"It was like a magnet attracted us to go exactly there," says bride Lara Sanders

By Joelle Goldstein
June 05, 2020 03:46 PM
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A newlywed biracial couple emphasized the power of love and hope as they celebrated their nuptials at a Los Angeles protest this week.

Lara Sanders and Samuel Mekonnen tell PEOPLE they almost didn't show up to the Brentwood-area protest on Monday for fear of what would happen, especially since they are parents to a teen son and were arriving close to the 5 p.m. city-wide curfew.

However, on a "spontaneous" whim, the couple, who had been taking photos around Los Angeles, decided to show up and make a statement — a moment that was captured in a video by a protest attendee, Navin Watumull.

"It was like a magnet attracted us to go exactly there," says Sanders, 51. "We had been scared, but this was a moment to say love conquers all, there's no limit for love."

"For us to go to that protest, it was about hope, to spread hope," adds Mekonnen, 30. "As a biracial couple, of course, you stand in solidarity and we have an obligation. It's not about us or other people, it's so much bigger than that. It's a movement."

Lara Sanders and Samuel Mekonnen
| Credit: lara sanders

Prior to that emotional moment, Watumull, 39, says he, his new wife Esha and at least 500 others were standing at the intersection of Wilshire Blvd. and Barrington Ave., peacefully protesting.

"As it neared the curfew, I started to feel a tenseness in the air. People were unsure of what was going to happen," Watumull recalls. "Were the police going to show up soon? Would things get out of control? Would there be violence and looting?"

Meanwhile, Sanders and Mekonnen — who had wed on Sunday — were taking wedding photos since they didn't have time to do it the day prior.

"Getting married and driving around in a car with flowers on the hood, it was a surreal moment," Mekonnen explains. "To drive through the city in a [pandemic] lockdown, in a curfew, with all this hate going on, it was almost like a beam of light."

Then, they came across the West Los Angeles protest.

Lara Sanders and Samuel Mekonnen
| Credit: lara sanders

"I dared her to go," Mekonnen shares. "I grabbed her hand and said, 'You wanna do this? Let's go,' and her hand was shaking."

Together, the couple entered the intersection in their wedding attire and then held up their fists in solidarity. The crowd erupted into cheers and applause before rushing towards them to celebrate.

"There was an uprising of positive energy and applause," Watumull recalls. "Everyone was surprised and in awe. The crowd of protestors ran into the intersection, unconcerned with traffic, and greeted the couple, naturally embracing them, showering them with love and support."

"It was such a beautiful, pure moment," he adds. "It was as if the couple appeared out of nowhere and brought us hope and positivity."

For Sanders and Mekonnen, they say they were overwhelmed by the positive reaction of the protesters, but note how the moment meant more than just a photo or video opportunity.

"It was one of the biggest moments of my whole life," says Sanders, who is a German screenwriter and producer. "It was monumental and historical, and intense, and touching and moving... I felt like I can do something, I can give hope and that's the most important thing."

"You can feel the energy," adds Mekonnen, the owner of Talent Consult LA. "We represented — in our wedding clothes and in the middle of the protest — that there is still love, there is still hope and we will get through this as a country. We can do this."

In the days following the protest, Sanders and Mekonnen tried to find footage of the special moment and searched through social media to see if anyone had posted it.

They eventually came across Watumull's video on Instagram — which has since gone viral on that platform and TikTok — and reached out to him and his wife.

The couples connected and shared the clip, but also learned more about each other's stories and realized how much they had in common. They have since formed a friendship that they hope to continue in the coming months and years.

"This story is really special because you’ve got a newly married black and white couple originally from Germany, filmed by a newly married Indian couple, to create this pure moment that has been magnified under the lens of the current politically and racially charged environment," Watumull explains. "All four of us have been impacted by COVID, the protests and riots, but we’re still staying positive and enjoying these little moments that can bring happiness and perspective to our lives and others."

Lara Sanders and Samuel Mekonnen
| Credit: lara sanders

"It was very meant to be," adds Sanders. "This was the biggest chance for us to do something really positive and say love conquers all. It was perfect timing for us and the whole world, and we're blessed we were able to do this."

Mekonnen also points out the moment not only gave hope about the good news in the world but also shows how everyone — regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion or background — can peacefully co-exist together.

"We want that to echo throughout," he says. "We should exist together. It's 2020, this shouldn’t be happening anymore. The reform needs to come and it needs to come quickly."

Adds Sanders: "Love can't be stopped, it can't be contained. It’s time to set the right sign and do it with love."

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.

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