Conferences & Convenings
Want to talk about something more interesting than the weather and your business cards?
We’ll partner with you to design a People’s Supper for the guests at your next conference or gathering, as a chance to go beneath the surface, and connect meaningfully with one another, sharing stories not of what we do, but why we do it. We can lend a hand on all logistics, as well as design and content development, crafting questions and appropriate guidelines, developing a project plan with tips and checklists, and training staff and table hosts.
We’re also available for keynotes and onsite event execution, as needed. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Design & Strategy Development
Just as no two people are exactly alike, no two communities are exactly alike. We work to tailor the experience to the unique contours of the organizations and communities and individuals with whom we work, whether via a one-time supper, or a supper series. We focus on a single question: What needs healing here?
We’ll help you think through your guestlist and goals, and how to get there: Who’s not in relationship and should be? Whose voices go unheard, and why? What’s getting in the way of the civic work you need to do together, and where could your community use a little more trust? What are the conversations here that feel taboo or otherwise polarizing? What might you have to offer other communities across the country, as an example for others seeking to build trust? Can those goals be realized in one night, or will they require time?
Coaching & Advising
Want to host a supper of your own? No need to wait on us. We have various toolkits and materials available for free download. Click here.
Want a sounding board, and additional hosting and facilitation tips? Sign up for a 30 minute Coaching Call + 1 hour webinar ($50)
We’ve worked with pastors looking to deepen relationships within their congregations, and faith leaders who wish to connect across religious lines. We’ve worked with teachers and staff at local schools, looking to bring together students, parents, teachers, alumni, and administrative and custodial staff: folks who walk the same hallways, but know little of each other’s stories. We’ve worked with librarians and conference organizers who want to spark conversations that go beyond the weather and our business cards. We’ve worked helped folks bring together local firefighters, police officers, social workers, and civil servants, to get to know each other more deeply as people. We’ve worked to create healing spaces among people in caring professions, depleted by constantly having to be “on,” and mistrustful of one another despite working toward a common end. And we’ve worked with ordinary people, who simply want to get to know their neighbors.
Sound like you? Sign up here.
Case studies: #100days100dinners
Obama Foundation Summit, 2017
In October 2017, we hosted a supper for all 450 attendees at the Obama Foundation’s inaugural summit. President Obama and Mrs. Obama each facilitated a People’s Supper at their respective tables, with guests who included Prince Harry, Caroline Kennedy, Valerie Jarrett, and Rashida Jones. After some initial concern that the supper would be “hokey,” President Obama requested the Secret Service give him “just five more minutes,” not once but twice, before bringing his table’s conversation to a close. TPS Co-Founder Rev. Jen Bailey delivered the evening’s keynote.
Greater Giving Summit, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
We hosted a 150-person People’s Supper at the Foundation headquarters in Seattle, as part of their Greater Giving Summit. “The People’s Supper was very much the heart of the event and we have had such wonderful feedback from people on it,” wrote Victoria Vrana, Deputy Director of Philanthropic Partnerships, after the event. “The need and desire for connection is just palpable and the very thoughtful and powerful design of the supper made that real in ways that I don’t think anyone expected.”
LA Education Exchange, USC's Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education (Center EDGE)
The Center was preparing to bring together LA’s leading voices in education for a day and a half of best practice-sharing and collective problem-solving, and approached us with a challenge: How might we help participants build the trust necessary to talk openly about what's working and what's not? We worked with the team to craft questions and experiences that would provoke the kind of conversation and connections that went beyond business cards and stump speeches, or arguments about one approach over another. The supper was the highest rated component of the gathering.
We returned in May for a half-day summit they held with LA’s educators and storytellers, exploring how we might deploy the knowledge and expertise housed within our sprawling city to tell a better story — about what great education looks like, and why we each have a shared responsibility to ensure every child has equitable access to it.
The Mayor's Office of Erie, PA
In 2017, a study done by USA Today named Erie, PA the worst place in the country for African Americans to live. To respond, the Erie Mayor’s office hired The People’s Supper to design and lead a series to explore and address racial inequity in Erie. Over the course of 6 months, 80 Erie residents across lines of race and ethnicity sat down for a total of 7 suppers. These suppers included 3 bridging suppers and 4 affinity suppers: one each for the African American, Latinx, New American, and White ally participants. The final bridging supper led these participants through a design thinking exercise to come up with action steps to make Erie more equitable. These ideas included: a promise scholarship to ensure all Erie students have access to higher education, a Cultural Diversity Awareness Birth to Boardroom Training for HR Professionals, an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award for local businesses, a Multicultural Community Development Fund, and a diversity and cultural education curriculum for students at every grade level. In June, 300 Erie residents came together to hear and invest in these ideas, making specific commitments to see these ideas come to life, working towards Erie becoming more equitable. The Mayor’s office is developing an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Council out of the series participants, and their first task is to begin implementation of these ideas.
This grassroots, generative approach led to real change. One participant remarked to People’s Supper staff that he had been invited to task forces to work towards change before, but never had he been invited to know others and to be known by others as the foundation of the work.
The Next 75, Oak Ridge Ministerial Association
In 1942, the government seized 60,000 acres in eastern Tennessee, turning a farming community into the city of Oak Ridge. Used to develop enriched uranium for the atomic bomb, the city was dubbed the “Secret City”. Over 18 months, 75,000 residents moved to Oak Ridge. Residents were forbidden from keeping journals; cameras were banned; mail was opened and censored. Scientists didn’t talk to engineers, and engineers didn’t talk to laborers. Secrecy was paramount.
The town’s first 75 years were defined by its role in the Manhattan Project. Like the American story itself, it’s a story defined no less by whose voices weren’t heard. Today, those restrictions no longer exist, but the legacy of secrecy, segregation, and mistrust can still be felt.
As the city turns 76, The People’s Supper and the Oak Ridge Ministerial Association are bringing together folks across racial, political, socioeconomic, generational, and religious differences, to build trust and connection among people of different identities and perspectives. Together, we wish to answer a single question: What do Oak Ridgers wish to be known for over the next 75 years? That question cannot be answered by one voice, or one institution. It requires enlisting the many hidden voices — and hidden lives — that comprise this town.
Over the course of the next two years, we aim to bring together 3,000 Oak Ridgers — roughly 10% of the town’s population — together around the table.
We’re following the team’s efforts with a camera in real-time. In July 2018, we began working on a documentary, to give viewers a window into one community’s attempt to find healing around the table. The film and accompanying activation campaign will serve as a call-to-action, and an examination of the challenges, limitations, and best practices for those wishing to build meaningful community across difference. We aim to equip others experiencing fragmentation or mistrust with the tips, tools, and examples they need to gather differently in their own communities.
UMass Amherst’s Advocacy, Inclusion, and Support Programs
In March 2019, co-founders Lennon Flowers and Jennifer Bailey co-led a People’s Supper on race for 70 undergraduate students and faculty/staff, as part of the university’s Advocacy, Inclusion and Support Programs. With on-campus hate crimes on the rise nationwide, UMass Amherst was subject to 19 reported of acts of hate during the Fall semester, and the campus longed for an opportunity to meaningfully come together, inviting students and faculty alike to examine their relationships to racial identity, and what it will take to ensure that others feel fully seen and heard in the community.
The Midterm Five
The hard thing is rarely what happens at the table; it’s getting people there. We chose to leverage the midterms and the heightened tensions between neighbors that attended it, calling the series The Midterm Five. In the five weeks leading up to the midterm elections, we hosted five large-scale suppers in Grand Rapids, MI, Creede, CO, Washington, DC, Charlotte, NC, and Staten Island, NY. Our goal was simple: In a moment of acute political division, we sought to prove that a group of thoughtful people who differ from one another — politically, culturally, racially, generationally, religiously, and economically — can sit down over a shared meal and engage in a meaningful conversation together.
Rather than rely on individual hosts, we created Host Committees, enlisting people whose jobs involved bringing people together. Many of our best Host Committee members were people we cold-called, identifying leads through a combination of research and network-mapping. We built personal relationships with each committee member and deepened relationships across each team with everything from team calls to group dinners.
The results were some of our best work to date, both in terms of meaningfully engaging participants across the political aisle — 43% identified as conservative or moderate, and 16% identified as conservative or very conservative — and outcomes. Of survey respondents, 96% would recommend TPS to a friend; 93% reported feeling more connected to others; and 80% felt a rise in empathy toward people who are different from them.
The People’s Supper began as a collaborative project led by three organizations — The Dinner Party, Faith Matters Network, and Hollaback!. In the wake of the election, we found that folks across our communities had two things in common: Many woke up in a state of grief, punctuated by all the classic hallmarks of anger, denial, and despair. Others were hungry to understand, and to break out of the silos and echo chambers in which they found themselves living.
So we set out to create healing spaces for folks who needed healing, and bridging spaces for folks who wanted to connect across identity differences, whether they be racial, or religious, or generational, or political. From January 20-April 29, we helped to power more than 100 suppers across the country. Demand was unabated, so we decided to keep going. Over the next year, we helped to convene more than 1,000 suppers nationwide.
Along the way, we learned that unity need not – and does not mean sameness, and that it is indeed possible to bridge differences without compromising your values and principles. We found that alienation knows no political bounds, and that it is easier for people to “describe a moment, recent or long passed, in which you’ve been made to feel unwelcome, unsafe, or unworthy,” than it is to describe its opposite. We learned that there is a need to build bridges not simply across the political aisle, but across racial, religious, economic, geographic, and generational lines as well, and that meaningful connection is not the product of who is around the table, but of the questions asked when they arrive. And we learned that if you want to start to understand someone, ask them not about their politics, but about their story, because our stories are a lot more complicated than our politics would have us believe.
But we also learned to distinguish what can be done in a single night, and what can’t, and the kinds of goals that are worth serving, and the kinds that aren’t. We heard from people who wanted nothing more than to check a box: liberals who wanted to sit down with a token conservative, to prove they were as open-minded as they believed themselves to be, or — as one conservative partner of ours put it — “to actively listen to you long enough to change your mind”; white women who wanted to sit down with a person of color, in order to diversify their friend circles, or to signal that they’re among the ones who “get it”. In short, we heard from lots of people who wanted the optics of their lives to match the values they professed to hold.
We began to ask a different question: How do we create space for real relationship-building and a chance to hear the stories we don’t otherwise get to hear, in a way that feels authentic and meaningful and produces deeper empathy and understanding, rather than mere signaling?
We’ve been answering that question ever since.