How to hold a citizenship dinner
What is a citizenship dinner?
How to start your own?
The creation of a “citizenship dinner” builds on a series of community events that Sekou Sundiata organized as he developed the 51st (dream) state. Citizenship dinners are public gatherings that combine the intimacy of personal storytelling with community participation in order to generate creative dialogue around ideas of citizenship and belonging. The events are organized around potluck dinners held in private homes or in community spaces. After a shared reading of a poem, participants share their experiences of citizenship, community, freedom, family, and place. Responding to a poem in this way sheds light on people’s different relationships to language, history, and culture. It puts the past and the future in motion. Through personal memory and storytelling, individuals come together to talk, to laugh, to disagree, and to see themselves as connected to each other and empowered to act in public ways, for the public good.
Bring people together for a potluck dinner, and as people finish their food, welcome everyone into the space as equal learners. Below is an example of a welcoming statement—feel free to adapt it to suit the needs of your group.
In his class, Sundiata translated this community forum to an event in the final weeks of The America Project course. The dinner was held at a performance space in Brooklyn on a weekend evening. Students were encouraged to bring family and friends, as well as “home foods,” dishes that connected them to their sense of cultural identity. Students brought homemade babaganouj and pierogi, store bought ital peas and rice and vegan sweets. It was an opportunity for students and faculty to reflect on their experiences of the course, and to take account of the work, struggles, accomplishments and learning that had taken place over the course of the year. The citizenship dinner was also a way for students to share the work they did around issues of citizenship and community with their peers and with their families.
“Welcome to our citizenship dinner. You may be wondering what
we are doing here. The answer is up to us. Our goal tonight is to explore the question of what it means to be a citizen and our personal relationship to that meaning. Poet Sekou Sundiata put it this way: Living in the aftermath of 9/11, I feel an urgent and renewed engagement with what it means to be an American. But that engagement is a troubling one because of a long-standing estrangement between American civic ideals and American civic practice. When it comes to a vision of me as an artist and as an American, I am caught in a blind spot. I don’t think I am alone. I sense there are many Americans in the same spot.... I take it as a civic responsibility to think about these things out loud, in the ritualized forum of theater and public dialogue. This is our public dialogue. We hope to create a space of caring that holds many of our ideas about America. Each of us is a learner and a teacher around this table. We come together to ask questions about what it means to be a citizen—of a community, of a country, of a world. Finding the answers may be impossible tonight, but we can start to discover the right questions.
Eat Welcoming statement
Read poem aloud