One Very Long Table Brings A Whole Community Together
Jacksonville's 'The Longest Table' follows national trend of using conversation around a meal to bring diverse people together.
There's something about sharing a meal around the same table that can bring people together in ways that are more than just physical. The conversation can turn strangers into friends. People who sometimes disagree find common ground. The bigger the table and the more people, the more community is built.
That's the idea behind something called The Longest Table in Jacksonville. FL. The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce organizes it. They close off Independent Drive in downtown Jacksonville and literally set up the longest table most people in town have probably ever seen. Then they ask local restaurants to cook up their best dishes, and invite people from every neighborhood to come have dinner together. Last year 600+ people showed up!
(The Longest Table closes off en entire section of a downtown highway)
Among them was Wanda Willis, who, like everyone, was assigned a seat by her zip code. She ended up sitting with people she didn't know who all had different stories and perspectives, but shared many of the same hopes and concerns for their community.
"It's one of my favorite events of the year, the sense of community it provides," Willis told The Florida Times-Union's Jacksonville.com. "It's just genius of the chamber to come up with an opportunity for people from all walks of life to break bread together."
This year's event is November 20 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are free, but required and have already sold out -- just like last year.
(Seats are assigned by zip code so that people from different neighborhoods are sitting with each other.)
This is the fourth year for the Longest Table which was started in 2016 as a way to bring the community together.
"It is just amazing to see what happens when you bring people together who don't look like each other," the Chamber's Outreach Director Shamika Wright told Jacksonville.com.
She described one guest, an elderly black woman who had never had dinner with a white woman before, until she sat at the Longest Table. "I would have never thought that was possible. [It} still gets me a little emotional."
More and more communities are doing similar events to build community, including cities like Pittsburgh which is planning a second annual Big Table event in spring of 2020 (click here for our previous story).