Ala Stanford and Byron Drayton
March 30, 2019, in Philadelphia
During the greet-your-neighbors part of a spring 2014 Sunday service at Salem Baptist Church in Abington, Ala turned to the pew behind her to say hello to two cute kids and — WOW! — their very handsome dad.
Remembering where she was, Ala, a pediatric surgeon with three kids of her own, kept her focus on the young people. “How old are you?” she asked them. “How are you going to change the world when you get older?”
From the moment she turned toward his pew, Byron found Ala beautiful. “But what really got me is the way she was speaking to my kids,” he said.
The two shook hands, then the pastor moved on.
Byron, a CPA, grew up in West Oak Lane and at Salem Baptist. Ala, who grew up in North Philadelphia and Germantown, was new to the church, but was quickly embraced by the Salem Baptist community, including a very kind woman from Bible study, Carole. Ala told new friend that she was the divorced mom of three beautiful boys: Ellison (now 11) and twins Robeson and Langston (now 9), and that she had recently accepted a new job.
What Ala didn’t know: Carole is Byron’s mom.
That Easter, Carole urged Byron to join her and her Bible study friends for brunch. “Ala is going to be there,” she coaxed sweetly.
Byron, who had other plans and isn’t great with names, didn’t remember who Ala was. Carole is not easily dissuaded. She pointed Ala out to her son on a soon-after Sunday.
On Mother’s Day, Byron approached Ala after church. “How you doin’?” he asked. “I know we haven’t talked much since we saw each other several months ago. But I heard you got a new job, congratulations, and that you’re single.”
“Oh my gosh, how did he know that?” Ala thought.
Reading her expression, Byron pointed to Carole: “That’s my mom.”
The Wednesday before Memorial Day, Carole saw that these two people who were obviously interested in each other still hadn’t gotten together, so she gave one last little push. “Did you speak to my son?” she asked Ala at Bible study. “Because he really wanted to talk to you.” She gave Ala Byron’s phone number.
Ala thought: “I’m not calling a man when his mother gave me his phone number. This is ridiculous.” But later, she did just that.
Also previously married, Byron has three kids: Byron (now 26), Myles (now 19) and Maya (now 17). A graduate of Northeast High School and Delaware State University, he is controller for North Philadelphia Health Systems and also does tax and accounting consulting services for Integrity Accounting and Business Consulting LLC. But back then, he worked for an accounting firm in D.C. and spent weekdays there.
“I’ll be back Friday,” he told Ala. “What kind of things do you like to do? We could go out.”
Since there were no seats available at Chris’ Jazz Cafe, they went instead to the Sofitel’s hotel bar, where the conversation was so good that they made plans for the very next night. By the time they had dinner at Lorenzo’s and a walk around South Street, both knew they were on to something.
Byron fell for “her spirit. Her personality. Her passion. She has this energy around her, and everyone picks up on it.”
For Ala, it was Byron’s confidence and strength and his caring and fun-loving nature. “He’s a strong black man, but not so strong that he can’t be loving and affectionate.”
That June, Ala began her new job — which was in Charlotte, N.C. For eight months, they talked daily and flew to be together on weekends when they didn’t have their kids. Then in April 2015, Ala came back to Philadelphia. A graduate of North Plainfield High School and Penn State University, she is now on staff at several local hospitals and also has a boutique medical practice, R.E.A.L. Concierge Medicine.
Soon after, they were in the same city again, they introduced their children to each other, and a family began to form.
“I love Ala because of the love she gives me. She’s not afraid to show it,” said Byron, who is now 54. “She lets me know I make her happy, and that just makes me feel so good.”
Ala, now 48, loves Byron because he loves who she is and supports her through both success and challenge. “He’s my cheerleader, and he’s happy for me. And that makes me feel like I can accomplish even more.”
In October 2018, the couple traveled to Europe to see the Eagles game in London and other sites in other nations.
The Saturday before the game, they took a riverboat cruise down the Seine in Paris. There was food, and wine, and a woman singing. And there was Ala, taking advantage of the WiFi.
“Ala, get off your phone!” Byron said.
“I’m trying to get us tickets for the Louvre!” she replied.
Then, Byron put his arm around her.
“You know you’re my best friend, right?”
“You know I love you.”
“I know. I’m trying to get these tickets!”
“I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” he proclaimed as their fellow passengers took out their phones and hit “record.”
Byron knelt, and the singing woman stopped in front of Ala and began “La Vie En Rose.”
“Will you marry me?” Byron asked.
She kissed him her yes.
From London, they FaceTimed matchmaker Carole and Ala’s mother, Carolyn. As soon as they got back to the States, they called Ala’s dad, Richard.
Thanks to an unseasonably warm March weekend, the couple wed under the grand pavilion at the Waterworks. “We tried to make it feel like church, even though we weren’t in church,” Ala said. The church’s music director played the piano, and a fellow parishioner — a young man who sang for the pope during his visit to Philadelphia — sang “The Lord’s Prayer.”
The couple sang along at the altar when he sang John Legend’s “All of Me”
Their five sons and daughter were their wedding party. Ellison was ring bearer; the couple wrote their vows in special books, which Robeson and Langston carried down the aisle.
The couple remembered loved ones who have passed, including Byron’s father, William, and Ala’s stepfather, Peter.
Ala promised Byron that she would always respect him, support him, and love him, and make certain that he feels the love she’s giving. She promised she would pray with him and for him.
Byron promised to always love and support Ala, and that he “would never clip her wings, and would let her fly in all of her endeavors.”
The reception for 130 was in the Wheel House. The DJ had everyone on their feet, and it got so hot that guests wobbled to the outdoors and continued dancing outside. Because the weather was so lovely, many other Philadelphians were enjoying the river. “People on the rocks and everything, they just joined right in!” Ala said.
During her vows, Ala told Byron one of the reasons she loves him is that he allows her to be her best self without trying to clip her wings. The couple kept their vows secret until the ceremony, so she was astonished to hear him use those same words and promise to never clip her wings. “I just started crying,” she remembered.
The couple’s first dance was to “Love Ballad” by LTD featuring Jeffrey Osborne. As they danced, all of their guests began singing. “The DJ even turned the volume down so we could hear them,” Byron remembered. “It was such a great feeling, to feel all of that love in the room for us.”
A splurge that was a bargain: With a great DJ, the couple really didn’t need to hire a pianist and soloist. But what they added to the ceremony was worth so much more than the cost, Byron said. “They were a tremendous value.”
The couple, who now live in Meadowbrook with their kids and their dog, Carson, spent five days in Aruba. They rode UTVs through the mountains to ruins and natural pools, then relaxed in gorgeous ocean breezes.
Officiant: The Rev. Nathaniel Jones, assistant pastor of Salem Baptist Church, Abington,
Venue: Fairmount Water Works, Grand Pavilion and Engine House, Philadelphia
Food: Cescaphe Caterer and Events, Philadelphia
Music: Soloist, Robert Wesley Hill, Philadelphia; pianist, Leon Tilson Burrows, director of music ministry, Salem Baptist Church; DJ: D.J. Aktive, Philadelphia.
Master of Ceremonies: John Barber, Philadelphia
Photography: John Flowers and Angie Martinez of John Flowers Photography, Staten Island, N.Y.
Videographer: James Johnson Jr.
Flowers: Will Devlin and Tommy Howard, Destiny Floral Design, Philadelphia
Bride’s dress: Essenseof Australia, purchased at Le Bella Donna, Jenkintown
Groom’s tuxedo: Hugo Boss, purchased at Nordstrom
Hair: Lawrence Watts, Lotus Beauty Salon and Spa, Philadelphia
Makeup: Hilda Rodriguez