Wedding planner fights for racial equity in North Carolina's 'divided' industry

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The wedding industry is a billion-dollar economic driver in North Carolina. But with large-scale events at a standstill because of COVID-19 restrictions, the industry is struggling.

One wedding planner is using this break in business to spark change at the roughly 1,500 venues in the state.

Elana Walker isn't doing as many grandiose gatherings these days. She estimates her income is being slashed in half because of the pandemic.

She is staying busy working to bridge the racial gap in the wedding industry.

"The wedding industry in the Triangle, for a very long time, has been very divided between the white vendors and the black vendors," Walker said.

Walker has been calling around and doing outreach to venues. She's pushing for more equity on vendors' lists.

When a couple picks a place, they'll often get a roster of preferred vendors.

Walker said those lists often have little-to-no diverse representation. That is, until now.

"I will say the response has been tremendous," Walker said.

She's also one of the founding members of the recently formed National Society of Black Weddings and Event Professionals.

Walker's been hosting a series of online forums bouncing ideas around on how to improve the playing field. More than 700 people have been tuning in to the virtual meetings.

People have been using those meetings to highlight the injustices they've experienced while bringing a couple's big day to life.

"A photographer talked about on a wedding day, he's often mistaken as the assistant to his assistant, who happened to be white. Or what it feels like for a black vendor to do a wedding on a plantation," Walker said.

Walker expects weddings to look and feel different when festivities do resume.

She's hoping they'll be more inclusive and welcoming to match our diverse community.

"I really, really, really have high hopes that it will turn things around that in the Triangle," Walker said.
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