If you’ve followed my blogs for the past couple of months, you’ll remember I’ve been writing about the murder of George Floyd, how it’s impacted my listening, social justice events and what Toni Morrison calls “race talk.”
I’ve shared my commitment for the world: That by 2021, people around the world are listening to each other and in action about what’s important to them. Thankfully, I believe that’s happening at a faster pace than in recent memory. I am hopeful.
Last week, my husband and I went to our friend Don Samuel’s prayer tent at Hawthorne Crossings, 912 W Broadway Ave. in North Minneapolis. There, Samuels, a former Minneapolis City Council member and well-known community activist, along with his wife, Sondra Samuels, and Brian Mogren, another friend and activist, have held daily vigils from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Called “30 Days of Prayer: Healing the Heart of Our City,” Samuel’s African-American-led collaborative was an invitation for people of all faiths and good will to come together and share their thoughts and feelings from July 1 to July 30 in the parking lot of Hawthorne Crossings.
A large tent was set up for people to stand, knee or sit to pray or meditate for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time a now former white Minneapolis officer forced his knee on the neck of George Floyd until he stopped breathing, resulting in his death May 25.
A second tent nearby allows for people to sit, talk and listen following the sacred time, write positive messages and be recorded — as Arnie and I were — by Samuels sharing our prayers or intentions for the community which were posted on social media (https://www.facebook.com/healingourcity/videos/656424895218594/).
My experience left me touched, moved, inspired — and surprised. In addition to wanting to experience the event on a personal level which aligns with my commitments, as a blogger, I planned to write a blog and include several of my photographs.
What I didn’t expect was to be so profoundly moved by what for me was a spiritual experience that, for the first time in over 55 years as an international photojournalist, I was unable to take the photos I expected to take. It just didn’t feel right.
As I sat for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, I prayed. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Afterward, I couldn’t speak for several minutes. It’s taken me a week to write this blog.
Our friend, Don, arrived a few minutes before we were going to leave so we were able to sit down, share and exchange our thoughts for about 20 minutes. But I also couldn’t take notes. The following quotes were supplied by Don via email in response to my questions.
Q: What prompted you to set up the prayer tent for 30 days?
A: Living in the community, seeing destruction, hearing gunshots, knowing victims, alive and dead and having a low tolerance for pain, strong relationships outside the community and a strong faith that God cares about it all, inspired me into a need to engage my local community and my far flung friends, to share a common prayer for those most impacted.
Q: Why did you choose that place?
(The Crossings site, owned by George Sherman, who donated $5,000 toward the cost of the tents, was chosen, Samuels said as he …)
A: Wanted to locate at a ‘hot spot’, because that’s where the problem is. Boarded buildings, burned out stores, proximity to ongoing crime.
Q: What’s your best estimate as to the number of people who have attended?
Q: What have been the most frequent feedback/comments?
A: Sacred Space. Glad for outlet for anxieties. Venue for solidarity. Gratitude for space. Loved the art. Serenity on a busy street.
Q: What is the difference you’re hoping to make with this community engagement?
A: People mourned together, were vulnerable together and dreamed of a new future together.
Q: Do you plan to hold other events this summer?
A: No decision.
There are only two days remaining before the tents, tables, chairs, rugs, flowers and several large colorful murals painted mostly by Black youth are removed.
In addition to considerable media coverage by the Star Tribune, MPR, TV and other radio stations, the group also set up a Facebook page where you can see photographs of the site at https://www.facebook.com/healingourcity.
If you have not yet been there, I highly recommend going at least by Thursday. The last day will end with a final prayer session at 5 p.m. followed by a celebration.
Be prepared to be touched, moved and inspired.