Symone Sanders, the host of MSNBC’s Symone, and Shawn Townsend, the former director of the mayor’s office of nightlife and culture in Washington, D.C., were married on Friday night in a surprise ceremony held at the historic Larz Anderson House in Dupont Circle.
The couple first met in April of 2019 when they were introduced by former South Carolina legislator and political analyst Bakari Sellers. Bakari—a longtime friend of Shawn’s—made the connection when the trio went out for cocktails at The Eaton Hotel after a screening—and subsequent Q&A moderated by Sanders—of his documentary While I Breathe, I Hope.
Symone and Shawn got engaged exactly two years later. It was Easter Sunday, which has always been a special day for the couple. At the time, Symone was serving as senior adviser and chief spokesperson for the Vice President, so Shawn made arrangements with the office to ensure he could pull off the surprise. Symone thought she was going to hop on a plane to meet the Vice President in Los Angeles, but instead Shawn whisked her away to the rooftop of Hotel Zena to pop the question.
In another surprise maneuver, this time executed by both Symone and Shawn (with help from event planner Lamont Akins), the couple invited their friends and family to attend a party dubbed “Toast to Townsend,” ostensibly celebrating the couple’s upcoming nuptials. But after everyone gathered, the event was revealed to be a wedding, and the couple exchanged their vows amid a crowd of 100 at the Gilded Age mansion.
Shawn wore a custom Gucci suit for the wedding ceremony, while Symone’s wedding dress was from Global Bridal Boutique in Alexandria, VA—and found just three weeks before the ceremony. After realizing her original wedding dress wouldn’t fit because her measurements weren’t taken properly, Symone went searching for a sample that she could purchase right away. “The dress I wore at my wedding fit like a glove,” Symone says. “The ladies at Global Bridal Boutique and my tailor were truly a blessing.”
Pastor Dededrick O. Rivers of Ward Memorial AME Church, a close friend and advisor of the couple, officiated the ceremony. In his vows, Shawn called Sanders his “ride or die,” adding: “It’s the moments behind closed doors that we’ve shared…whether it’s me complaining about Real Housewives, a political debate, or photobombing my Zoom calls. It is all time well spent together.”