At the Union of Activists, a Cause for Celebration
Emily Ann Frank Mayer was wearing a red cardigan with a sizable hole in the armpit when she caught Waleed Shahid’s eye while reciting a poem during an open mic night at Haverford College in September 2010.
“It was a bold move,” he said, referring to her sweater choice.
After the event, in a bold move of his own, Mr. Shahid, a sophomore, approached Ms. Mayer, a freshman, and invited her to a party his friends were throwing that evening.
But Ms. Mayer had other plans, she told him. It wasn’t long before their paths crossed again at Haverford, which is about 10 miles from Philadelphia and had a student population of less than 1,200 at the time.
Both realized after meeting that they were taking the same science class, and used it as an opportunity to get to know each other better. From Berkeley, Calif., Ms. Mayer is Jewish, while Mr. Shahid was raised in Arlington, Va., by Punjabi Muslim parents who immigrated from Lahore, Pakistan.
They ran into each other on campus that fall, including when Ms. Mayer saw Mr. Shahid promoting a concert featuring taqwacore bands, a form of Islam-influenced punk, that he had arranged to raise awareness after the 2010 floods in Pakistan. Though Ms. Mayer soon began seeing someone else, she and Mr. Shahid, whose social circles overlapped, continued to develop a friendship.
The following year, in the summer of 2011, Ms. Mayer broke up with her boyfriend. By the time she and Mr. Shahid were back on campus that fall, their bond was “so real and so intense,” as their classmate and mutual friend Ian Gavigan put it, that it was obvious to Mr. Gavigan and others, some of whom asked Mr. Shahid why they weren’t dating.
Mr. Shahid soon started to wonder why, too, and before long told Ms. Mayer that he had feelings for her. But following her recent breakup, she told him “it wasn’t the right time” for another relationship.
The following January, Mr. Shahid left for a semester abroad in London. He had intended to study in Cairo, but had to change his plans following the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt. Unenthusiastic about living in London, where the money he had saved for Cairo did not go far, Mr. Shahid became “lonely and isolated,” he said, and spent much of his free time corresponding with Ms. Mayer via Skype and email.
Their conversations spanned topics including art, politics, movies and the writing of the gender theorist Judith Butler. But no matter the topic, Ms. Mayer noticed a new side of Mr. Shahid creeping through.
“His loneliness made him more honest and prone to sharing his raw feelings in a way I hadn’t seen before,” she said.
“For the majority of our friendship I didn’t have a deep grasp of what was happening for him,” she added, “But when he was away, he became more vulnerable.”
When he returned to campus in August 2012, Mr. Shahid had mostly forgotten about a romantic future with Ms. Mayer, who had taken on a new role in his life: best friend. After the two led a social justice program for first-year students, he also saw her as a mentor of sorts.
“I thought she could really teach me so much about how to do social justice education in an accessible way,” he said.
Ms. Mayer, however, soon began to develop more than platonic feelings for him. That November, she coyly asked Mr. Shahid if they could be “friends who kissed.” By the time he graduated from Haverford with high honors in the spring of 2013, the two were a committed couple.
“Waleed is one of the most multifaceted people I’ve ever met,” Ms. Mayer said.
“He’s incredibly thoughtful and smart and political,” she added, “and also really silly and loves animals and punk rock. I love how he talks about hagiographies all the time. I’m constantly learning new things when I’m with him.”
That summer, he worked in the kitchen at Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa, a Jewish camp in Big Bear Lake, Calif., where Ms. Mayer had a job as the education director. Habonim Dror, a progressive Zionist movement, had been a part of her life since childhood. Mr. Shahid’s spending his summer at the camp, she said, “showed that he wanted to get to know all the parts of me.”
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Afterward, as he thought about the next steps in his career, Mr. Shahid started to consider community organizing in part because of Ms. Mayer’s interest in the field.
“As the child of immigrants, I was really taught to keep my head down and follow the rules,” he said, describing Ms. Mayer as someone who “takes risks and feels every feeling, whether it’s things that make her happy or that are hard.”
“She’s really taught me about what it means to live a full life,” he added, “and being OK with pushing your weight against the world and having it push back on you, instead of just keeping your head down.”
Mr. Shahid spent the next two years getting his career off the ground in Philadelphia, eventually landing a job on Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. Ms. Mayer spent part of that time finishing college. After graduating magna cum laude in 2014, she co-founded IfNotNow, an organization working to end American Jewish support of Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.
In 2016, in part to further their careers, they moved to Brooklyn.
After Mr. Sanders lost the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton that July, Mr. Shahid later served as a strategist and adviser on campaigns of New York Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, both Democrats. Ms. Mayer grew IfNotNow’s profile by helping to organize anti-occupation protests, including a demonstration at a convention held by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, in 2019.
Ms. Mayer, 30, who is currently completing a master’s program at the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies, now works as the director of the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council. Mr. Shahid, 31, is a Democratic strategist and the spokesman for Justice Democrats, an organization working to replace more centrist Democrats with liberal candidates.
In the summer of 2019, Mr. Shahid introduced Ms. Mayer to his father, Shahid Bashir, a parking garage manager, and mother, Kauser Shahid, a retired special education teaching assistant. His mother was not shy about her hopes for the couple, presenting Ms. Mayer with a Pakistani wedding magazine and “dropping many hints,” she said.
But for Ms. Mayer — whose mother, Evelyn Frank, a lawyer, died when she was 1 — marriage hadn’t been a priority. “Because of how young I was when my mom died, I had a lot of fears around what it meant to commit,” she said.
The following year, after her stepmother, Randy Milden, a psychologist and writer, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in January 2020, Ms. Mayer went to Berkeley to be with Ms. Milden and her father, Steven Mayer, who is also a lawyer. Mr. Shahid came to visit her several times. His steadfast support, Ms. Mayer said, changed her mind about a wedding. “Let’s do it, let’s get married,” she recalled saying to him. By the time Ms. Milden died that March, she knew of their intention to wed.
Ms. Mayer felt strongly that she should be the one to propose. “Waleed had always been the pursuer, and I knew I wanted to initiate this stage,” she said. She did so the following year, in April 2021, at Mr. Gavigan’s house in Philadelphia, where they had come to visit him and other college friends.
Ms. Mayer arrived at Mr. Gavigan’s place first that day and hid notes throughout the house, each stating a different reason she wanted to marry Mr. Shahid. Upon arriving, he began a hunt for the notes, which led him to the back yard.
There, Mr. Shahid found Ms. Mayer in a Spiderman mask, a nod to his love of Marvel Comics, with a sign asking him to marry her in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.
On May 14, the two were married at Gather Greene, an events space and retreat center in Coxsackie, N.Y. New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, a friend of the couple who was ordained by the Universal Life Church for the occasion, officiated before 205 vaccinated guests, all of whom were asked to take Covid tests before attending. Among them was Mr. Bowman, who delivered a blessing.
For the ceremony, both wore styles of South Asian formal wear. The bride, whose hands and feet were decorated with henna, wore a maroon and gold lehenga, and the groom a cream and white sherwani.
Their wedding incorporated both Muslim and Jewish traditions, including an unveiling of their faces before the ceremony, and the signing of a wedding contract; theirs, by the calligrapher Josh Berer, was written in Hebrew, Urdu and English.
Beneath a huppah draped with flower garlands in shades of red, pink, white and yellow, Mr. Lander recited lines from the Quran in Arabic and said blessings in Hebrew. In his remarks, he noted that the bride and groom were exemplary models in showing up, both for each other and their communities.
“You do it across lines of difference that are so often difficult to cross,” he said, describing their union as a testament to “the beauty of change and openness.”
Mr. Bowman echoed this sentiment in his blessing, saying, “May the two of you continue to be shining lights for the rest of us to follow, toward truth, justice and the evolution of humanity.”
On This Day
When May 14, 2022
Where Gather Greene in Coxsackie, N.Y.
Hobbes Nobbing The couple’s guests also included the actor Cynthia Nixon, known for playing Miranda Hobbes on “Sex and The City” and its reboot “And Just Like That,” whose campaign for New York governor the groom had worked on.
Party Time At a reception following the ceremony, Red Baraat, a Brooklyn band that performs bhangra, a style of Punjabi music, played “Hava Nagila.” Later, after the newlyweds changed into a white gown and tuxedo, guests danced to a set by DJ Rekha, who formerly hosted Basement Bhangra parties at S.O.B.’s, a club in Lower Manhattan. As part of the festivities, Mr. Bowman also rapped “Triumph” by the Wu-Tang Clan.
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