For the past five years, weather permitting, I have been hosting a weekly tea party in Bryant Park on Thursday afternoons.
It began as a lark. I was looking for free things to do in the city with my sons. In the summers, Bryant Park hosts Broadway in Bryant Park on Thursdays. I started going, and packing a picnic lunch. I invited friends over Facebook. Each week that summer, more people visited. Towards the end of the summer, there was a chill in the early evening air. Several people went to get coffee. One friend commented that she preferred tea. “Me, too,” I responded. Then she added that she only liked drinking tea out of a real china cup. I told her that I had a whole collection of cups that had belonged to my mother and grandmother. I offered to bring a cup for each of us to have tea the following week. As I packed the cups I decided to bring a few extra for whoever might join us.
This is how the idea was born, but it quickly became something more. Around the same time, my Dad began to descend deeply into Alzheimer’s. He had been a college professor and civil rights activist. Because of him, my first memory of the world is the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was the first time I remember my father crying while he watched the television. When I asked him how such a terrible thing could happen, he explained that there were some things we could never understand, but that the work that Dr. King left undone was the creation of The Beloved Community. He told me that this was my job—to help create The Beloved Community. As my Dad lost his memory, I felt the best way for me to honor him was to remember what he taught me.
So the weekly tea party has become a purposeful experience of Beloved Community. Each week I wake around 5 am to bake everyone’s favorite seasonal baked goods (cookies, brownies, banana bread.) I pack tea, sandwiches, and my collection of cups and saucers. When I arrive at the park, with my children often accompanying me, I set the table and wait for our guests to arrive. Friends visit regularly, but we also welcome any passersby who are interested, many of whom have become treasured friends.
I lost my Dad earlier this year. Since his passing, the tea party seems to have taken on a deeper meaning. Each week this year, I have been aware of the special community that is growing around our table. Each week it feels like we are coming together to experience community.
I want to use this space to provide reflections on the tea party and how it is helping us create, in one little corner of a big city, the feeling of The Beloved Community.