The Southwest Philadelphia “Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers” dinner took place on May 23, 2019, at Bartram’s Garden. This event is part of an ongoing dinner series that encourages communities at odds to connect over food, using what’s on the plate as an on-ramp toward shared understanding. Funded through the Knight Foundation’s Cities Challenge competition, this is a groundbreaking project of Reading Terminal Market, the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission, HIAS Pennsylvania (an immigrant and refugee serving organization), and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement. “Breaking Bread” is built around a simple but powerful act: relying on the equalizing power of food to build bonds between people who don’t see eye to eye. “[There are] increasingly few spaces where strangers of completely different backgrounds—different ethnicities, different incomes, different races, different geography—come together, intermingle, build relationships,” said Reading Terminal General Manager, Anuj Gupta, one of the sponsors of the project. Southwest CDC and AFRICOM as host partners with Bartram’s Garden recruited 40 participants from organizations across ethnic communities in Southwest to participate in this dinner.
“Breaking Bread” is an ambitious operation. Organizers lean on contacts in the non-profit and community-organizing worlds to recruit diners of all backgrounds, especially those with documented histories of friction. Much of this conflict falls along racial lines. So far, they’ve tackled relations between Koreans and African-Americans coexisting along 52nd Street, and encouraged longtime South Philadelphia residents to mix it up with their Cambodian neighbors and African immigrants have shared meals and stories with their African-American counterparts. The overall goal of this dinner was to bring together the various communities who call Southwest Philadelphia home and get them to connect over something everyone has in common: cooking and eating delicious food. “Every day the news tells us new Americans and old Americans can’t come together,” Gupta said. “We have proven through this project that it can happen.” There will be a couple of follow-up training’s in the coming months, with an ultimate goal to have a community-wide dinner celebration in Southwest Philadelphia. For more information contact: Mark Harrell at 215-729-0804 or Dr. Eric Edi (AFRICOM) at 267-787-1302.