By Magdaline Mbong

On December 16, 2023, Jamaica-born Michelle Sophia Williams married François Mayesi, who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at Saint Paul’s Anglican Church on Congress Street in Portland. The couple chose to have a traditional U.S.-style wedding ceremony, complete with a white dress for the bride, a formal suit for the groom, and a tiered wedding cake. They also incorporated elements of their Jamaican and Congolese cultures, thereby creating a unique, personalized experience for members of the wedding party and guests alike. The couple said their aim was to show respect and appreciation for each other’s cultures, while creating their own unique blend of traditions and values.

The wedding included a mass in English and a reading in French by Pastor Jean Pierre Mulopo, a relative of the groom. On the dance floor, a mixed group moved to the tunes of Papa Wemba’s songs in Lingala. During the second phase of the reception party, an elderly Congolese man, Vincent Mwamba, broke into song – and more than half the guests joined the chorus. Celebrants were the very Reverend Andrew S. Fraust, Rev. Father Gray Drinkwater, and Rev. Bryan M. Dench.

The bride’s cousin and friend, Donalee Jones Lindo, also Jamaican, spoke to the couple, emphasizing the bride’s joyous temperament, and reminding the newlyweds about the importance of lovingly navigating their cultural boundaries. “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, and always with the same person. A great marriage is not when a perfect couple comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences,” she said.

The couple met and fell in love in Jamaica. According to the groom, his new wife’s son had a hand in the union. “It was Michelle’s son who initiated it all when he once told me [he wanted me] to be his stepfather. [At that time], I didn’t even know what the word stepfather meant!” Mayesi said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of married couple households that are interracial or interethnic in the U.S. increased from 7.4% in 2000 to 10.2% in 2012-2016. However, this change varied across states and counties. For Maine, this percentage was 3.9% in 2012-2016, which was slightly higher than the 3.6% in 2000. The most common type of interracial or interethnic marriage in Maine was often between non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics, followed by non-Hispanic whites and Asians.

The groom works for Hope Acts, on Sherman Street in Portland. When Hope House Executive Director Martha Stein and her employees, residents, clients, and volunteers learned about the wedding, they got involved right away. Program Director Alice Kabore organized a reception at the church and a party that evening at Hope House. The group decorated, emceed the event,
prepared food and took part in the wedding itself. “It was a beautiful, heartful event,” Stein said. “Everyone at Hope Acts cares deeply about François, and we were so happy to be part of this special day. I especially loved that François wrote a couple of songs for Michelle and organized a small chorus to sing his composition in English and French.”

Jamaican and Congolese influences incorporated into Mayesi-Williams wedding

Jamaica is known for its lush tropical scenery, so the event was held in a setting that included
fresh greenery, white flowers, and the rustic wood of the Anglican church.

Reggae music, an important part of Jamaican culture, played during the first half of the reception

For most people in Congo, a religious ceremony at a church is the main event of the wedding.
Mayesi and Williams held their ceremony at the Anglican Church. A civil ceremony, including;
the signing of the marriage certificate, preceded the church wedding.

The couple enjoyed two receptions on their wedding day, complete with both Jamaican and
Congolese cuisine, music, and entertainment.

In Congo, the groom’s family presents gifts to the bride’s family as a show of respect and
appreciation, and showers the bride with praise, both in church and during the two receptions.