Now You’re Talking! Three Groups Sparking Conversations in St. Louis
The best way to build up a community is to break down the walls that stand between us. But often we stop ourselves from swinging that mental hammer because of our own uneasiness, past experiences or even simply a lack of time.
Thankfully, organizations from across St. Louis have created welcoming spaces where people from all backgrounds can connect, grow and, most importantly, learn from each other. Whether you’ve just moved to St. Louis and aren’t sure how to navigate the social scene or a longtime resident who’s striving for greater unity, here are three places where you can grow lifelong friendships and open up to new experiences.
Touchy Topic Tuesday
In the weeks following the Michael Brown grand jury decision, those hurt by the outcome found different ways to deal with their shock and grief. Some individuals hit the streets in protest; others used their art to make a statement about inequality and injustice.
Tiffany Robertson invited a few of her neighbors to discuss the case over coffee and, in turn, helped launch a revolution that reverberated in coffee houses and restaurants across the city.
Today, Touchy Topics Tuesday brings together individuals from different cultures, religions and political parties each week to address issues of racism and its impact on the community. According to Robertson, these “uncomfortably necessary” conversations are critical to cultivating empathy among community members and creating change in the world.
“The impact that TTC has had on the direct participants has extended into their professional life, their spiritual life and their social life,” Robertson says. “We’ve had this great domino effect because of what we’re talking about, because of how we’re talking about it and because of the relational piece that’s happening between us.”
Robertson has expanded TTC with Revealing Our Humanity, which fosters relationships between police officers and the communities they serve. She’s also developing partnerships with organizations that want to implement the TTC model with their own members.
Individuals interested in joining one of the three TTC weekly sessions are invited to contact Robertson through her website.
Moving to St. Louis can be hard for even the most well-traveled of transplants. Settling into a new home, finding your bearings at a new job, and navigating a new city can leave little time to building friendships.
But this past March, 50 newcomers and natives met at St. Louis Mosaic Project’s first STL101, a new monthly event that focuses on connecting, socializing and learning. In addition to a presentation from STLMade highlighting the city’s success stories, the evening featured a night of friendworking for participants.
“We wanted to bridge the gap between newcomers and local residents,” says Bomi Park, assistant project manager for the Mosaic Project. “St. Louis is such a tight-knit community that people from outside often say they have a hard time finding their way in.”
STL101 serves as a “connector” to help new residents, especially those who are foreign-born, learn about cultural, artistic and recreational happenings in our region while introducing them to new people they can share those experiences with.
“There’s a lot of professional networking opportunities in the city, and there are obviously casual opportunities to meet people at bars or events, but there really wasn’t a middle ground,” senior program manager Vin Ko explains. “The real gist of STL101 is to talk about something cool happening in St. Louis and help facilitate conversations among people.”
Twice a month, the basement of the old St. Cronan’s School in The Grove becomes a lively debate chamber where anyone’s voice can be heard. On a recent Thursday morning, for example, students from Nerinx Hall high school in Webster Groves and senior citizens from the Central West End shared their thoughts on gun control while local business owners and their neighbors dived into the Mueller report.
For 20 years, Midtown Community Services’ Coffee Talk has brought together people from all walks of life for an hour-long discussion about today’s biggest news stories. Sometimes heated, sometimes comical, but always inviting, Coffee Talk gives people the chance to learn from others.
Quincy Jones who has run the group for the past three years. “Coffee Talk lets people share their feelings and thoughts about things they see and hear every day but might not otherwise have the opportunity to talk about,” Jones says. “When those feelings build up, you have to get them out and express them to others.”
As The Grove continues to undergo extensive redevelopment, Coffee Talk has become even more critical to the neighborhood, giving longtime residents and new arrivals the chance to understand the challenges each is facing.
“Coffee Talk is one thing that keeps the existing community together in the sense that we’re showing them we care about the issues they face and their uncertainties about the future,” Jones says.
Coffee Talk is held at 9 a.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month at 1202 S. Boyle Ave. For more information, call 314.534.1180.
Featured image courtesy of Danielle MacInnes.