CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — On a Monday afternoon in February 2023, something special occurred inside the Walnut Room at the Macy’s on State Street.
It was the annual Black Table event, which West Side nonprofit Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development (BUILD) began hosting in 2017. Inside the wood-paneled room with a beautiful view of downtown Chicago, local high schoolers enjoyed a four-course meal and sat, shoulder-to-shoulder, with Chicago-area leaders, entertainers, and difference-makers.
“I came from a community that valued telling of the story and passing information down,” said Deonna Hart, who founded the event. “And I thought, ‘What an amazing opportunity it would be if young people could sit at a table and talk to adults who are leaders, who are business owners, who are politicians, who have started foundations.’”
Hart is the Manager of Learning and Leadership at BUILD, which has been supporting at-risk youth in Chicago for over 50 years and was the latest subject of WBBM’s Courier Pigeon podcast.
When it came to creating the Black Table event, Hart said she was inspired after seeing actress Jada Pinkett-Smith’s “The Red Table” online video series, which featured cross-generational conversations between Pinkett-Smith, her daughter and her mother.
“What we know is that you can't be what you can't see,” Hart told Courier Pigeon.
She added that, for the teenagers who attend Black Table, the experience of seeing successful people who came from the same blocks or had similar upbringings is invaluable.
“They get to say, ‘I sat and had lunch with the Secretary of State,’ or, ‘I sat and had lunch with a doctor … and had lunch with one of the first Black ballerinas in the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago,” Hart said. “‘I'm good enough to go downtown and … have lunch at the Walnut Room on State Street.’ That's a huge thing for some of us.”
Hear more about BUILD’s ongoing efforts to support Chicago’s youth on the Courier Pigeon podcast.