In these turbulent, oft-divisive times, signs of unity are refreshing — if not desperately needed. Here in Houston, such a sign of unity comes in the form of a new public space, as Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston has announced the opening of the Brigitte and Bashar Kalai Plaza of Respect.
The plaza, located at the ministries' 3303 Main St. headquarters in Midtown, is meant to honor the interfaith work of three Houston faith leaders — Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, Rabbi Samuel Karff, and Reverend William A. Lawson.
As the capstone of the Interfaith Ministries campus, the Brigitte and Bashar Kalai Plaza of Respect is an outdoor reflective space for learning and gathering. From Main Street, a wide staircase leads to the “Peace Portal” which has multiple doors, representing the many paths of faith in Houston.
A horizontal metal banner (sponsored by Shell) graces the top perimeter of the building and features the word “respect” in many languages carved from the metal and illuminated from within.
Three monuments of dichroic glass called the “Pillars of Light” are the highlight of the plaza and honor the three iconic faith leaders. The vertical sculptures reflect light during the day and are illuminated at night. The pillar honoring Archbishop Fiorenza has been sponsored by the Clark and Charlene Thompson Foundation.
The interior of the plaza, underwritten by Patti and Richard Everett, is called the “Patti and Richard Everett Forum.” The multi-purpose outdoor space is open for meditation during the day, as well as for gatherings of community groups. Designed to educate, inspire and uplift, a stage and video backdrop will allow visitors to learn from lectures, enjoy films and live music, and celebrate an array of Houston’s many faith traditions.
The trio, Archbishop Fiorenza, Rabbi Karff, and Reverend Lawson, have been working with one another, for the common good, for over three decades. They have championed a variety of causes, from advocating for the homeless to reducing the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a common practice of punishing children who misbehave —typically first in the classroom — by pushing them into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The pillars remind us that the fight against anti-Semitism, the bombing of a local mosque, the assaults on Sikhs and Hindus, are all things we must still fight against.
The lead, $1 million gift for the plaza was made by Brigitte and Bashar Kalai. The couple is well-known locally for their charity work; they say their Muslim faith inspired them to make the gift as a way to honor all faiths.
The plaza is the jewel of IM’s campus, a project that started in 2012 with the launch of the “Many Faiths Building Together” capital campaign. On Tuesday, April 2, IM will host supporters, donors, media, elected officials, and community leaders to the plaza for the Plaza of Respect Dedication, which is a private event to celebrate strength of shared beliefs in Houston. The plaza will then open to the public thereafter.
The plaza was initially designed by Gensler’s Ryan Marchesi and Kristopher Stuart, and generously completed by PBK Architects. The augmented reality experiences were produced by VISION.