Philadelphia civic leaders on Friday invited members of the public to begin signing up to host and attend small group conversations about issues impacting their lives and communities as part of On the Table Philly.
The discussions in groups of eight to 12 people are scheduled to convene Oct. 17, from Center City boardrooms to rowhouse dining rooms and suburban family rooms — and anywhere else people choose to meet.
In its third year, On the Table Philly aims to make communities stronger, safer, and more vibrant through discussions about issues, concerns, and possible solutions, organizers said during a news conference at Reading Terminal Market.
“Our region is fortunate to have great institutions. All of these great institutions and traditions started with people getting together … to do something to make life better in our community,” said Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of Philadelphia Foundation.
“That happens in the barbershop, it happens in the break room at work, it happens in the living room. These are the places where the most powerful things are born.”
The initiative is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in partnership with Philadelphia Foundation, which manages more than 900 charitable funds and gives out more than 1,000 grants and scholarships annually.
Organizers said 3,000 people participated in 2017 and 5,000 last year,, and they hope more will take part next month. Philadelphia Foundation will provide up to $50,000 to implement ideas generated through conversations, while registered hosts and participants can apply for mini-grants of up to $1,000 to pursue projects, organizers said.
“For us at the Knight Foundation, we believe in the freedom of speech, and we also believe that local community and local voice is absolutely important, and that’s what really drives change,” said Ellen Hwang, Philadelphia program director of the Knight Foundation, which invests in journalism, the arts, and the success of communities where the Knight brothers once published newspapers, including The Inquirer.
Among organizations partnering with On the Table Philly are the City of Philadelphia, The Inquirer, the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, Reading Terminal Market, the Urban Affairs Coalition, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and the Main Line Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re all wedded to our phones, we’re wedded to our digital devices, but people really do want to get together and talk through issues. So we’re committed to bringing people together to talk,” Michael Days, The Inquirer’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, said at Friday’s event. The Inquirer has participated each year, he said.
The Inquirer is owned by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which operates under the auspices of Philadelphia Foundation.
“We want to bring in companies to talk about something that they care about. We have some great institutions on the Main Line, and they care about making a difference,” said Bernard Dagenais, president and CEO of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce, which has 950 member companies and will be participating for the first time.
“This makes sense,” he said.
Anuj Gupta, general manager of the Reading Terminal Market, agreed.
“The times that we are living in make an initiative like this incredibly important,” he said. “On the Table should be happening every day, honestly.
“The beauty of On the Table across the region is, you can pick the issues that you feel are most important to you … and in all likelihood you’re going to find a table to participate in that discussion.”
Sharmain Matlock-Turner, president and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition, said her organization and On the Table have a shared mission of bringing people together. This will be the third year the coalition will host a conversation.
“It’s important because too often we don’t take the time to really listen and talk with each other. This gives us the chance to not just talk at people, but to really engage in conversation. And I think it creates the possibility that maybe we can — black and white, young and old, rich and poor — find spaces and places to continue the dialogue and discussion. I hope it will bring us together as opposed to dividing us.”