Daniel Island On the Table events serve up conversations about local issues
On a hot October morning, a dozen residents gathered on a snug outdoor patio in the Codner’s Ferry Park neighborhood on Daniel Island. Diversity on the island was the first topic of conversation, followed by lively and cordial discussions about public transportation, litter, grocery stores, and traffic safety. The productive exchange marked the first of several official Lowcountry “On the Table” gatherings held on October 4 across the region, including Daniel Island and the Cainhoy Peninsula.
Lowcountry On the Table, which spanned the entire day in several locations, is a program that is part of a larger, national movement to bring people together to talk about what matters to them. The central concept behind the event is to get people engaged in dialogue. Someone hosts a table, people attend, a facilitator is picked to keep the conversation moving, and that’s all there is to it. The discussion is typically about what affects locals the most and, in several tables, participants let the discourse move in a very natural way to other topics.
In the conversation that ensued at On the Table volunteer Meghan Bornstein’s house on Daniel Island, the group of roughly a dozen moved quickly from one talking point to the next. Island resident Shannon Musmanno brought the first large topic, lack of diversity on the island, to light.
“I wish that we could host some sort of— at least start with a cultural event once a year or something here,” said one resident. “Why does it always have to be downtown? Why do we have to host just tennis and bands?”
The group transitioned into a chat about the marching band program in schools.
“These kids have been brought up to better grades and better performance in school,” said Rikke Fryman. “It’s not just like bringing art and music into their lives, it’s actually making them better students.”
One very popular topic was the Publix on Daniel Island and what residents describe as a lack of space.
“I feel really bad because every time I go to a grocery store off Daniel Island, they’re 10 times better,” said one attendant. “The service at [DI] Publix is good.”
“They need to expand,” agreed another member of the group.
At another On the Table meeting, hosted by Two Rivers Church Reverend Wendy Hudson-Jacoby at Lowco Café on Clements Ferry Road, housing and transportation were popular topics.
“Unfortunately, everything here, even apartments, are being priced so high,” said Cheryl Boyle. “I mean, a one bedroom for $2,000— that’s more than my mortgage.”
“I see that whole idea, public transit, and traffic, and affordable housing as all tied together,” said Hudson-Jacoby. “This is the crazy thing: there’s zero public transit onto Daniel Island. So if you are working in a service sector on Daniel Island, you most likely can’t afford to live on Daniel Island, and if there’s no public transit to get there, then that requires you to have a car.”
When asked what she would do with $100 and a day to make change, Hudson-Jacoby said that she would buy CARTA cards for residents and have them figure out how to get from downtown to the Daniel Island homes, in hopes that they’ll see how much public transportation needs to change in the immediate area.
Ginger Colvin’s sixth grade students at Daniel Island School also got involved by hosting their own On the Table discussion.
“Some of the issues identified by the students were a lack of signs to promote safe driving in the new residential areas of Daniel Island, the need for proactive attention to wildlife habitats before construction, and the desire for more school-affiliated sports teams, like baseball, for sixth-graders,” said Colvin.
“It’s important for students to realize that their words are powerful,” added Colvin. “I want them to learn that speaking and writing well can not only improve their lives but also the lives of the people in their community.”
At one of the last On the Table gatherings of the day, Kris Manning and Braeden Kershner of Black Tie Music Academy hosted a group of about 20 people at Agave’s Mexican Cantina on Daniel Island.
“(The) thing that came up was, in a community, how can you affect that community for a positive change with some actions?” said Manning. “We were specifically talking about how there’s vandalism, crime, and pre-teen and teen pregnancy, and what are some things to do to affect those in communities.”
On the Table’s pilot program was hosted in the Charleston area last May, where the estimated 370 attendants witnessed 60 different tables, each alive with conversation. The project is sponsored by the Library Foundation of the Lowcountry.
According to Library Foundation of the Lowcountry President George Stevens, roughly 150 tables across the tri-county area were open for On the Table last week, and over 1,000 participants attended.
“What I truly love about it is how well people listen and how each person in the group spoke up, whereas a lot of times in meetings or in gatherings, somebody might take a backseat to a spouse, somebody might be more boisterous than the others,” said Meghan Bornstein.
“When issues come up in the community, people almost feel a deflation. It’s so worrisome, and it’s so overwhelming, but in these types of settings, it’s somehow energizing,” Bornstein added.
Participants seemed to believe that the day of discussion was constructive to the community.
“The meeting was very uplifting, in particular because it was non-partisan, non-political, but we could agree on the things that need improvement locally, such as lack of public transportation in all of Charleston, lack of diversity on DI, lack of a culture center on DI, traffic and traffic safety,” said Rikke Fryman.
“We live in this community, so we all think about these things every day and it’s nice to actually sit with other people and find out you have concerns in common in the community,” added Charles Monteith, another participant.
Cheryl Boyle agreed with Monteith’s assessment.
“If you just look on Facebook at our community, our Clements Ferry Road page, you see such anger in everybody, and yet there’s not real solutions, no sense of community, it’s just we’re complaining at each other,” said Boyle. “I think coming together and just talking about the issues is much better. It will get us somewhere.”
When asked why he wanted to participate in On the Table, island resident Bob Sauer said, “I’m nosy. I want to hear what other people want to talk about.”
“It gets people thinking about a new way to connect with people they don’t know,” said Bornstein. “It’s a common share opportunity.”
Surveys completed by participants will give organizers a clear picture of the types of topics addressed at local On the Table events, and a number of “spark grants,” valued at up to $500, will be awarded to launch ideas generated through conversations.
For more information, visit www.lowcountryonthetable.org.