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Can LA sit down at the dinner table and get honest about race?

A new city-sponsored project, embRACE LA, aims to get people talking about race and ethnicity around the dinner table, with 100 dinner gatherings planned starting next week. Chefs have volunteered their services, and the city is footing the bill.
A new city-sponsored project, embRACE LA, aims to get people talking about race and ethnicity around the dinner table, with 100 dinner gatherings planned starting next week. Chefs have volunteered their services, and the city is footing the bill.
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The dinner is free. But the guests need to come ready to get real about a topic that makes most people very uncomfortable: race and racism.

It's a conversation that will take place 100 times over five days later this month. About 2,000 hopeful guests have already signed up for a place at the table.

Here's how it works: A hundred volunteers host. The gatherings start this coming Monday, taking place all over Los Angeles.  Chefs volunteer their services. The city foots the bill. 

City Council president Herb Wesson said the inspiration for the project called embRACE LA comes from difficult dinner-table conversations he remembers from his youth.

"In the sixties and seventies, we had a lot of racial challenges," Wesson told KPCC, "and the way we dealt with them was we had conversations. And I think maybe because of these sometimes uncomfortable conversations, we made a lot of positive strides when it came to race. We are trying to ignite this race conversation."

A trained facilitator will get the conversations going, he said.

"I anticipate we will talk about race, racism, we’ll talk about relationships with law enforcement, just about anything that helps bring us together," said Wesson, who along with council member Mitch O'Farrell launched the project in coordination with local nonprofits. Both have already hosted dinners themselves.

Alberto Retana, president and CEO of the Community Coalition, a South Los Angeles nonprofit that's worked to train the facilitators, said the gatherings will be held in homes and locations across the socioeconomic spectrum.

"We will do a dinner in county jail," Retana said. "We'll do a dinner on Skid Row. When we talk about homes, it's not just a traditional four bedroom house. Home means different things to different people."

Conversations about race, ethnicity and identity aren't easy to have, said Keith Osajima, director of race and ethnic studies program at the University of Redlands.   

"There are reasons why we have difficulties with these things," Osajima said. "It’s easy and maybe, I don’t know, comfortable to be in your one position, and kind of think about the other person in a way that doesn’t see their humanity, but sees their position.”

These roadblocks extend to conversations around politics, said Osajima, who pointed out that a project called Make America Dinner Again aims to accomplish a similar goal, only across political lines.