Hosting dinners that build bridges

by Rasheed Ajamu, Germantown Info Hub
Posted 3/20/24

“Dinner & Discussion” series creates a space where differing viewpoints are respected and honoring diversity is expected. 

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Hosting dinners that build bridges


The emergence of social media, digital spaces and forums has made it possible for people to discuss formerly taboo topics like race and politics more openly. Molly Davis, a resident of Germantown, isn’t drawn to those online spaces, feeling they can be unproductive and sometimes an “echo chamber.” So Davis eagerly joined in when she saw an opportunity for people of all backgrounds and identities to discuss their thoughts and experiences of the world – in person.

This opportunity came through the “Dinner & Discussion” series, curated and facilitated by Germantown transplant Peace Ike in her home. Ike is a Pittsburgh native who settled in the neighborhood in 2017. Two years later, after observing the ways the masses engaged in online discourse, Ike desired to create a space where differing viewpoints are respected and honoring diversity is expected. 

She then turned her desires into a real-life social experiment when she began getting ten people of different backgrounds together to discuss topics that can divide communities of people on social media.

“[The attendees] are differing in race, they are differing in age, they’re differing in religion, and they’re differing in political affiliation or political spectrum,” says Ike, talking about the different types of people who populate each gathering. Ike does this deliberately so that no two people are exactly the same and to maintain balance and diversity at the table.

While Davis typically enjoys meeting new people, she expressed nervousness about entering the space. She says, “I was kind of thinking, oh my God, I don’t know how this is going to go because, normally, you don’t talk about hard things with strangers.” 

How does Ike do it? Despite contentious topics, she creates a space that maintains levity and encourages people to listen to understand rather than listen to assume and respond. It’s not just one thing but a recipe of strategies and action steps she follows.

Before all else, Ike has to carefully choose the guests, as stated earlier, to ensure diversity..

She explains her intentions: “If I have seven people who all think alike, look alike, come from the same background, and three people on the other side, it’s not very fair or balanced, and I never want anyone to feel like they’re being ganged up on. So a lot of intentionality goes into how I choose the participants.”

All the guests are asked to bring a dish, one of three requirements besides an open mind and one question they want to ask. Ike talks about how it aids a space of vulnerability, saying, “I don’t know where I’ve heard it, but I know it to be true that when you bring something you’ve prepared, you’re already tearing down one wall.” 

When guests arrive, they throw their questions into a hat. The questions will be asked randomly during the discussion to keep things anonymous. Ike says this helps to create a sense of safety. Germantown native Monique Martin has been to several of the gatherings. She says the anonymous questions leave a certain level of freeness. 

When everyone has ushered themselves to the dinner table, everyone introduces themselves. More recently, she’s introduced the idea of getting everyone to promise to live by rules and norms when at the table, that everyone recites together. For example, everyone may pledge not to interrupt one another, and they hold themselves to it.

During discussions, Ike makes it her mission to have everyone in the space share their thoughts — simply because they can. “I will sometimes call on someone to share their thoughts, just to really encourage people that you can say what you really feel here,” she says.

Over the past six months to a year, Ike has noticed a few consistent themes, including topics affecting the younger generations, like the education system and the age of technology. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another more recent topic, and she says former president Donald Trump’s name appears at least once every session. One commonality Ike found interesting was “general disappointment with how the world is going.” 

Martin described Ike’s facilitation style as similar to mock trials in high school, where teachers give students something they disagree with and tell them to argue the opposite position. She called the experience “amazing.”  When the event was over and everyone left, Martin said, “It didn’t mean your mind would change, but you came out respecting one another.”

Ike feels that if folks disagree with each other, they should explore the disagreement respectfully, as “this is how we teach people how to actually interact as human beings.” She expresses concern for the upcoming Gen Z demographic, saying she’s unsure if they’ve been taught to respond to things that hurt without getting enraged. “Emotions are healthy and good, but when they don’t allow us to think critically, they become inhibiting,” she shares. She says this is a skill she hopes all the guests can exercise at the gatherings.

For Ike, a gathering is successful if people leave, saying they think about something differently than they came in. During one memorable gathering, there was a conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist, and Marxist sitting around the table. Even so, Ike assures us that there has never been a time when attendees haven’t shared their shifted perspectives before leaving.

She touches on how she feels to be able to host these gatherings, saying, “It’s so satisfying. It really feels like I’m seeing. It’s like a spiritual thing. I’m seeing love in action. I’m seeing what happens when we remember who we are, that we are not our political affiliations, we are not just our ideas, but we’re human at the core.”