America’s Dinner Table: Formed by Leadership Dallas Alumni to connect and empower

By Catie George, Manager, Communications & Storytelling

Following the brutal death of James Byrd in 1998, the Leadership Dallas Alumni (LDA) Board of the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) wanted to bring people of different backgrounds together. They founded America’s Dinner Table (ADT) to encourage communication about race relations, educate attendees, and empower people to develop diverse relationships.

“Similar to [the murder of] George Floyd, this was the impetus for a group of business professionals to say, ‘What is it we can do to make real change in our community?’” said Latosha Herron-Bruff, Senior Vice President of Inclusion & Community Engagement at the DRC. “And they wanted to start with how we can have conversations about race and racism.”

The first ADT dinner was hosted on Oct. 7, 1999, and was originally known as Dallas’ Dinner Table. 25 years later, ADT is still making significant changes now as a national initiative, one dinner at a time.

“If we’re not having conversations with people who look different than ourselves or having conversations about the underlying issues that are a part of everything that we work on, then we’re never going to make progress to increase quality of life,” said DRC Senior Vice President of Talent and Workforce Elizabeth Caudill McClain. “We can’t work together on issues facing our region if we’re not sitting down, breaking bread, and connecting to each other, specifically around issues of race and disparities.”

Every year, ADT hosts a signature event for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This year, the virtual experience will explore the concept of how we should be living out Dr. King’s dream. There is no charge to attend this event.

“We ask the DRC staff to participate in the MLK Day event. It’s a safe space for people to have open, curious, and courageous conversations around something that is not always easy to talk about,” said Herron-Bruff. “We should be honoring Dr. King’s legacy by continuing the work. This should be a day on, not a day off.”

These dinners focus on gathering a small group of diverse participants to participate in a conversation led by an expert.

“They have people who are trained and certified to have these facilitated conversations to bring a deeper understanding of each other, to help people have an exercise in empathy,” said Herron-Bruff.

This kind of experience is important anywhere, but especially in a city marked by historical segregation like Dallas.

“I believe that we can’t talk about economic prosperity or quality of life without talking about race or the history of the region because the climate we’re living in was built off of that history,” said Caudill McClain. “I see the conversations that happen at ADT as critical steps to get the work done because we are addressing and identifying root causes of issues while also building relationships between people to build trust and move the needle forward.”

Since its founding, ADT has stayed involved in the DRC’s work. Later this year, ADT will participate in a Leadership Dallas class day. The connection with the LDA board also makes ADT one of the special organizations formed out of the DRC’s leadership pipeline.

“LDA has over 2,400 alumni, and time and time again, we see people go through the LD program and then build community impact initiatives,” said Caudill McClain. “They go through LD, they form a connection to the community, and then make lasting change. LDA works hard to connect the past and present for the good of the future, and ADT is a perfect example of a future that is better because of LDA’s leadership.”

To learn more about the DRC’s Leadership Programs, visit our website.