In This Place Speaker Series: 200 Years of Race & Place

Last week, the Memphis community gathered at historic Clayborn Temple for the second event in the In This Place speaker series to discuss 200 years of race and place, in honor of our city’s bicentennial.

Tami Sawyer, Shelby County Commissioner and Director of External Affairs at Teach for America, facilitated the discussion as the In This Place speaker-in-residence. She was joined by a panel of social justice advocates and community leaders. Panelists included Dr. Roz Nichols, Pastor at Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church, Executive Director at AWay, Inc. and Consultant for Operations at Clayborn Temple; Elaine Lee Turner, Civil Rights Activist and President of Heritage Tours; Allyson Smith, student at White Station High School; Frank Johnson, Community Organizer; and Iris Mercado, Program Coordinator for Urban Studies at the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center at Rhodes College.

When the doors opened at 5:30 p.m., more than 75 people flooded in to the captivating sanctuary to engage in conversation with their neighbors, known and unknown. A variety of cultures were represented throughout the evening, including the Spanish-speaking community, which was supported by volunteer translators and audio equipment.

Discussion topics ranged from heritage to current Memphis culture, environmental safety and education, all impacted by race and class. Following the panel discussion, each table was encouraged to discuss their current place in the city, and what they hope to see happen in the future. The dialogue carried through the end of the event, and by the time the last guest left, countless doors had been opened, countless connections had been made and undeniable healing occurred. It is through honest, compassionate conversation that the City of Memphis will find its identity in the coming years.

Clayborn Temple seeks to build relationships with the Memphis community and have authentic conversations around restoration within the building, the city and beyond. This event marks the second installment of the In This Place speaker series at Clayborn Temple, and upcoming themes will include the empowerment of women, in honor of Women’s History Month, and other issues of public interest. 

In This Place is a series of free events that are open to the public. For more information about future discussions, follow Clayborn Temple on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Beth Wilson