When Whitney first met Siya, it wasn’t necessarily love at first sight. Truth be told, the event she met him at in Brooklyn, “I absolutely did not want to go,” she recalls to ESSENCE. Something else she had no interest in? Dating. She didn’t want to mix nor mingle, instead focused on creative execution agency, 19th & Park, but she allowed herself to be persuaded into attending this particular party in support of a friend — and because there was food there. So when she was introduced to Siya, she didn’t think anything of it at first.
“I went about my business and proceeded to station myself in a chair with my full plate of food and he kept coming over and asking me questions,” she says. Despite that, she found that she wasn’t bothered by his presence.
When the two encountered one another at the after-party, Whitney, of Bahamian descent, was taken by the soca tunes. Siya came up to her and asked her to dance (which she would find out later was something he does NOT do). The dance would draw them closer, as they continued to communicate as the night went on. By the end of it, he smoothly asked for her number to call while she was driving back to her home in New Jersey to make sure she and her friend got home safely. She appreciated his concern, and would also appreciate the text message that would follow.
“The next day, he sends me a text message: ‘With everything going on yesterday, I forgot when we said we would get back together. How’s Sunday at 2 p.m.? I made us a reservation just in case,’” she says. “Obviously, we had never made any future plans but I appreciated the intentionality of it all, so I said ‘of course.’”
The rest, as they say, is history. The two would would hit it off swimmingly, which Siya felt would happen when he first laid eyes on her at that party.
“I’m a person who believes in love or the idea of it and I romanticize moments. The first time that I saw Whitney in Brooklyn at African Chop House, I knew I had to try and be as close to her as possible,” he says.
They would eventually grow as a couple, sharing a home together and according to Whitney, doing “all of these married people things without married people documents.” After some discussion in 2020, they decided that by 2022 they would get married, but she had no idea that Siya had already started preparing to propose. He went to a minority woman-owned jeweler to design a ring for her, which he drew by hand, and got all their friends and family involved in the proposal in a clever way amid the pandemic (more on that shortly!). Nearly two years later, on the weekend of June 11, 2022, the couple said “I do” in grand fashion, celebrating with a three-day event called Camp Madikane (which is Siya’s surname). It was a play on the sleepaway camps of childhood, filled with food, fun and opportunities for people to make connections. It involved a welcome event with stilt walkers, a steel drum band and flamingo girls, as well as a gospel brunch on the final day. Sandwiched in between was the beautiful wedding ceremony. It was attended by loved ones from all over the world, brought together at the Hutton Brickyards in Kingston, New York, two hours away from the city.
“These were really different people from all different walks of life/countries/cities,” Siya says. “They came for us and did not even know each other but were all getting along.”
Camp Madikane, made to create community and celebrate it as well, was a treat not only for friends and family, but most of all, for the newest Mr. and Mrs. Madikane.
“Everything was perfect because we made sure we did it our way,” Whitney says. “Now, we have all of these memories, from start to finish, that we will cherish and look back on forever and that is what is really important.”
They are memories that the couple decided to share with ESSENCE! Check out stunning images from the big day, and learn more about the love story behind it in this week’s Bridal Bliss.
Wedding Location: Hutton Brickyards
Creative Direction: Whitney Headen of 19th & Park (the bride)
Wedding Stylist: Jenna Tyson
Caterer: Chef Tiffani Janelle
Groom’s and Groomsmens’ Suits: Custom by 5001 Flavors
Photographer: Stanley Babb
Videographer: Bricks Group Media
Florals: Javier Valentino
Wedding Dress: Custom Ghalia Lahav designed by the bride. Dresses were coordinated by Vainglorious Brides.
Wedding Planner: Tricia Smith Brown
How the Bride Knew She’d Found the One
“I knew I found my person after our first date. As cliché as it sounds, everything was just so easy,” Whitney says. “Conversations flowed seamlessly, and we genuinely had so many things in common. He was one of the first men who I didn’t feel was intimidated by my personality and could also humble me very quickly. My usual pick-up lines or talks of all my world travels didn’t faze him and he was so attentive and interested in everything I had to say. It was refreshing. We started the date at a fancy restaurant where he treated everyone like family, and by the end of the night, we were rapping all the lyrics to Nipsey Hussle while eating tater tots at a dive bar and I knew then, even with all my resistance, that this was my person.”
How the Groom Knew He’d Found the One
“The moment that sealed it for me was at my friend’s wedding in Italy,” Siya says. “Whitney had just come from a work trip in Cannes, so if she had told me she was tired, I would have understood. Instead, Whitney dove into the trip with both feet and did not complain if anything went wrong, but she made sure that I knew when she wasn’t pleased and when I needed to do better and communicate with her and all would be ok. This is something that, in the past, would have been handled poorly by me. The trip and my friend’s wedding was really good for two reasons: This was our first wedding and our first trip together. After that trip, I wanted to see Whitney nearly every day to the point that I would make excuses just to go to her office, bringing snacks and libations.”
Siya put a lot of thought into popping the question. “He contacted my best friend to trick me into thinking I had a photoshoot the night before, so the two of us could stay at a hotel while he literally transformed our living room into a nightclub venue,” Whitney says. The day of the proposal, he had her meet him for lunch at one of their favorite restaurants, and that’s where he worked his magic. “I get to the restaurant and we are outside at this mini glass hut and he has the entire place decorated with flowers with music playing looking SO nervous,” she says. “He had a voice note from his birth mother in South Africa playing in their native tongue and when I asked what she was saying, he got down on one knee and said, ‘She is welcoming you into our tribe, if you will have us.’ At this exact moment, our family and friends come out of the bushes, jumping up and down, cheering, and popping champagne bottles. After that, we head back to our house, which I had no idea he fully transformed into our own personal nightclub (remember, Covid times) with all of our closest friends, family, favorite chef, a DJ…everything! On top of all of that, he had all of our family and friends who couldn’t be there on Zoom. They all stayed on and partied with us almost the entire night. It was truly a magical event.”
The Welcome Party
“Siya and I like to say that we are professional wedding attendees, so we overly understand what goes into the day and the things that we wanted to include or not. One of the things that always seems unfair to traveling guests with destination weddings is that they are only one day and then you’re in a foreign country or place just trying to figure it out on your own,” the bride says. “Although our wedding was in New York, it was two hours outside of the city and we had so many people traveling internationally. We knew we wanted to host a full weekend event. The idea for the welcome really stemmed from both of our cultures: I’m Bahamian and Siya is South African and one thing we both love to do is party. Again, community is important to us and there is no better communal event than a Caribbean carnival. This event was really about breaking the ice and setting the tone for the weekend. We wanted people to loosen up and just have a good time without the worries of everything else that comes with the actual wedding ceremony. The dress code was intentionally casual and we had custom drinks, live performances from a steel drum band, stilt walkers, and flamingo girls.”
The Gospel Brunch
“The Sunday gospel brunch was also something that was really important to us. We are both very spiritual people and our connection to God is one of the things that holds us together,” Whitney says. “With the brunch, we were looking to create a feeling of upliftment that people could take away with them. On top of that, we are both from the South — of Africa and the United States, so we wanted something that felt like a cookout or as South Africans would call it, ‘a braai,’ which is also all about community. People were hugging, crying, and so thankful by the end of the night.”
The Theme Is Camp
“The idea of camp came about because our wedding was all about community. The most important aspect for us was that we were bringing everyone we loved, from all over the world, together for probably the only time ever in our history. We had people traveling from Africa, Korea, The Bahamas, Sweden, England, and more to celebrate with us for the weekend. And what other place do you get to meet that many people from diverse backgrounds but camp?” Whitney says. “I personally never went to sleepaway camp as a child (blame my southern Caribbean parents) but this is what I imagined the experience to be like. From there, Camp Madikane was born and we found the perfect venue to host it. We rented out the full venue for the weekend and only allowed our friends to stay on-site. The venue had small cabins, fire pits, and golf carts to get around. It was right on the water with acres and acres of land. By the third day, you could see all of the guests walking around in their #CampMadikane hoodies, drinking coffee from canteens, mixing and mingling with people whom they’d probably never cross paths with and we knew we had seen our idea come full circle.”
The Groom’s Favorite Moment
One of the moments Siya will remember most is watching Whitney make her grand entrance. “My wife walking down that aisle in that beautiful dress was amazing,” he says. “I’m nosy and had asked a few times what dress she was going to wear. Even though I know traditionally that I’m not supposed to know, I still wanted to know. So, seeing her coming down that aisle and everyone witnessing her beauty too gave me goosebumps. I had always dreamed of that moment and it was well worth the wait.”
The Bride’s Favorite Moment
“My favorite moment from the day was just how authentically us everything was,” she says. “We didn’t force ourselves to stay within any traditional limitations and that made it so much more impactful. I walked down the aisle to Beyoncé and Jay-Z, we wrote our own vows, and we gave out hoodies instead of party favors.”
After struggling to find the right place to tie the knot, Whitney put together a list of 100 venues in upstate New York to look into. The place they would end up finding, the Hutton Brickyards, actually didn’t make the list. “While we were headed back home after a disappointing farm tour, an ad popped up on my phone for a place called ‘Hutton Brickyards.’ I had never heard of them, so I called and emailed them immediately. The event manager called me back the next day and said that they were fully booked on weekends but there was a potential possibility for a weekday wedding. Not our ideal situation but at that point, we were pretty desperate. Right before I was about to agree to the weekday wedding, she emailed me back to say that someone had just canceled for the weekend of June 11th and that just so happened to be our original date. It was meant to be and it was absolutely perfect.”
Whitney enjoyed putting her big day together. In fact, some of her friends and family might say she enjoyed it too much! “Wedding planning for me was so fun,” she says. “I’m a creative person and marketer by nature, so I created the Camp Madikane campaign and theme to make it fun and enjoyable for myself. This helped me get through some of the more mundane tasks that are associated with wedding planning.”
A Towering Treat
A round of applause for this dreamy dessert — a cake that matched the inspiration for the decor.
Let Me See Your Grills
How creative and cool are these grills for Whitney?
The Party Favors
Instead of giving out traditional party favors, the couple commemorated the weekend with branded hoodies!
Hopes for the Future
“For me, I just hope we continue to build on the foundation that we’ve created for ourselves,” Whitney says. “From the beginning, we have said that we are having a marriage first. The wedding was just a celebration of our love. I’m looking forward to building a family and continuing to do things that are authentically us with the people who love and support us unconditionally.”
Siya says, “For the future, I hope for a successful and healthy home that will be a start for a long and lasting legacy. We are big on having a community that is healthy and supportive of each other. I am looking forward to our kids that God blesses us with and continuing to carry on helping children around the world who are in need, which is something that we strongly believe in.”