On May 17, 2006, Benjamin Okeke was on a flight from Baltimore to Boston, dripping with sweat and clutching his chest. The other passengers stared. Was this man having a heart attack?
He wasn’t—he was terrified. In about two hours, Benjamin would be asking his girlfriend, Angelique Manning, to marry him. For the past month, he had kept the cushion-cut diamond in a bulletproof, 007-style briefcase. But when airport security wouldn’t let the briefcase through, he had to move the ring to his left shirt pocket. He clutched the pocket tight and waited to land.
Benjamin, a Colorado native, and Angelique, who grew up in DC, met in 2003 at a law conference in Puerto Rico. There they discovered they were both students at Howard University’s School of Law—and that they both attended DC’s St. Augustine Catholic Church and lived two blocks from each other.
After one night on the Puerto Rican beach, talking and looking at the moon, Angelique knew Benjamin was the one. After three years of dating, Benjamin knew, too. He also knew he couldn’t propose on a holiday or anniversary—that was too predictable—so in early 2006, he shut his eyes, pointed at the calendar, and landed on the May date. He bought a ticket to Boston, where Angelique was working, and hatched his plan.
“The firm Angelique worked at had lunchtime training sessions, so I’m like, ‘I’ll sneak in during one of those and fill her office with flowers,’ ” says Benjamin, a lawyer at the US Patent and Trademark Office. “I called her friends and got a team together—people picking up tulips, a camera crew to catch her surprise, a person running interference.”
When his plane landed, Benjamin rushed to Angelique’s office.
“I open the door and I see Benjamin sitting at my desk, and I start to shake,” says Angelique. “I backed out and closed the door. I was thinking it had to be bad news—I didn’t see the flowers.” When she went back in, Benjamin got down on one knee.
The next day, Angelique was offered a job at Dow Lohnes, a law firm in DC. Fifteen months later, the Waldorf couple threw a Washington wedding that kicked off with a charity golf tournament in honor of Benjamin’s dad, who died of cancer when Benjamin was nine.
After a Catholic ceremony at St. Augustine, they blended Benjamin’s Nigerian heritage into the reception: They changed into Nigerian dress and dined on traditional cuisine such as jollof rice and chin chin, a West African dessert. Table names were printed in Igbo, Benjamin’s family’s native language.
The DJ mixed in Nigerian rituals like the money dance, meant to bless the newlyweds. The idea: The couple works up a sweat so that bills stick to them.
“You dance and dance and people throw money at you,” says Angelique. “My family was like, ‘Wow.’ ”
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