CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – Protests, marches, riots, cable news and even elections. Our nation has tried them all and still inequality and racism prevail. But what if something as simple as sitting down to dinner and a conversation could help ease the tension and bring people together?
“There’s the power in being able to share a meal, people tend to let down their guard more gradually around the dinner table,” explained Cleveland transplant, Ricardo Reinoso.
Reinoso’s vision for 2020 was to plan and launch Cleveland Dinners, a relaxed monthly gathering of diverse people to share a meal and have conversations about race and equity.
The model has been used in other cities and been successful in bringing people together in Chicago for decades.
Rosco Morgan, a life-long Clevelander, was inspired by Reinoso’s idea and is part of the Cleveland Dinners production team.
“How do we have conversations across racial lines and as community? And once we learn to do that, then we can talk about anything and then we can make some effective change,” Morgan said.
In the early days of 2020 Reinoso’s plan was to have dinners around the city and Cleveland suburbs, groups of eight to 10 hosted at people’s homes, but the coronavirus pandemic put that plan on hold.
Then nationwide unrest, protests and riots in Cleveland following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police proved to Reinoso and his team the time for quality conversations about tough issues is now. They moved the dinners online to Zoom.
The night starts with a virtual cocktail hour, live music by a local musician and then a monologue or short play to spark the conversation. Small zoom breakout groups mimic a table in a home set for eight.
“It opened my mind up that there are some white people who are concerned about black issues,” said Angela Sayles.
Sayles and her friends got together for the first virtual dinner in October.
“I really appreciated talking to people that are non-black that care because in your day-to-day life, I’ve been in corporate America, that’s not the environment,” Sayles said.
“I just appreciated that we were trying to find solutions and leaving with “what can I do?” Sayles continued.
For the October dinner performance local actress Glendoria Burris, known on stage as Gigi, portrayed a successful woman raising her family in a Cleveland suburb.
Burris said she felt the monologue was like a chapter out of her own life and that it was something all parents could relate to.
“I’m tired of waking up every day with the fear that my husband or one of my sons is the next hashtag,” her character said.
“Right now, everyone’s not listening, everyone’s talking. This setting was the perfect setting for that just to be quiet and see how they felt and what they saw through their eyes,” Burris said.
Reinoso said the virtual format did not seem to hinder conversation and in fact, people may have been even more comfortable staying in their own homes.
What he calls the ‘real magic’ of the night happens in the Zoom breakout groups.
“When people start to become curious what other people at the dinner table have experienced and asking them questions that’s when we have developed a dialogue that will live not just in the virtual format itself but outside,” Reinoso said.
The goal is to start to change people’s perspectives, to see more than color, but people, and possibly even progress.
Reinoso believes after the Presidential election on November 3rd, regardless of who wins, there will be an even greater need for quality, understanding conversation.
There is still time to become part of the conversation and RSVP for the next virtual Cleveland Dinner, which will be held on November 8th, the Sunday after Election Day.
To sign up go to www.clevelanddinners.org and click on Events.
For the November 8th dinner Cleveland Dinners has partnered with local business Busy Boss Bakery in Larchmere who will provide dessert coupons to all dinner guests to receive a complimentary cupcake.