With Omaha Table Talk held monthly at the Community Engagement Center (CEC), students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha have the opportunity to learn about and discuss the real-world issues impacting their community.
Omaha Table Talk is a program sponsored by the non-profit group, Inclusive Communities, which is a human relations organization working to fight prejudice, bigotry and discrimination through the use of educational programing, according to the Inclusive Communities website.
Omaha Table Talk is one of Inclusive Communities community and business programs, and according to Program Associate Gabriela Martinez, is a first of its kind program originally created by Catholic Charities 12 years ago.
“Back then it was a black and white dialogue, so what they did was go into people’s homes and have a conversation about race and identity for about two hours over dinner,” Martinez said.
The Table Talk program continued to grow beyond members of the Omaha communities’ kitchen tables until it became its own non-profit and was purchased by Inclusive Communities in May of 2013. Martinez said an average of 80 to 100 people attend each event at the CEC.
Despite its change in locations and size, Omaha Table Talk’s goals remain the same.
“We want to combat bigotry, discrimination and racism, and we do that through education,” Martinez said. “The way we can start breaking down stereotypes is by getting to know somebody.”
Omaha Table Talk programs are designed to help people meet others and discuss issues impacting the community by first having a panel of experts explain a topic and then having people break into small groups to discuss the topic.
In order to ensure the quality of each table’s discussion, Martinez said a facilitator is at each table to guide the conversation and the number of people at each table is limited.
“The ideal size for a facilitated group is about nine to 10 people … because of the time limit we have, we try to keep our tables smaller than that,” Martinez said. “I usually like to have eight participants at a table. That’s just because it allows more time for them to get to know each other and gives everyone an opportunity to talk.”
Omaha Table Talk topics in the past have ranged from human trafficking to poverty to race. Martinez said the topics can be difficult to discuss but are necessary to the Omaha community.
“They’re not topics you’re going to be hearing about in school, like reproductive rights and sex education, even though it’s a hot topic,” Martinez said. “I think a lot of the time we don’t get an opportunity to talk this way, so Table Talk is that venue for people to have these conversations.”
Sophomore education major Tateyna Jones said the conversations at the Omaha Table Talk series “are a good way to have a different conversation.”
Jones, who is a volunteer at Inclusive Communities, said she decided to attend a Table Talk on education after hearing good things about the Table Talk series in the past. Jones had a positive experience at the event.
“It definitely gave me an insight into what it’s actually like being a teacher,” Jones said. “I think I took away some good lessons, some good information, especially in regards to dealing with the administrative side of teaching.”
Martinez said a community partnership application was opened this year for topic proposals. The list of topics for this year will be released Sept. 13.
Omaha Table Talks usually take place on the second Tuesday of the month and run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. UNO students, faculty and staff as well as community members are invited to attend.
“You’re never done learning, in my opinion. I think you can learn things all the time,” Martinez said. “The reason why I think Table Talk is so successful is because the people are really in charge of what the conversation is going to be.”