Unifying America And North Texas At The Dallas Dinner Table – CBS Dallas / Fort Worth

by Robbie Owens | CBS 11

Out of horror, hope.

North Texans joined the world in June 1998 and fought to understand the brutal murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas. He was dragged to his death by three white men who had chained him to the back of a pickup truck.

The murder later led to books and films – but the Leadership Dallas alumni class (a regional leadership development program founded by the Dallas Regional Chamber) wanted to make a difference.

This effort came to be known as the “Dallas Dinner Table”.

“We usually meet in small groups of eight to ten people per table,” explains Chairman Beverley Wright, “and we have a relaxed conversation about the race.”

Wright has been the chairman of the board of the Dallas Dinner Table since 2002. She served as the leader, presenter, and at one point as a first time dinner.

“It just changed me,” Wright shares without hesitation. “It taught me so much about myself and the subconscious prejudices I had.”

Wright was born in Dallas, but says the family traveled often to their parents’ hometown, Nacogdoches, East Texas.

“And I’ve had some not-so-great memories of how my father was treated as a grown man,” Wright recalls [he]was called “boy”. And I didn’t know how deep these sat until I joined the dining table in Dallas – because there was a white gentleman in our group who said he was from Nacogdoches and immediately, without my thinking about it, all of my fences went up . ”

Wright recalls that when “God would have” the person sitting next to her at dinner was the person she wanted to avoid most.

“And we had a chat over dinner,” recalls Wright. “And he told me that he was 13 years old before he knew the N word wasn’t the right name for black people. And what I began to understand in our conversation was that he was a kid just like me. He grew up without prejudice until someone wrote this on his blank blackboard. “

The community dinners are always free – sometimes in private homes, restaurants, community centers, or community halls on MLK holidays – although prior registration is required.

Wright says the goal is not to rewrite history, but to learn from it from someone else’s perspective. And yes, painful new chapters keep being added: like the taped death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020.

“And I think it made a difference to see someone beg for their life and call for their late mother while someone casually kneels around the neck,” says Wright. “And I think now people have to make a choice. And they say, “If I don’t do anything now, it will be very clear who I am.”

In the months that followed, there was renewed interest in the Dallas Dinner Table – and a new level of corporate support, according to Wright. She says CEOs are pressured by their own consciences and employees to do more to recognize and address the racial segregation of the nation. It is time that racism became everyone’s problem.

“Like most whites, we didn’t have to think about racing, and neither did we,” admits Simmons Lettre, who first attended the Dallas Dinner Table from the DC area last month. Lettre had already worked on a similar effort there. This year’s “virtual” dinners offer the opportunity to fill more seats at a table with good things.

“It was a place of healing. It’s a place for understanding. It’s a place to listen. And it’s a place to grow, ”says Lettre. “I feel so much more … so much more human, frankly, to be able to see the world for what it really is and understand how the wind has been on my back over the years.”

Lettre says she encourages her daughters to “find people who are different from them because it makes them better people”.

Supporters say the goal of Dallas Dinner Table is to create a safe space to grow. And the non-profit organization is also growing. Leaders are connecting with other groups across the country, training moderators, and looking to become the America’s Dinner Table in the near future.

“We’re making it easier for people to get around with whatever. They can ask the questions they were nervous about asking in a non-judgmental setting,” added Wright. “And that’s the only way we can really move it.” Needle together. “

For those who might have thought about coming for dinner, Lettre says this:

“So if you’re scared of having these conversations, that’s okay. Many people are afraid of these conversations. The more terrifying thing is when we don’t. “

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