'Longest Table' Encourages Conversations On Diversity, Inclusion

Jun 9, 2017

The “Longest Table” is back on Sunday for its fourth installment.

Credit longesttable.com

The dining event is Tallahassee’s way to encourage residents to talk with each other about issues facing the community.

Home owners and organizations, like the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce, Islamic Center of Tallahassee, and Greater Bond Neighborhood Association, will host small group dinners across the city. The tables of six to eight guests are encouraged to interact and discuss community issues and foster stronger connections.

“That probably sounds fairly difficult in the environment we’re in right now,” said Liz Joyner, executive director of The Village Square. “But one of the things we’ve found is it's easier than it seems. When we just take a moment and connect with our neighbors, we have more in common than we understand.”

This year, a new mathematical algorithm developed by FSU Doctoral Candidate Ryan Kopinski is being used to sort people into varying groups.

“If we let people self-select, then we don’t interrupt the pattern of behavior,” said Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum. “What we’re trying to get to happen here is folks to be vulnerable and acknowledge they have a routine.”

Gillum said the event is seemingly simple in its nature, but could be the catalyst for meaningful change in racial, cultural, economic and other social issues for the city.  

“I think people truly are craving community,” he said. “They don’t like being separated by superficial things that really don’t tell us who we are… Events like this allow us to step out of that and allow us to put the emphasis back on being neighbors, back on being friends, back on being community.”

B Sharps Jazz Society is hosting a table in their club for the first time, and owner Geraldine Seay is excited to open the doors.  

“They’ve not been to B Sharps before, they’ve probably never been in a historic African American building before,” she said. “So I think that the people who come there will gain some insight about the community that they may not have known.”

Gillum and the city hope that the more randomized placement this year will allow people to mingle and dine with a person they may have never met before, and let the conversation be “free-ranging.”

“That’s what happened at my house,” said Gillum. “It broke down walls... and it was good.”