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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

347 “It’s not just another Black body; these are people with names, these are children”

Day 347 Friday, February 26th 2021: Pray Their Names

“It’s not just another Black body; these are people with names, these are children” - Rev. Katie Morrison

It all started with JoAnn Consiglieri who called with a request that we ask St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church if they would like to sponsor the “Pray Their Names” art installation on their grounds. I called Dan Lambert, our leader for Black Lives Matter who spoke with his friend Richard Randolph who is a board member of St. Patrick’s.

JoAnn's wish came true. Last Saturday Rich Randolph moved the 160 pieces of artwork from Marin to St. Patricks. JoAnn, Jim, Peter, Cathy and Dan were all there from Emmaus to help unpack and construct the display. There were also lots of volunteers from St. Patrick’s and Kenwood Community Church.

“Pray Their Names” began at Sonoma’s United Church of Christ last year and consists of 160 hand-painted wooden hearts displaying the names of Black victims of racially charged murder, who were often killed at the hands of police. The project, first conceived by local pastor and public school teacher Rev. Katie Morrison, is the product of the concerted efforts of a volunteer community workforce during this moment of reckoning of the the nation’s centuries-old history of systemic racism brought to the fore by the May 25 killing of George Floyd.

(Peter Schneider drives a piece into the ground)

“We’ve been asked by Black Lives Matter to say their names,” said Rev. Morrison in an interview with the Index-Tribune. “I wanted a place where people could engage however their body is willing to engage – or pray – meaning pray in a really expansive way. They could say their names, and then use their phone to go deeper into hearing the stories.”

The hearts at St.Patrick’s are arranged in a set of concentric hearts, each marker spaced 6 feet apart. The hearts evoke the feeling of walking mindfully through the rows of a cemetery. “We wanted the hearts to be tall and strong. It has to be respectful because the heart embodies a life. It also embodies every grieving mother, every grieving community that has been traumatized by these horrific events,” Morrison said. “We’re all complicit and we all can feel grief about where we are right now.”

In order to form the list of names, Morrison used lists circulating in the Black Lives Matter movement. Often, the victims had been pulled over for a traffic stop, or for other nonviolent, unclear or unwarranted reasons. Morrison noted that the collection of names in the installation “is not a comprehensive list, because we know of 8,000-plus cases since Emmett Till’s murder in 1955,” referring to the 14-year-old Black boy lynched by a Mississippi mob after being accused of flirting with a white woman.

“The first heart will say ‘Known and Unknown’,” explained Morrison, “because we know that in addition to those that are reported, there are unknown incidents that happen every day that don’t get recorded. Then we have Martin Luther King Jr. as number two, followed by Medgar Evers, Emmett Till and Eric Garner. For those who are tuned into the news cycle, there will be some familiar names.”

In the past few months, as the country confronts both the COVID pandemic and its own racist institutions and history, Morrison has noticed palpable changes in people’s mindsets. “We have two pandemics;” she said. “There’s COVID-19 and there’s racism. We need to tend to both as a country, and I’m really feeling hopeful about this new swirling energy and the young people in the street. Change is happening so rapidly. A lot of people are starting to read books like ”White Fragility“ and a lot of people perceived as white bodies are doing anti-racism work in a new, deeper way.”

The inspiration for the “Pray Their Names” project came from several directions, Morrison said. She recalled a church group discussion around the book “My Grandmother’s Hands,” which, she said, “shed a spotlight on how black bodies have always historically been treated in our culture. We used to have slave patrols, and now we have police patrols, and policing was created to find slaves and bring them back to the plantation.”

While engaging in such “vulnerable conversations” about the nation’s history of racism, Morrison remembers, “I was listening honestly to how my body was responding and, asking myself, ‘what work is there to do?’ And this vision just came to me. Watching the news or reading an article in the paper is one thing, but I’m a visual learner. If you Google ‘Black Lives Matter art,’ it’s amazing. I think social justice movements inspire people to make visual what your heart is longing for.”

Around the same time, she recalled that a member of the church described racism as “death by a thousand cuts.” Morrison added that this was also a sentiment raised by Black community members during the June protests on the Plaza. “We know that that’s the experience of people in Sonoma,” she said, “and that it doesn’t have depth of incredibly rich multiculturalism. We have to get more comfortable talking about it.”

Rev. Morrison hopes that the installation will inspire similarly vulnerable conversations all over Northern California and beyond.

Morrison said one purpose of the exhibit is to personalize the victims.

“It’s not just another Black body; these are people with names, these are children,” she said. “So, ‘Pray Their Names’ isn’t supposed to be a cute play off of it; it’s a public place where you can interact and engage. Whether that means to grieve, or feel sad, or to feel a fire... we have to look, and ask what then we can do to help heal our bodies and end any complicity.”

Rev Morrison stresses that, in addition to making a conscious effort to embody the“loving neighbor” that is so prevalent in the Christian faith, she said that “as a person of European descent, the purpose for me is to heed the call to always be growing my stamina and staying in the pain, staying in the discomfort of doing anti-racism work and looking at white silence and what that does to keep white supremacy in place.”

(Dan Lambert and Rich Randolph)


“The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

- by Wendell Berry


One Love – Elle Varner

"We Gotta Pray" Alicia Keys

Pride (In the Name of Love) – U2

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