embRACE LA Dinners at LMU: Breaking Bread While Breaking Through

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Around the dinner table is an ideal place to share food and meaningful conversation. Typically we gather with friends and family, but on April 19 members of the BCLA community welcomed perfect strangers to LMU to dine and discuss race relations in L.A.

The two dinners, hosted at LMU by Dean Robbin D. Crabtree and Psychology Professor Cheryl Grills, were part of 100 dinner parties held over four days in all 15 council districts through an initiative called embRACE LA. Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell originally came up with the idea for the initiative in July 2015 as a way to build and strengthen relationships between Los Angeles’ diverse communities through dinner, conversation, idea sharing, and radical compassion.

Each dinner consisted of a host, facilitator, and up to 10 guests featuring delicious meals prepared by local chefs. The South Los Angeles nonprofit organization Community Coalition and the City of L.A. picked up the bill for the 100 dinners. In addition, the Community Coalition staff served as facilitators for all of the dinners and received training from Grills on communication and facilitation techniques.

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“We had a very diverse group that included residents from Westchester as well as folks from as far away as Hollywood. For sure these were uncomfortable and unfamiliar conversations but everyone at our dinner agreed – they were conversations that needed to happen and they were glad to be part of the launch of something that could make LA a more welcoming place to call home for everyone,” said Grills.

Dean Crabtree’s dinner also consisted of guests from different communities and all walks of life: artists, businesspersons, activists, educators, and health and wellness professionals. They discussed concepts such as strangers becoming neighbors; envisioned the Los Angeles of the future; and explored paths forward.

“The strength of the 100 dinners model is in sharing stories and perspectives. Even though the level of self-awareness and social consciousness was high among participants at the LMU/BCLA dinners, we all learned from each other, and built on our ability to speak to issues of social injustice, and also work to become better allies and advocates,” said Dean Crabtree.

Deanna Cooke is BCLA’s Director of Engaged Learning and played an integral role in organizing the dinners at LMU. She is an advocate for transformative learning, where students grow in response to personal experiences, and was encouraged to see this practice employed as part of a larger, community-based initiative.

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Cooke was a guest at Dean Crabtree’s dinner. She reflected, “The invitation for people from different communities and backgrounds to come together just to talk about our lives, our city and our communities is so rare. Yet this opportunity is a core reason why we send students into communities to work and struggle together and to celebrate together. The embRACE LA dinners provided the opportunity for us to open up about ourselves, and feel (as one participant called it) the vibrations of each of our dinner companions.”