Shared Tables is part of a much larger storytelling initiative at the H. E. Butt Foundation, called Know Your Neighbor. In part, Know Your Neighbor exists as a digital platform to raise awareness of the root causes and structural reasons for economic inequity. But we have learned that we need to create space for in-person dialogue as well. Not homogenous, insular dialogue, but dialogue across differences that builds bridges of understanding. This will lead to narrative change for our city, by which we mean a more true and more whole story about ourselves as a city—and that is our goal.
In the meantime, it could also lead to friendship.
Pastora Norma and Rev. Carpenter ignited their relationship as members of one of our Narrative Change cohorts, in with 12-15 diverse San Antonians take an in-depth journey together through city tours, workshops, and conversation, exploring the roots of the city’s cultural and economic divides. Pastora Norma and Rev. Carpenter have studied together, eaten together, walked together, cooked together, and are now exploring what a multi-year church partnership can look like. And wisely, they know that if they are going to cultivate a partnership, it means ushering their churchgoers into relationship with one another, just as they have been.
What began as intuition for us about the importance of relationship is now backed by research. Raj Chetty, professor of economics at Harvard University and the director of Opportunity Insights research lab, says a key to economic mobility is something seemingly ordinary: friends. Chetty argues that economic connectedness—friendship across class—is one the drivers of economic mobility. We aim to create opportunity and nurture conditions that lead to economic connectedness.
We didn’t have a clear storytelling strategy from the get-go but got here through trial and error as we attempted to communicate about the economic challenges faced by so many families in our community. Over time, we learned from both failure and success that relationship-building and the exchange of stories—which is not rocket science!—are what our city needs to redefine wholeness together and create structural solutions that benefit ALL San Antonians.