"Our Family Dinner " is a social meeting of educated strangers who gather for the sole purpose of simply breaking bread together. There is no other agenda, mission or purpose. It’s not a networking event or a place to put on social airs, but rather, simply a bunch of strangers hoping to meet a kindred spirit amongst the crowd. On July 13th in a delicious Korean BBQ restaurant on 55 Carmine St. in NYC, Lawrence Adjah, founder of Our Family Dinner, greeted us with a hug and a warning as we entered, “Enjoy the ambiance now because in a few minutes you will not be able to breathe.”
The quaint claustrophobic atmosphere that New York City provides made it nearly impossible for you not to be friendly. As I pushed my way through the hustle and bustle of chatter in close quarters there wasn’t a face that wasn’t eager to meet me or that neglected to say “hello.” I admit I was a critic. In a world where everything has a means to end or a specific purpose, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that people could simply “meet and eat.” I was relieved that there wasn’t a pretentious passing out of business cards or the usual resume run-down that most functions demand. Instead, I was greeted with hugs from strangers, cyber friends, and old high school chums. As an introvert extrovert, I moved cautiously through the crowd and connected with familiar faces. Although, I’m sure that was not the purpose of the event and in hindsight I wished for the juvenile icebreakers that forced introductions between strangers. However, it was Adjah’s speech mid-dinner that catapulted me out of my comfort zone.
“We stay behind our computer screens and believe we are popular because we have 800 Facebook friends. However, when we announce that we’ve gotten married, we only see 20 likes. The reality is according to statistics only 1-2 people will have known us intimately when we die,” Adjah bolted with the conviction of a Baptist preacher. It was a sobering revelation. “We self-medicate with career ambition to replace loneliness,” he continued.
“There isn’t a person in this room that is not passionate about something or equipped with something great. However, we need each other. This dinner is my answer to that…we don’t have to hide behind our computer screens when there are people who are willing to love us and truly know us.”
For "Family Dinner" vets, there are always new faces and a new reason to participate. “You never know who you’re gonna meet,” says one participant. “Since we only meet every six months, people’s lives change dramatically in between time and it’s like meeting up with your favorite cousin at a reunion,” she says. The organization has grown from a little over 300 participants to 2,000 strong spanning over five cities: New York City, Washington DC, Dallas, San Francisco, Houston. It will continue to add new hosting cities as time progresses. In a restaurant that probably does not see more than 50 patrons at a time, Adjah addressed over 100 diners, “In Nigeria, we grew up eating together. Everyone was 'auntie,' 'uncle' and 'cousin' and they didn’t have to be blood related to you.” As I sat and took in the sea of faces, the feasts of Nigeria were channeled around saucers of salmon sashimi salad and glass noodles. Though, we did not rock and move to the sound of steel drums and African harmonies, we bounced to our own national rhythms—old school R&B.
At dinner, we forgot our problems and celebrated the coming together of numerous shades, occupations, hair textures, and ethnicities and called them family, while the world waited with bated breath as 6 women decided the fate of the most racially dividing case since OJ. As I type and some wait for riots, I’m left recounting the events of tonight where participants were implored to ‘love each other’.
“Love is sacrifice. It was a sacrifice to get people of all colors here tonight on a rainy day and the only sacrifice I am asking you to make tonight is your presence. You shouldn’t have to qualify or have the right talking points to meet or have a conversation,” expounds Lawrence Adjah. Perhaps, healing our society’s wounds would be easier salved over a commission to love one another and a joyful family dinner.
Joining Our Family Dinner is as simple as sending an email with the subject line “Joining the Family” to [email protected] for the New York area, [email protected] for the San Francisco/Bay Area, [email protected] for the Dallas area, [email protected] for the Houston area, and [email protected] for the Washington, D.C. area. You will be added to mailing list and informed of upcoming dinners in your city.
Danni Kay is a freelance writer for EBONY.com and Uptown Magazine.com & the creator of www.missaleck.com