Juxtaposed with a holiday pop-up shop arranged beneath them, a small group prayed for racial healing in America on the balcony of a repurposed Clayborn Temple last Friday, the morning light shining through broken stained glass windows and pouring over their backs.
"This space has been so many things," said Kate Lareau, who organized the gathering. "It's been home to a white congregation and a black organization. It's been a gathering place for the civil rights movement — a place of violence then. Now, it's becoming a place of hope ... We've had artists gather and imagine ways creativity can be used to continue to shape our city. Today, we'll have a pop-up sale, which is more whimsical, but it's another symbol of hope and pride in Memphis."
Meeting for just 30 minutes every Friday this month, Lareau hopes the brief period will allow people to step out of their comfort zones, reflect on issues of race and prejudice dividing the country, and combat them with humility.
"It's easy to demonize people who feel differently than we do about political issues," Lareau said. "But I think we're blessed in Memphis with hope. Over the last few weeks and months, there's also been fear for a lot of us ... I know if I'm feeling fear in my place of privilege and whiteness, then I know from conversations with people who look different from me that they are probably feeling a lot more fear and a different kind of fear."
The gatherings are informal, with participants praying aloud or silently meditating and sharing scripture. Lareau formed the group after months of feeling she had no outlet to discuss her distress over the rampant hate speech and discriminative acts she saw online.
"Instead of praying like I believe I should be doing, I found myself up at one in the morning reading Twitter and getting upset," Lareau said.
Acknowledging to his left and right the 10 people sitting with him, Taurean Haynes said while racial tensions were felt daily, people should do more to create unity.
"We need more groups of different races coming together to pray about these things," Haynes said. "You have kids who are hurt by this. When it trickles down to the kids, being a father myself with a 5-year-old son, that is what hurts me the most."
Lareau almost backed out of the group's first meeting, she said, due to the sensitivity of the subject and how heavy it weighs. While every member will read from the same scripture each week, Lareau believes prayer is unique to a person's race, background, and ancestral history.
"What's really tricky for me about all of this is that when we come together communally to pray about racial healing, we have different things we pray for," Lareau said. "White people need to pray for things differently because of their history of oppression. We'll pray these words together, but they are different for all of us. The things that we seek from the Lord, the guidance we need, looks different in all of our lives."