When Kendra Morris first met Randall Woodfin, the mayor of Birmingham, Ala., she didn’t think anything of it until she had a vision about their future.
The first time Kendra Nicole Morris met Randall Lee Woodfin, in May, 2021, she was at a charity golf tournament in her hometown, Birmingham, Ala. Ms. Morris’s real estate brokerage was sponsoring one of the holes, while Mr. Woodfin made an appearance in his capacity as the city’s mayor. The two chatted briefly, but the conversation, as they recall, was not remarkable. Ms. Morris had always thought the mayor “a handsome man” but didn’t pick up on his personality that day.
When they saw each other a month later at a youth football clinic in Birmingham, where Ms. Morris’s two sons were enrolled, she approached him with a surprising confession.
“I told him I’d dreamed that we were just riding around in a black truck downtown, listening to music, and it was raining,” said Ms. Morris, who immediately felt embarrassed after blurting out her dream to a public figure she barely knew.
Despite the initial awkwardness, the conversation “felt good” and led to the exchange of phone numbers, Mr. Woodfin said. “I didn’t think it was weird, until afterward, that she had dreamed about me or been bold enough to tell me that,” he said.
Over the next few days, the two exchanged occasional texts. Then, on July 1, he got the message that she was having a rough day. He asked what he could do to help, and she texted back that she could use a drink.
“I suggested we meet at a bar downtown, Paper Doll, at 4 o’clock. Of course, I beat her there, and when she walked up, I stood up and hugged her,” said Mr. Woodfin, who, as a politician, is a ready hugger. “And I think in the course of hugging her, for me everything changed,” he said. “Everything in the world kind of slowed down, and what I thought was going to be a 30-minute drink turned into an hour and a half.” They both realized not only that they didn’t want the conversation to end but that they were hungry, so they walked around the corner to El Barrio, a Mexican restaurant, for dinner.
As they continued their conversation, they realized the many things they had in common: some fun, some silly, some sobering. Both were Birmingham natives who had lost older brothers to homicide. Both were suckers for love songs, be it the Manhattans or Chrisette Michele. And both still nurtured a childhood affinity for fried bologna sandwiches.
“We sat there having dinner for quite some time, and before the night was over, we had kissed,” Mr. Woodfin said. “And we’ve talked every day since that July 1.”
Both Ms. Morris, 33, and Mr. Woodfin, 42, used the word “safe” to describe how they felt in each other’s presence from that night forward.
“When we first met, I was surprised at how human he was,” she said. “He wasn’t puffed up because of his title. He was real. He laughed, he danced, he knew old-school movie lines. He was curious about me, what made me who I was. He was safe, and I could exhale in his arms without worrying if my heart would be crushed.”
As for Mr. Woodfin, he said that in his 42 years, he’s never felt so happy, or so at peace. “From the first time I talked to her, in June of 2021, I felt at ease,” he said.
After graduating from Connie’s Christian Academy in Birmingham, Ms. Morris completed a Paul Mitchell course and began practicing cosmetology. But her mother, Sandra Hunter, encouraged her to try real estate. “I wanted to see her grow, because she’s always worked hard,” Mrs. Hunter said. “When we went to buy a house, I saw that she was interested in it and that she admired the real estate agent.”
In her first real estate position, in a suburban brokerage, Ms. Morris recalled being decades younger than her office colleagues, “and definitely the only Black agent.”
“I saw a need for female brokers,” she said. “A lot of people do not respect women entrepreneurs, and especially Black female entrepreneurs. And that just makes me want to work harder, just to prove that we can do it.”
On the day of the couple’s first date, when Ms. Morris texted Mr. Woodfin that she was having a rough day, her brokerage firm was in transition. “I had started the firm as a franchise, and that was not going well, and that was the day that I dissolved the franchise and started my own brokerage,” she said of her company, Iron City Premier Realty.
After graduating from Shades Valley High School, Mr. Woodfin attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. He received a law degree from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, then worked as a Birmingham assistant city attorney. He was elected to the Birmingham Board of Education in 2013, serving there, including two years as board president, until he was elected mayor in 2017.
Ms. Morris, whose first marriage ended in divorce in 2017, is the mother of sons Aubrey, 15, and Mason, 10. She wondered at first how Mr. Woodfin, childless and never married, would adapt. But as their relationship deepened, she found him to be understanding and flexible. “He has remained open to change and grow, to be a better version of himself, so that he can offer me the best version of himself,” she said.
Mr. Woodfin’s friends have noticed this, too. The Rev. John J. Cox, the pastor of Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, who has known Mr. Woodfin since 1992, said he’s never seen Mr. Woodfin so willing to change to make a relationship work.
“I think they encountered each other when it was perfect timing for both of them,” Mr. Cox said. “And I think she came along and was able to be patient and loving, giving him the space to figure out how to expand into those different capacities that were needed for them to move forward together.”
One of the things Mr. Woodfin had to change was the way he dealt with the public when out with Ms. Morris. “I think by nature, when people want to engage, I don’t mind, because I like to engage,” he said. “Separate from the job, I like people. And part of the job is to be attentive and listen. And when we go out on a date, sometimes she doesn’t want me to hold court, talking to someone for an extensive time. And that’s fair.”
Ms. Morris adjusted to Mr. Woodfin’s penchant for the spotlight and big surprises. In late August 2021, about two months after they started dating, she was with friends awaiting the results of Mr. Woodfin’s successful re-election bid when she learned that he had uploaded to social media a dance video the two of them had made with the help of a local dance studio. She didn’t know he had planned to share it that night, and neither did his staff. “I had never seen him publicly in a relationship, so it was shocking to me. I was like, ‘Yeah, well everybody knows now,’” she recalled.
Then, on Sunday, March 19, 2023, he surprised her with a marriage proposal — also captured on video — at Paper Doll, the bar where they had their first date. The couple had discussed marriage, but some of those conversations had been difficult. “She was ahead of me, and I just had to catch up,” Mr. Woodfin said.
The couple began working with one of Ms. Morris’s friends, Rickquel Garrett of LNA Events, to plan a wedding for Dec. 31, 2023. By mid-September, the guest list had topped 500, and Ms. Morris began to see red flags. “Kendra said to me, ‘Do you think we’re doing this for us or for everyone else?’” Mr. Woodfin said. He saw her point, and they agreed to have a smaller wedding, much sooner. The New Year’s Eve bash, for which invitations had already been sent, now will be devoted to pure celebration.
With three weeks’ notice, Ms. Garrett pulled together a wedding for 40 family members and close friends. The venue, atop Birmingham’s Red Mountain, was the home of a friend of the couple, with an expansive terrace offering a stunning city view.
The couple were married Oct. 8 by the Rev. Thomas Beavers, the pastor of Birmingham’s New Rising Star Church. Guests complied with the couple’s request to wear classic black. The groom wore a black tuxedo with a white shirt and a black velvet tie. The bride wore a white strapless gown encrusted with crystals on the bodice and skirt, with cathedral train and chapel veil.
Before and during the ceremony, the Dave Crenshaw band played smooth jazz and accompanied three soloists on music requested by the couple: Chrisette Michele’s “A Couple of Forevers,” sung by Lillian Aleece; “I Won’t Let Go,” by Janelle Monáe, sung by N’sa Rose; and Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam,” sung by Jaeden Henderson. Following the ceremony, guests sipped champagne and nibbled charcuterie while dancing to tunes spun by DJ Slim Robb.
“I didn’t know why I had a dream about him, and it was weird to me that I saw him right after that, but it ended up being a segue to a deeper conversation,” Ms. Morris said. “Now I believe it was God, because we’ve actually had plenty of times like that, when we were driving around in a black truck, listening to music, in the rain.”
On This Day
When Oct. 8, 2023
Where A private home in Birmingham, Ala.
Dancing Down the Aisle Rather than being led down the aisle by a flower girl, Ms. Morris requested a performance by Mr. Woodfin’s niece, Cimara Shackelford. Ms. Shackelford, 20, who studies dance at Brenau University, donned a stark white tutu — matching the bride’s gown at the all-black wedding — and danced to Robin Thicke’s “Angels,” one of the couple’s favored love songs.
Prayer Requests Friends describe Ms. Morris as generous, supportive and spiritual. When they asked what kind of wedding shower she wanted, she said she didn’t want gifts; she wanted prayers. Eight days before the wedding, 130 women prayed for her at a bridal prayer brunch. “I just don’t think a robe or some lingerie that somebody would give me is going to keep me married,” she said. “I think I need prayers, to have a village of people around me that will have my back.”
Food For the Soul Guests dined on soul food offerings, prepared by Edwards Catering of Birmingham, including fried chicken, beef tips with rice, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and various desserts. A seven-tiered white wedding cake, encircled by a spiraling strand of fresh blossoms, was created by K & J’s Elegant Pastries, also in Birmingham.