For many Wilmingtonians, as well as citizens across the country, current social circles and conversations (online and otherwise) revolve around racism, hate, violence, and death. Not surprisingly, often they can be fueled by misinformation and lack of understanding. For others, maybe it’s just hard to be a part of the conversation.
Enter: Potluck for Peace.
Started by YWCA Lower Cape Fear, the first Potluck for Peace stemmed from YWCA’s involvement in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in 2015. The first potluck was dubbed “Wilmington in Black and White: Continuing the Conversation,” and its theme surrounded “Recognizing and Respecting Differences.” Diversity specialist Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith (also known as the Night Nurse over the past 20 years, who hosts reggae music on local stations, and can now be heard on Modern Rock 98.7’s Reggae Redemption) hosted the inaugural discussion.
They received such positive feedback for the first potluck that YWCA’s community outreach coordinator Kelly Williams says they decided to hold one each quarter indefinitely. “The overall goal is to continue a conversation about changes that need to be made in the community,” she says, “and express concerns or problems we see, and then move toward healthy and positive solutions, and ways for reconciliation.”
Their second potluck, “On a Mission for Girls of Color,” was an extension to YWCA’s Stand Against Racism campaign last April. Women empowerment specialist and founder of Escape to Sisterhood and Girls Rocking in the South (G.R.I.T.S.), Suprena Hickman, led the event.
Now on their third Potluck for Peace, “Continuing the Conversation” is scheduled for July 21, 6 p.m.- 8 p.m., at YWCA on College Road. It will be facilitated by Kenny House, board president of the Wilmington Area Leadership Foundation.
“The goal for the potluck is to offer a platform and safe space to have an open dialogue about the issues plaguing our community,” Williams explains, “centered around diversity, unity, equality, and race relations.”
Potluck for Peace starts where a lot of good conversations do: with food. Each guest is asked to bring a dish to share, whether it’s a side, entrée or drink. The idea is to contribute to a “family-style dinner” in a safe and respectful environment, where minds can be open to engaging discussion led by a facilitator.
“The idea is each table should have a variety of people,” Williams continues, “from different education levels, backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, career paths, political and religious affiliations, etc. By sitting at a table with people we wouldn’t normally associate with, it forces us out of our comfort zones.”
Each table is given group activities and topics to discuss. YWCA assistant executive director Katie Tate says facilitators typically have large and small group activities planned. “A larger group activity is used as an ice-breaker, and then we break into smaller groups to have more intimate conversations,” she says.
At the end of the meal, everyone reconvenes for a larger discussion pertaining to the activity. This is where Kenny House, who’s also representing a new initiative of WALF called “Change,” will continue to host talks of race, culture and building bridges.
“Part of [Kenny’s] expertise is conflict resolution, reconciliation, and positive interactions and engagement,” Williams explains. “This is not Kenny’s first time leading this discussion. The group often gets together and hosts similar discussions, so Kenny will be facilitating a discussion with interactive games and activities similar to what [they’ve] done in the past.”
House will focus on relationships and the kind of communication that builds bridges rather than polarizes people. Groups will explore different perspectives, ideas and questions about different cultures and racial backgrounds. The idea of such interaction is to help build healing relationships. Williams says the exercises will not focus on recent events and issues like Black Lives Matter and police brutality.
“Those issues have been occurring for 60-plus years,” she says. “Kenny and the event host will definitely have a statement about the issues, but we want to focus more on long-lasting problems and solutions in hopes this isn’t seen as an event that is reactionary to media or news, but is very aware and evident that systemic racism has been in existence for over 120 years.”
Another of its goals is to connect the YWCA and its programming with more community members. Essentially, they hope to grow their audience. “Potlucks allow us to serve people [who] are potential members and program participants of the Y,” Tate says. “We currently have volunteer opportunities available, as well as committee positions.”
Past potlucks have seen diverse groups in attendance, including community members and leaders, public officials, and youth. However, Tate says participants should come prepared for mature conversation not suitable for young children. “Everyone in the community is welcome and encouraged to attend Potluck for Peace,” she adds.
Potlucks do fill up, with only 80 seats available, and individuals are encouraged to RSVP to Kelly Williams at 910-799-6820 ext. 114 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details, visit the Facebook event page Potluck for Peace: Continuing the Conversation.