It wasn’t a big, staged moment—but the engagement of David L. and Johnny T. Lester-Massey of Atlanta, Georgia, is one many modern couples might recognize.
They were attending an event in December 2017 where David was set to speak. “We do a lot of public health events with HIV and AIDS awareness,” Johnny explains, “and I didn’t want to always show up at these stellar functions as somebody’s boyfriend. I told him that day, ‘I would like to show up as your husband.’”
“It was real matter of fact,” David says. “There was no get-down-on-the-knee, there was no magical moment at all.”
Still, their relationship up until that point—and the wedding that followed—offered up plenty of magic. They’d met in spring 2013, when Johnny was trying to cast folks for a reality TV project. “While the project never happened, he and I did,” Johnny laughs.
As opposed to their very practical proposal, the couple decided to go big when shopping for their wedding bands. “I’m all about the bling,” David says. “I wanted anybody who looked at this ring to know we’re married, and we’re married for real.”
The couple went to Atlanta West Jewelry, where a staffer asked them to describe their ideal rings. “I wanted it to be a diamond. I wanted white gold. I wanted to make a statement. And I wanted them to be identical,” David says. The staffer presented two bands with stunning rows of diamond baguettes, and “When she pulled the rings out, I saw the look in David’s eyes,” Johnny says, “and it was like, ‘This is what I’m talking about.’”
The Dress Code
If you could get married any place in the world, where would it be? David asked his fiance as they began to plan. “And he said, ‘I had the most awesome time in Italy with you,’” David recalls. “I said, ‘Italy it is.’”
The couple had traveled to Rome previously when David, a talented singer, was invited to perform in a private concert for Pope Francis. They decided to set their celebration at the Ca’Sagredo Hotel in Venice after spotting the former palace on Instagram, and to complement the ornate interiors, the Lester-Masseys had ensembles custom-made in Lagos, Nigeria.
The designer was yet another Instagram find: Brown-Inspired Luxury, who helped the pair create an “African-inspired look” of collarless tunics in floral patterns over a slim pant because, “I hate, cannot stand, loathe ties,” David confesses. His outfit was primarily black, with white flowers, and Johnny’s was the reverse.
“In Italy, color schemes for prominent weddings are black and white,” Johnny says. “It’s very classic, very clean,” says David.
“When you stepped into the venue, it literally was like ahhhh. The scenery of it all, the ambiance,” Johnny says. “It was overwhelming.” They were married by a minister who flew over from Las Vegas for the occasion.
“I knew that he could tie together all the things that Johnny and I stand for. We represent the African-American community, the LGBT community, the serodiscordant community,” says David, referring to the term that describes a couple in which one person is living with HIV and one is not. “He did a fantastic job.”
Candles played a big role in the Lester-Massey wedding celebration. The couple lit a unity candle during the ceremony, then more candles for their grandparents who had passed away. Finally, they ignited a series of tealights arranged in the shape of an AIDS ribbon.
The couple arrived at the ceremony separately, and little did Johnny know that David was hustling to get into place so he could sing him down the aisle.
He performed the song that Johnny had shared he always dreamt of entering his wedding to: “I Believe in You and Me.” “When I began to sing, he was shocked. We were both like, this is really happening,” David says. “We waited for so long, and this is now our moment.”
“He remembered!” Johnny says. “It was the small things like that which made the day so amazing.”