big believer that it's a matter of perspective in life. I think that there is something to be said about a tragedy that it took this long to get us here. But I think the biggest tragedy would be if it took us here but then nothing changed afterwards.
As part of our series highlighting Black-owned wedding businesses, we’ve chosen to donate to a charity of the business owner’s choice with each post. Jimmie chose Oregon Health & Sciences University, specifically the brain institute of the children's hospital.