Our Vision and Mission
Vision: The Coming to the Table vision for the United States is of a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past—from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned.
Mission: Coming to the Table provides leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.
The CTTT Approach
The CTTT approach to achieving this vision and mission is grounded in theories and practices of Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience (STAR), with a particular focus on Transforming Historical Harms and their trans-generational transmission, working toward racial justice and equity through a Restorative lens, and utilizing Circle Process and Touchstones to create space in which participants feel safe enough, and motivated, to do the work. Then, the CTTT Approach involves four interrelated practices:
- Uncovering History: researching, acknowledging, and sharing personal, family, community, state, and national histories of race with openness and honesty
- Making Connections: connecting to others within and across racial lines in order to develop and deepen relationships
- Working Toward Healing: exploring how we can heal together through dialogue, reunion, ritual, meditation, prayer, ceremony, the arts, apology and other methods
- Taking Action: actively seeking to dismantle systems of racial inequality, injustice, and oppression; to work for the transformation of our nation.
- Inclusion. We welcome all who wish to join the Coming to the Table conversation and who join us in honoring and committing to these principles.
- Respect and Tolerance. We respect the integrity and value of all people as they seek to understand and respond to their experience of the world and the history and impact of slavery, even if we might disagree with them. To this end, we listen respectfully to each other, practice non-judgmental listening, and refrain from personal attack.
- Honesty, Truthfulness and Transparency. We strive to uncover truth and to speak it with openness and transparency.
- Justice. We accept that there has been significant harm as a result of the legacies and aftermaths of slavery. We strive to identify those harms and to take responsibility for making things right.
- Compassion, Mercy, and Forgiveness. Through compassion and love we strive to show mercy and to forgive ourselves, those who may have done us harm and those who have harmed others.
- Love. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called his followers to love even those who would do them harm. This love transformed both victim and offender and created a powerful foundation for doing justice and building a beloved community. We strive to do likewise.
- Peace and Nonviolence. We seek to transform conflict through non-violent, non-coercive means so as to achieve a peaceful community.
- Healing, Transformation and Liberation. CTTT strives for racial healing, transformation and liberation through the application of the CTTT Approach.
History of Coming to the Table
“Will Hairston is a white man who descends from one of the largest enslaving empires in the Old South. The story of his family’s complex web of relationships over many generations, from slave owners through the recent past, is told in Henry Wiencek’s book The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White. “When he was eighteen years old, Will attended the annual family reunion of the ‘Hairston Clan,’ an eight-hundred-person-strong gathering of an African American family with roots in the South and a direct connection to Will. The Hairstons have been convening family reunions since 1931. In 1980, they invited Waller Staples Hairston, Will’s father, to join them as their guest speaker at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington, DC. Will accompanied his father. “Waller Hairston descended from a dynasty that, at its height, controlled nine plantations—encompassing upwards of forty farms—stretching from the tidewaters of Virginia to the backwoods of Mississippi. Many thousands of African American people worked their lands as slaves, making them one of the richest families in the antebellum South. It was only recently that black and white Hairstons would have gathered for such an affair. It is a story that few from the family’s storied past would have ever believed possible. “Seventy-nine-year-old Jester Hairston, the noted composer, songwriter, and actor, was there. He led the singing of his song, Amen, made famous in the 1963 film Lilies of the Field. “Will was transformed. The experience of the reunion, of being with the descendants of the people his ancestors had once enslaved, of being welcomed and accepted there, changed his life. He witnessed the power of song, of coming together, and of connection with a family much larger than he had ever known. “Susan Hutchison is the six-times-great-granddaughter of President Thomas Jefferson and his wife, Martha. In 2003, after exploring her family history—and its deep connection to slavery—she attended an unlikely family reunion as well. Hers was with the descendants of Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the woman he enslaved on his Monticello plantation and who bore several of his children. At the reunion, Susan met Henry Wiencek. Having experienced the power of reunion, she told him she wanted to meet other white descendants of families who had enslaved people. “Henry introduced Susan to Will. Together, they came up with the idea of a family reunion that was vastly different from what most people are accustomed to. It would not be a meeting of just one family. It would be a reunion that involved multiple families from both sides of the racial construct; a reunion of black and white—the descendants of people who were slaveholders with the descendants of those whom they had enslaved. “Their idea was based on one key acknowledgment: Be they black, white or mixed, families are families. America’s legacy of slavery ripped apart untold numbers of family bonds. Not only were African American families broken; white families were estranged as well. From the time slavery was instituted in the United States black and white generations had lived and died together. They often had children together. But there was profound alienation on both sides of the racial divide. Far too many white Americans were in denial, believing that the wounds of the past had been healed by the civil rights movement of the 1960s.” “Susan and Will saw building relationships with the ‘other side’ as a path toward a future where the deep wounds engendered by slavery could be confronted and potentially reconciled. They were inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, spoken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963: ‘I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.’ “Fired with resolve, Will and Susan invited their cousins to share another observation made by Dr. King: ‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.’ Under their leadership, black and white Jeffersons and Hairstons began planning a revolution. A group now known as Coming to the Table was born. “An experience was planned in which black and white descendants of ancestors linked by a slave/slave-owner relationship, a blood connection, or both could explore the history of slavery—its legacy and impact on their lives. They had a longer-term goal to create a model of healing to guide individuals and groups that continue to struggle with racism in the United States and throughout the world. “Forty-two years after Dr. King shared his dream, two dozen descendants from both sides of the system of enslavement gathered at the table. That first small retreat took place in January 2006 at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where Will worked. Through sharing stories and building relationships, the participants embraced King’s dream: They began to envision a more connected and truthful society that would be eager to address the unresolved and persistent effects of the institution of slavery.”1 Amy Potter Czajkowski, who was on the staff of The Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at EMU, nurtured the program and obtained grant funding. Amy and David Anderson Hooker, consulting with other experts and CTTT members, developed the Coming to the Table Approach. They led trainings in Transforming Historical Harms (THH). You can download a free copy of our THH manual from the CTTT Guides & Case Studies page under the Resources tab above. 1 – Excerpt from Gather at the Table (Beacon Press, 2012), by Sharon Leslie Morgan and Thomas Norman DeWolf. Thanks to Jane Feldman for group photo from 2016 National Gathering.
- supports more than 30 Local Affiliate Groups that meet regularly in communities in 12 different states.
- hosts monthly guided meditation community conference calls
- plans and hosts bi-annual National Gatherings (next one coming in June 2020)
- works with faith-based and other groups to address racism
- supports people with genealogical research
- supports “linked descendants”
The Future of CTTT
Many future activities are planned for CTTT, including:
- National Gatherings have been held in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018. More to come!
- CTTT Training Workshops have been held in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. More to come!
- A documentary film and online webinar showing how the CTTT Approach can be put into action
- Organizing events around important dates in history (like the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and “I have a dream” speech; Juneteenth, Emancipation Proclamation, and others)
- Partnerships to take positive action with like-minded organizations
Want to be involved? Go to our Contact Us page and send a message to let us know.
Meet Our Board of Managers
Jodie Geddes – President
Jodie was born in Jamaica, West Indies and migrated to the United States at the age of 6. Through her experiences as a Caribbean-American immigrant Jodie found herself pushing to have deeper and more intersectional conversations about race, justice, truth telling and healing. As a community organizer, writer, and restorative justice healer Jodie seeks to be a home where young people and elders can learn together and create collective community responses to the transformative healing of historical harms built in the legacy and history of slavery. Jodie has had numerous articles published on mass incarceration and racism. Click here to read more. Jodie is co-author of The Little Book of Racial Healing.
Jane Carrigan – Secretary
Jane is a retired lawyer, having spent thirty years at the Federal Government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH). She held numerous positions culminating in the recruiting, training, and hiring of people of color to positions in the STEM sciences at the laboratories and research hospital of the NIH. Jane served on numerous commissions appointed by the NIH Director to address issues of diversity in the workforce and was an outspoken force for equality inclusion at all levels of the NIH. As a Cape Verdean descendant, Jane seeks to share the fullness of the diaspora of the slave trade on the economic and cultural effect of all Americans. In her personal quest to understand her history, Jane has discovered slaver sea captains who likely enslaved her own relatives, and she has yet to fully parse that out. Now retired, Jane is able to focus her energy on fully exercising her voice and energy on issues of racial equality, justice and achieving the beloved community.
Tamara Pittman – Treasurer
Tamara is an artist, curator and consultant to nonprofit healthcare providers and community organizations. During her eight years as co-creative director of the interdisciplinary art gallery, Proteus Gowanus, she curated and developed numerous exhibitions, projects and events organized around topics affecting the community. As a descendant of Maryland slave owners, she learned from her experience with CTTT and related work that true change arises not from guilt but from deep connection. Tamara began her working life as a journalist and family nurse practitioner, worked for many years for hospitals, clinics and in health care policy before entering the art sphere, first as artist and then as arts administrator and curator. She attends Quaker meeting in Brooklyn, NY where she lives with her husband and dog. She has two grown daughters.
Chuck has a degree in engineering and a background as a project manager for General Motors. He has been a musician for the last 25 years teaching and performing the music of West Africa and studying the history and culture of its vibrant drumming and dance traditions. Chuck has relationships with many African-American as well as West African musicians and has traveled twice to Guinea West Africa to be immersed in the life and music there. He also organizes an annual week-long West African drum and dance conference near Asheville, NC featuring 140 participants and 15 instructors. He learned more about the buried history of the US through music and drumming than he did in school history classes, and has come to have more respect for his own European ancestral lineage through the study of the music, which has been transmitted orally for centuries from teacher to student. Chuck is also trained in several healing modalities, including a 4-year degree in energy healing through the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, and a 3-year training in an ancestral healing method called Family Constellations which has roots with the ancestor practices of the Zulu people of South Africa. Chuck and his wife Kelly attended CTTT national gatherings in 2016 and 2018 and are part of the facilitation team for the local Atlanta CTTT group.
Gail’s career for most of the last 30 years has been as a director of race relations and racial justice organizations. Much of her work has involved organizing and conducting cross-racial dialogues and other programs between religious congregations, community organizations and businesses. Gail is also an award-winning playwright and screenwriter whose work focuses on racial justice and healing. Her stage play, Elevator, and her Emmy-nominated screenplay for the movie version of Elevator have been used to spur discussion of racial issues. While researching her family’s genealogy Gail learned the identities of both enslaved and enslaver ancestors. Making these discoveries and experiencing the strong emotions they engendered reminded Gail of the need for true reconciliation between the disparate parts of each of our histories. This is what led Gail to connect with Coming to the Table, which provides a means to safely explore these aspects of ourselves. Gail is a native of Chicago and lives in Oswego, Illinois with her husband , Maurice.
Mark brings over 26 years of professional expertise with Fortune 100 companies and private firms. His experience ranges from consulting and working in the medical device and pharma spaces, to being a Partner in a private firm that supervises the probation of professional sports athletes. Early in his career, he was in the banking industry in several management positions of increasing responsibility. Outside of the workplace, he champions and supports effort to eliminate barriers in healthcare, finance, and politics on the path to equality for all.
A sixth-generation descendant of enslavers in Glynn County, Georgia, Leslie Stainton has been a member of Coming to the Table since 2010. She lives with her husband in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she teaches writing at the University of Michigan. She is the author of two nonfiction books, Lorca: A Dream of Life and Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts, and is working on a book about her slaveholding Scarlett ancestors.
Born and raised in Winston-Salem, NC, Rusty has lived in Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Annapolis, and now resides in Albuquerque. His first contact with CTTT was at the 2012 National Gathering at the request of Eric Anderson, a DNA cousin and the descendent of slaves in Hopkinsville, KY. Since then Rusty has attended several Mid-Atlantic Regional Group gatherings as well as the 2014 and 2016 National Gatherings. Rusty is active in racial justice work in the Mid-Atlantic states and is helping to create groups based on CTTT principals in the Baltimore/Washington/Annapolis metro as well as in further areas of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Rusty is interested in genealogy and in creating a process to help people open to understanding of the relationship slavery has in forming our lives today. Having experienced the sit-ins at Woolworth’s, the marches, the first day of school integration, legal segregation, the anger, and the biases of the 50’s that still linger, Rusty is motivated to contribute to change.
Meet Our Program Director
Tom DeWolf has been involved with CTTT since the first gathering at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in January 2006. Tom is a trained STAR Practitioner, and has taken classes in Restorative Justice, Transformative Theater, Media for Societal Transformation, Building Restorative Organizations, and Circle Processes at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute through the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at EMU.
Tom is the author of Inheriting the Trade (Beacon Press, 2008), the story of his experiences in the making of the Emmy-nominated, PBS documentary, Traces of the Trade, co-author, with Sharon Leslie Morgan, of Gather at the Table (Beacon Press, 2012), and co-author, with Jodie Geddes, of The Little Book of Racial Healing (Skyhorse, 2019). Tom is also a public speaker and workshop facilitator at universities, corporations, and conferences throughout the United States.
To send a message to the full Board, to individual Board Members, or to our Executive Director, please use our Contact Us page. If you wish to communicate with a specific board member, please note their name in your message.