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Diversity Dinner seeks to nurture transformative conversations

The South Suburbs Diversity Dinner on Thursday, Oct. 12, in person for the first time since the pandemic, will feature author Debby Irving, author of “Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race.”

The dinner will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Flossmoor Community House, 847 Hutchison Road. Tickets are available online.

Program coordinator Donna Brumfield said she was impressed with Irving’s authenticity in telling her story, which recounts her difficult journey from ignorance to acceptance of her role in racism to action on combatting racism.

“She was willing to admit her ignorance to some of these issues,” Brumfield said. “A lot of people may come to the realization themselves but they aren’t willing to share it with other people. There was just a realness about what she didn’t know and how she discovered it and how she felt. She does that really well.” 

Brumfield, a diversity advocate and author herself, said she had facilitated several discussions about Irving’s book.

She said a common reaction from participants was disbelief. 

“They don’t believe she could be this naive,” she said. “Some questioned how did she grow up in such a bubble with these communities (of color) right around her.”

That’s a reaction Irving addresses in her book.

Brumfield said Irving will make some remarks at the dinner, but her main role will be to help participants engage in transformational conversations, a process that is at the core of the Diversity Dinner tradition. She said people will be assigned to tables when they arrive.

“Hopefully you’re not sitting with people you see all the time,” she said. “If we’re really wanting to have some transformation in our community, you have to talk to other people.”

Brumfield said Diversity Dinner was created more than 25 years ago in response to a 1997 NBC Dateline program by Tom Brokaw that focused on white flight from Matteson. The dinner was co-founded by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly when she served as director of community affairs for the Village of Matteson.

The dinner became an annual tradition with a mission of addressing a problem Brumfield said the late Martin Luther King Jr. articulated in 1962. 

“I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other,” King said during an appearance at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

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