Leanna and Clifton (also known as CJ) met in 2015 online. At the time, Leanna wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. But love struck at an unexpected time in her life. “CJ was so different and we clicked instantly,” she remembers. “I have never been able to be 100% myself around a guy, but he was giving me 100% back so it was easy.” After texting and FaceTiming for two weeks, they finally met for their first date. “He was clear on his intentions,” she remembers thinking. “He played no games and was an absolute gentleman, which is very attractive. We have been inseparable ever since.”
In true gentleman fashion, CJ proposed to Leanna during a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner at an upscale steakhouse in Atlanta. After visiting ten wedding venues, their hearts chose the gorgeous Biltmore Ballrooms in Downtown Atlanta. Luckily, the couple’s wedding date was scheduled just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Atlanta and every city across the country. Though the virus did throw some things out of wack (like the arrival of their bridesmaids dresses), Leanna’s bride tribe and day-of coordinator Terrice Blackwell never let her stress. “Weddings are a lot of work, and we are so happy with how ours turned out,” says the beautiful bride.
Scroll through the gallery to see the most beautiful moments from Leanna and Clifton’s ballroom wedding.
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One night, Leanna and CJ headed to dinner at an Atlanta steakhouse called Bone. "We were seated in a romantic spot of the restaurant next to the wine cellar," Leanna says. "After being seated, the waiter came over and gave us our dinner menus. Once we sat down, CJ offered to take my coat. I said 'no thank you' because I wanted to fix my jumpsuit before taking it off. CJ then stood up and asks 'why don't you take a look at your menu?' I cluelessly open it to read 'Will You Marry Me?' inside of it! He then got on his knee and the rest is history."
Beauty Is Her Name
Leanna hired a professional makeup artist for her big day, but decided to save money by doing her own hair. "I have been doing my own hair for at least fifteen years," she tells ESSENCE. "I am not a professional! However, I was up for the challenge, and I loved the way it turned out."
Carefree and beautiful, Leanna and her bridesmaids enjoyed every moment of the getting ready process.
Leanna's wedding gown was designed by Ryan And Walter of Beverly Hills. "I’ve watched 'The Real' on Youtube for years, and when I saw the dress they designed for Adrienne Bailon I absolutely fell in love with their designs," she says. "I found out they were having a trunk show in New York, and I went for the weekend to find my dress. I really loved all of their dresses because they all fit me, and they were all gorgeous, but I think the one I got was perfect."
While its typically tradition for only the bride to wear white, Leanna had her entire bride tribe looking pristine in all white gowns. "I wanted dresses for my bridesmaids that would flatter everyone equally," says the bride. "They are all so beautiful and have different body types. I did not want to be the bride who made them wear what I wanted, but I wanted each woman to feel confident standing up on stage with us." Though the original dress designs never shipped to the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but luckily the alternative looks were found three days before the wedding. Look at God!
When You Know, You Know
Clifton says he realized Leanna was the one a month into their courtship. "I had a list of qualities that I demanded, and she not only fit all of the qualities that I prayed for," he says. "She also brought me even closer to God."
Dressed To impress
Oh hey, stylish fellas!
Latching Onto To You
Leanna walked down the aisle to the gorgeous acoustic version of "Latch" by Sam Smith. "I first heard the song about 5 years ago when my sister chose it for my mother to walk down the aisle for their 30th vow renewal," she says. "I knew from that day I wanted to walk down the aisle to the same song. It’s so beautiful and reminds me of CJ and I."
Surrounded By Love
"We felt so blessed to be almost at capacity despite what was going on in the world," says Leanna. "We are so grateful to our guests, parents, and really missed the ones who could not make it!"
Make It Last Forever
Officially Mr. and Mrs. Vassell!
Family Over Everything
"I knew CJ was the one after I met his family," says Leanna. "We met each other’s families pretty early, probably a month after we started dating. Family is a big part of both of our lives."
Homie, Lover And Friend
"When someone truly gives you their entire self, you feel secure in a way you just never have before," says Leanna. "CJ is my best friend, and I am so thankful for him."
This Is Why I Love You
"What I love most about CJ is his heart," says Leanna. "He truly invests in creating lasting relationships with my family. I am excited for the dad I know he will be in the future."
That just married feeling is like none other.
Leanna and Clifton leaned into the elegant/romantic theme of their wedding with red, white and blush floral arrangements. "HYR Designs' flower arrangements were absolutely beautiful, and she worked with our budget," says the bride.
After digging into their delicious cake, the Vassells handed out party favors including Haitian crémas and Jamaican rum cake. "We are very proud of our cultures and also had tiny Caribbean flags for all of our guests to wave," they tell ESSENCE.
Leanna and Clifton's wedding was held just before the nationwide stay at home orders went into effect. "We had 250 guests," says the bride. "We suspected that people would not show up because churches and schools were beginning to shut down, but our guests really showed up for us. We truly appreciate the support."
Love Outweighs All
"In the past, it was a bit taboo for a Jamaican and Haitian to be in a relationship," says Leanna. "We are in love with not only each other but also each others’ families. We grew up so similarly culture-wise, and that is one thing we really bonded over. That’s why it was important for us to display our Carribean flags at the wedding."
My Better Half
"I love the care that Leanna has for people," says Clifton. "She has an amazing soul and is extremely genuine. We can have fun anywhere at any time. Also, It doesn’t hurt that she’s exceptionally beautiful as well."
Leanna's Advice To Brides
"Someone once told me, 'the end game is marriage.' No matter what happens leading up to, or on, that day, what you have no control over will not take away from the fact that you are starting a new life with the love of your life."
The couple originally planned to honeymoon in June, but due to Covid-19 they've chosen to hold off until it's safe to travel internationally again. "We have been torn between Greece and Thailand, so I guess we will have to wait until we are back to normal and choose between the two," they tell ESSENCE.