Every May, the Chicago Community Trust sponsors "On the Table" conversations throughout the city. Host organizations/individuals invite others to join for food and conversation focused on racial and economic injustice. In 2017, Eileen Sutter from Old St. Pat's asked St. Agatha to host an "On the Table" evening.
The first gathering on May 16, 2017 welcomed 42 people. After sharing a meal, three circles were formed. After two rounds of creating shared values and relationship-building sharing, the groups dove into deeper conversation regarding race and racism.
At the end of the evening, the energy was high. The possibility of continuing these conversations monthly was posed to the group. Most agreed, and since then, we have met monthly focusing on different aspects of racism, sexism, xenophobia. We feature short Youtube clips on different related topics, then break into Circles of 9-10 people for conversation using reflection questions posed by the planning team.
One aspect of these conversations that has been important is the sharing about these events in various places where we might learn more about these issues and participate in advocacy and ongoing discussion about how we can bring the gift of these conversations to other communities.
In early December 2019, we held an end-of-year gathering. In one large circle, we invited everyone to reflect on the year's programming and what being part of this community has meant for them. Many people shared about the new friendships that have bloomed and the old ones strengthened and nourished through our fellowship each month.
Many said they cherished hearing and learning from one another, and that just when you thought you’d learned all there is to know about someone you were invited to bear witness to a new corner of that person’s soul and identity.
Many simply affirmed the uniqueness of the community we've built together – a space where we intentionally speak about the "important" or "difficult" things, when conversations such as these aren't necessarily prioritized or welcomed in other facets of our lives. What we've found, however, is that participating often prompts participants to widen the circle and invite family and friends to join in on our monthly gatherings.
Participants of color talked about feeling empowered and gaining the vocabulary to speak on their lived experiences of discrimination and racism – particularly in a community willing to receive and empathize with them.
It's through our proximity and dialogue that we realize our lived experiences are different but connected.
The program is education; it is equally restorative. We share personal stories and reckon with the fact that we are all impacted by, and ultimately harmed by, our country's legacy of racism.
We have no magic formula, but bringing folks together, creating spaces where the damage of racism can be unpacked, healed, and repaired, seems like a start.