A very Philly engagement story: Couple plans identical proposals with murals

Danielle Brief and Jonah Adams stand next to a mural in South Philly

They both wanted to pop the question. This South Philly couple decided to say it with street art — unbeknownst to each other. (Ximena Conde/WHYY)

It’s a tale as old as time when it comes to the love story of Danielle Brief and Jonah Adams.

A man and woman meet each other at a Philadelphia young professionals event. The pair begin dating after several months. About three years later, boyfriend and girlfriend unknowingly plan identical proposals.

Danielle and Jonah, 29, are both involved in the Percy Street Project in South Philly — an alleyway lined with murals, mosaics, and a neon light art piece. They’ve been part of the effort to beautify the street by finding grant funding to help pay artists to create new works.

Unbeknownst to each other, they both decided to commemorate their love with a surprise piece of public art on their beloved street.

Danielle said she always knew she wanted to do her own proposal, and in hindsight, it’s not all that surprising they both incorporated art.

“[Art is] kind of a collective cause that we’ve kind of rallied behind to try and make our neighborhood more beautiful and to get to know our neighbors,” said Danielle.

Danielle and Jonah’s romance grew out of friendship in 2017. It’s hard for Jonah to pinpoint just when he fell in love with Danielle, but she’s the only partner he’s ever said those three words to.

“My love for Danielle comes in these waves that can sometimes be kind of overwhelming … It’s like you’re in a cold house and then you go and stand over a vent and just get like a blast of heat and it’s like — it just overtakes you,” he said. “In hindsight, I think I might have even started having those waves even before we started dating.”

If Danielle had to identify the moment she was willing to risk her friendship with Jonah to pursue a romantic relationship, she said it would be a Passover seder with his family in Montgomery County.

“I just knew that I was sitting next to this wonderful man who was just the head of the table and just brought so much energy to everything he did,” she said. “I knew OK, this guy is kind of unreal. They don’t really make a lot of guys like him and I would be kind of crazy to not pursue it.”

As luck would have it, Danielle and Jonah were on the same online dating app where they each swiped right, making it clear both wanted something more out of their relationship.

The two were already spending time together at street cleanups and other volunteer opportunities and were set to go to an environmental film festival together. They turned the movie night into an official date, and the rest is history.

Fast forward to the 2020 COVID-19 shutdowns. The couple was already living together and Danielle said she struggled with the adjustment to being sequestered at home in April and May.

“Having Jonah by my side made it even more clear that he was my partner through the good and the bad,” she said. “I definitely think that the new way of living through this collective trauma and this new challenge that we had to go through, really just proves that he was my person, and I knew that even if the world was crazy, we would always wind up together.”

Danielle Brief and Jonah Adams stand next to a mural in South Philly
Danielle Brief and Jonah Adams planned to propose to the other using commissioned murals on Percy Street. (Ximena Conde/WHYY)

While the pair had discussed getting engaged — Danielle helped design her ring with Philly jeweler Barrio Neal — Jonah wanted the timing and method of the proposal to be a total secret. Not to be left out, Danielle wanted to surprise Jonah with her own proposal.

Jonah approached local artist Dora Cuenca to commission a mural, as Danielle had become a huge fan of hers through an event at the Fashion District in Center City.

The mural Cuenca designed is an abstract, continuous line drawing with tropical blues, pink, and mustard yellow on a white backdrop. Jonah popped the question on Christmas in front of it with their closest family members present.

Danielle said seeing Jonah get down on one knee in front of a custom-designed mural on a street they walk through every week was further proof the pair were soulmates.

“Jonah literally did the exact proposal that I would have designed for myself if I were to propose to myself, and in fact, was the same proposal concept that I was developing for him,” said Danielle, who had commissioned Nicole Nikolich, known as Lace in the Moon, with a vision to honor love letters Jonah has sent her over the years.

This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, Danielle took Jonah for a walk to reveal her mural proposal. She commissioned a crocheted envelope with delicate vines coming out of it delivering a message Jonah had written to her: “You inspire beauty in the world.”

The couple hopes their story will inspire others who can afford it to pitch similar commissions to artists who are struggling to find work during the pandemic.

“Having them commission this mural is so special because it puts the thought out there to other people,” said Nikolich. “If you really like this street artist’s work or this random artist you follow on Instagram … go ahead and put the money in their pocket.”

Nikolich said many local artists put up some of their work in public for free because they want to bring smiles to their communities, but getting commissioned work is how they make a living and build their businesses. Already, Nikolich has gotten inquiries from other couples interested in following Danielle’s lead.

As far as the happy couple is concerned, they’re waiting to see how COVID-19 vaccinations progress before setting a date, though they are considering two celebrations: a small wedding keeping coronavirus mitigation efforts in mind and a larger one when bigger groups can safely gather. After all, they’ve already had two proposals.

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