Ideas flowed around several tables in the community on Oct. 17 while people gathered to discuss Macon’s problems and identify solutions over food at On The Table Macon.
“The energy all day long, no matter where I went, was so high,” said Kathryn Dennis, president of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia (CFCG). “People were calling me saying, ‘I want to do it again!’”
On The Table Macon was an event hosted by CFCG and funded by the Knight Foundation.
Dennis said there were around 500 tables in the community, and an estimated 5,000 people attended the event.
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The conversations ranged from entrepreneurship to voting accessibility. Dennis said CFCG offered host training so that people could have their own table conversations. She said they wanted the community to take ownership of the event.
Hosts could choose whether to have a public table, in which anyone could attend, or a private table, in which the host would invite specific guests for the discussion, Dennis said.
Dennis said CFCG has five next steps for people at On The Table Macon.
She said they have a survey that they would like all of the participants at On The Table to take. She said it only takes 10 minutes, and the deadline is Oct. 31.
She said she encourages people who want to implement an idea from the conversation at On The Table to apply for a mini-grant, ranging from $100 to $1,000.
CFCG will also be gathering stories from people who have committed to implementing ideas from their On The Table conversations, Dennis said.
“This is about action,” Dennis said. “Positive community change is going to come from the citizens.”
CFCG will get the results of the survey data back and release it to the community on their website around January, Dennis said. It will be searchable for anyone in the community to use.
Although they haven’t set a date, she said the last step is to do it all again next year.
“I really hope we’ll double participation,” Dennis said. “I think that the second year people will have a better idea of what it is and that we will have even broader participation.”
Lynn Murphey, the Macon program director for the Knight Foundation, said the Chicago Community Trust created On The Table, and when the Knight Foundation learned about it, they decided to fund it in several communities last year.
Murphey said when the opportunity came for Macon to receive funding for On The Table, she knew 2018 was the perfect time with the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s launch of the Macon Food Story and the planning of the next phase of One Macon’s development strategy.
“From my perspective, it was a great success,” Murphey said. “Every table I went to, additional seats were having to be pulled up.”
Dennis said CFCG achieved their goal of holding a table in every ZIP code.
Justin Baxley, the fan life reporter at The Macon Telegraph, said at the two tables he attended, there was a lot of diversity around the table.
“It was nice to get to see other people’s viewpoints,” Baxley said. “That again gave me another insight into demographics that I don’t generally get to hear from.”
Murphey said that she was very happy about the attendance as well.
“I was really pleased with the diversity of attendees at each table because really the whole idea behind On The Table is convening people to talk about important community topics,” Murphey said. “The idea was just to draw more people into this community dialogue.”
Liz Fabian, a breaking news reporter at The Macon Telegraph, said that although her table about crime in Macon seemed to be less structured than others, several ideas circulated as solutions to the problem.
“One of the ladies talked about how when she was in elementary school they gave out rulers that said, ‘Remember the golden rule. Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you,’ and she thought it might be good to get those back into the schools,” Fabian said.
Robert Betzel, CEO of Infinity Network Solutions, said he was also happy to see the diversity around the table at Z Beans discussing entrepreneurship, and he enjoyed the passion of the group.
“I really liked the fact that a number of people not only suggested things we needed to do but were prepared to be part of the solution,” he said.