Finding a safe space to talk about race. That's been the goal of the Dallas Dinner Table for years.
- In the search for humanity, shared humanity, that's the goal of an effort that you're going to see across the CBS family nationwide today called Unifying America. Our Robbie Owens introduces us to some, while reminding others of the great work Dallas Dinner Table has been doing to unify North Texans for decades.
- Mind if I hop in?
- Sure, why don't you hop on the back?
ROBBIE OWENS: Books have been written and movies made about James Byrd's 1998 dragging death in Jasper. The horrified Leadership Dallas alumni class wanted to make a difference. That effort became known as Dallas Dinner Table.
NEVERLEY WRIGHT: And so we usually get together in small groups of 8 to 10 per table. And we have a facilitated conversation about race.
ROBBIE OWENS: Beverley Wright has been board chair since 2002, serving as leader, facilitator, and at one point, a first-time diner.
NEVERLEY WRIGHT: It just changed me. It taught me so much about me and the unconscious biases that I had.
ROBBIE OWENS: Wright was born in Dallas but often traveled with her parents to their hometown in East Texas.
NEVERLEY WRIGHT: I had some not great memories of how my dad was treated as an adult male that was called boy. And I didn't realize how deeply seated those were until I participated in Dallas Dinner Table. Because there was a white gentleman in our group that said he was from Nacogdoches. And immediately without me even thinking about it, all my fences went up.
And we had conversation over dinner. And he told me that he was 13 years old before he knew that the n-word was not the proper name for Black people. And what I started understanding in our conversation is that, just like me, he was a kid. He grew up with no prejudices until someone wrote that on his his blank slate.
ROBBIE OWENS: The community dinners are free, but require prior registration and are held on the MLK holiday. Wright says the goal is not to rewrite history, but to learn from it through another's perspective.
- What's his name?
- George Floyd!
ROBBIE OWENS: And, yes, new painful chapters are always being added.
NEVERLEY WRIGHT: I think to actually see someone begging for their life, calling for their deceased mother while someone casually kneels on their neck made a difference. I think now people are having to make a choice. Now they're saying, if I don't do something now, this says very clearly who I am.
SIMMONS LETTRE: Like most white people, I think we didn't have to think about race and so we didn't.
ROBBIE OWENS: Simmons Lettre joined Dallas Dinner Table for the first time last month from the DC area where she's been involved in a similar effort. The virtual conversations this year, an opportunity to set more places at a table loaded with good things.
SIMMONS LETTRE: It's a place for healing. It's a place for understanding. It's a place for listening. And it's a place for growing.
NEVERLEY WRIGHT: We make it easier for people to come as they are with whatever-- they can ask the questions they've been nervous about asking in a nonjudgmental environment. And that's the only way we're going to really move the needle together.
SIMMONS LETTRE: To be able to seek out people who are different from them because it will just make them better people.
ROBBIE OWENS: And would that be your message for perhaps a white person who is maybe interested, but is afraid they're going to go to this dinner and get attacked?
SIMMONS LETTRE: If you're afraid to have those conversations, that's OK. Lots of people are afraid to have those conversations. The scarier thing is when we don't.
- I can't breathe!
ROBBIE OWENS: In Dallas, Robbie Owens, CBS 11 News.
- And right now Dallas Dinner Table is working with similar groups in other parts of the country to take that effort national, becoming America's dinner table one day soon. That's it for us here