The holiday season has finally come to a close, and with that, most people have had their fill of both good food and politically charged conversation.
However, the social and political issues behind those conversations remain alive and well regardless of the season, so for those people with room for seconds, Baton Rouge has an upcoming event to satisfy the appetite. Together Baton Rouge and Leadership Baton Rouge Alumni are putting on Race ‘N’ Gravy, a group of dinners hosted and attended by members of the Baton Rouge community, in which attendees will discuss their experiences and perspectives as members of their respective races.
The event is on its fifth year, and is being held, as always, on Martin Luther King Day, January 19th. (However, register soon; registration ends on the 14th!)
To host or attend is free to anyone, with hosts simply responsible for preparing the dinner. Ten to fourteen people will go to each house, ready to eat and discuss.
“When you sit down and break bread with someone of a different race, you are more likely to understand their perspective of the world,” said Margaret Read, a lead organizer of the event.
Read said she modeled the event after a similar one in Dallas entitled the Dallas Dinner Table, which has been going on since 1999.
She says Baton Rouge’s event, much like Dallas’s, is meant to encourage dialogue between people of different races so that conversations about racial issues can be more productive and so people can gain further perspective through a more personal setting.
“If some issue comes up, and you know the people involved, you’re much more likely to have a civilized outcome,” Read explained.
This, Read says, is exactly why the event is based around dinners. Instead of attacks and impersonal debates, it is much easier to connect with and understand people in a close, friendly setting. To enter someone’s home and sit around the dinner table with a group of people almost inherently creates friendships and personal relationships, which is something that may often be lacking in discussions about race issues.
“If you can build relationships with people…you aren’t going to attack them,” said Read. “It makes sense, and it does work.”
This is also why the dinners each top off at fourteen participants per home, so that attendees can get the chance to speak and create connections with each and every other participant.
As the event’s page on the Leadership Alumni website reads, “It is all about relationships!”
Read echoed this sentiment.
“If you have never listened to someone of a different race give their background on why they feel a certain way, then you’re clueless, you don’t understand,” she said.
Forming these personal relationships is what Read says will help people to truly listen to each other’s perspectives.
“The basic question that will be asked at each of these dinners,” she said, “is when you were a child, or when you were young…what was your first experience that you remember [in which] you realized that there was a difference in the color of another person?”
This question represents a broader question that one doesn’t often think about: how were your own perspectives formed and shaped, and how might that affect others?
Once you realize your own perspective and how your own position in society can affect your experiences, Read says, you begin to see where other people may be coming from with their opinions or reactions, and you can further respect and understand them.
“It truly is [about] building relationships so that the community can coalesce and work better to build a Baton Rouge for everyone,” she concluded.