James Beard once said, "Food is our common ground, a shared experience." On October 17, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation is inviting everyone in the community to share a meal with a group of 8-12 other people of their choice and discuss ways to resolve issues plaguing the community. The day is part of On The Table, an initiative designed to foster important discussions, build relationships, and encourage action to improve the community. In Milwaukee, a historically segregated city, the initiative is a vital step in conquering racial barriers.
Milwaukee is a bustling metropolis full of vibrant music, culture, and diversity. However, the global city has yet to discover a way to rid itself of segregation. According to a report by the Brookings Institution, Milwaukee is the most segregated metropolitan area in America. On a scale of 0 (complete integration) to 100 (complete segregation), Milwaukee scored an 81. As Professor Mark Levine, the director of the UW Milwaukee's Center for Economic Development noted, "90% of African-Americans households in metropolitan Milwaukee live in the City of Milwaukee. That’s a much higher percentage than in virtually every other metropolitan area in the country." If you examine the area around the city of Milwaukee, Levine notes that over 80 percent of white households live in metropolitan Milwaukee's suburbs. This segregation has resulted in significant racial disparities between blacks and whites, including one of America's biggest gaps in income, incarceration rates, and employment. With these numerous divides, it has become difficult for people living in the Greater Milwaukee area to overcome their differences and cooperate to better the community. On The Table aims to finally change that by encouraging locals to finally have the discussions so vital to breaking down the barriers.
Milwaukee isn't the first city to implement the initiative; Chicago, another highly segregated city, began On The Table in 2014. Since then, the program has garnered so much support and involvement from the community that over 55,000 people participated in discussions in 2016. The result of these discussions were thousands of projects created by Chicago locals to help refugees, mitigate gang violence, and reduce poverty. After witnessing the massive positive impact of On The Table in motivating community members to resolve issues like education, unemployment, safety, and gang violence, the Knight Foundation invested $1.15 million to expand the initiative to cities all across the country, including Miami, Detroit, Charlotte, and Philadelphia.
Milwaukee is a diverse community with much to offer culturally, yet if its people are not united as a community, the issue of segregation will persist for many more decades. The beauty of On The Table is that anyone can begin a discussion. And for each discussion we have, if the people involved utilize their shared ideas and motivation to find a solution, Milwaukee will have a powerful community of driven individuals each working to better their community. If we join together on October 17 to discuss and discover solutions to problems that affect us personally, our community will rapidly transform. On The Table isn't a solution to all of Milwaukee's problems, but it can inspire an entire community to begin solving them, one step at a time.