City sets stage for food, conversation at The Longest Table


Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum announced plans for this year’s conversation at The Longest Table.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook writer
Having a conversation over food has proven to be one of the best ways to find out almost anything about someone.

Consider the first date if proof is needed. A lot of talking, right?

That’s the kind of situation that Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum is hoping to create when the city hosts an initiative that’s become known as The Longest Table. The conversation will take place at 5:30p.m. on June 11.

The idea is to get people of diverse backgrounds, cultures and zip codes talking for a better understanding of each other.

“That’s why it’s so critical to have opportunities like this to have a meal with someone and have a conversation with them,” said Christic Henry, who works for the Council of Neighborhood Associations. “There is something about eating with someone. It gives you the sense that you care and it’s extremely valuable.”

The Longest Table concept allows individuals or families to sign up on-line to host others from their neighborhoods or from across town. The concept started in 2005 with folks gathered at an uninterrupted table on Park Avenue, drawing 400 people. More than 1,000 people participated last fall when the event was held on FAMU Way.

Organizers are expecting much more participation through the in-home version because of the on-line sign up, which is under way until May 31. Ryan Kopinsky, a FSU student who owns a software company, put the on-line concept in place that is being used for the first time.

Offering the service for free is part of his company’s community outreach, he said, praising the idea for its potential to bring together a diversity of people.
“It’s important to have a conversation over a meal,” he said. “Nobody could fight over a meal. I think if we have diverse dinner conversation it will vary and the conversation will be dynamic.”

The Longest Table fits with the mission of Village Square, a sponsoring organization that emphasizes dialog on issues that could be divisive. Other supporters of the event include Leon County government and the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.
“Things like this allow us to step out and put the emphasis  back on being neighbors, being friends, being communities,” Gillum said.

The idea of getting people together over a meal is being practiced  in other states, following the Tallahassee model, Gillum said. Just recently, a similar event was staged by FSU students.

“At a time in the narrative when we hear about us versus them, we have the power to write a different story,” said Tori Patton, a member of a student organization that goes by #PowerofWe. “At a time when fear and suspicion is sewing discord and division, we have the power to pave a different part.

“The Longest Table is to explore a simple, yet powerful idea that we can define as polarization leading our society to having conversation.”