Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Group hopes North-side and Southwest residents breaking bread can help reduce street violence

Few things are as simple as black and white, including the problems dividing North Minneapolis from Southwest Minneapolis. However, the woman behind a new effort to bridge the areas' cultural and economic differences hopes breaking bread is the first step.

Betsy Hodges of the Minneapolis-based Public Engagement And Community Empowerment (PEACE) Foundation sees the new Dinner Network as a way to get people from more affluent Southwest to sit down with folks from North and Northeast Minneapolis, where street violence hits residents with more regularity.

Said Hodges, "If we are going to bring on people city- and region-wide to help solve this problem, you'd have to get people to know each other. It's easier for people to get to know each other if there's not some immediate problem or crisis to solve."

The Dinner Network concept is simple: get people from the North and Northeast to host dinners in their homes with residents of Southwest, and vice versa. "I think we'd pull an additional crew of people if it were just 'let's meet people from different parts of town,'" Hodges said.

The Dinner Network idea was born last September when Hodges heard 3rd Ward Councilmember Don Samuels speak at an event sponsored by a coalition of the Linden Hills, Kingfield, Fulton, Lynnhurst, Kenny, Armatage and Windom neighborhood associations.

Samuels talked about the violence riddling his North-side Jordan neighborhood, and how it's connected to the wealthier parts of town.

"That sort of planted a seed," Hodges said. "How do you get people meeting each other and just getting to know each other? Of course, having a meal together is one of the best ways to do that."

She said the Dinner Network, which will have its first meals this fall, would focus on commonalities between North and Southwest residents, rather than hash over differences.

Said Hodges, "I don't even necessarily need to speculate about the reason why people don't cross Highway 394 or Highway 94 more often -- but it is true that they don't, and this is one way to invite people to head north across 94 and to head south across 94, both."

One of the themes Samuels (a PEACE Foundation founder and its president) regularly addresses is the need for people on both sides of the cultural gulf in Minneapolis know and understand each other as a way of becoming less fearful of how the other half lives. Once the fear has been reduced, Samuels believes that solutions to violence and poverty can be more thoughtfully addressed.

Hodges said the effort to organize the Dinner Network is already paying off.

"One of the reasons I'm so excited about this project is because it helps build relationships across neighborhoods in Southwest Minneapolis, and I've heard the same things from folks from the North and Northeast sides," she said. "It's a project that encompasses that all of Southwest Minneapolis. Getting to the Bottom of the Ballot has that advantage, too. It's just folks from different neighborhoods working together."

Hodges said that the Dinner Network is still in the organizational stage. She said people who are interested in helping can contact her at [email protected]. An organizational meeting will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at Bean Scene, 2220 W. Broadway.