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A slice and social awareness: Pizza and Social Justice group works to open dialogues

What was once a casual gathering of friends now has become a nonprofit social awareness organization with an easily replicable model designed to open dialogues around the country.

Pizza and Social Justice began after tensions concerning the 2016 presidential election cycle continued to rise and Nancy and Adrian McKee of Wheaton decided they had to do something. Before that point, the McKees regularly had hosted dinner parties with an open invite. As friends wandered in, talk about how to “save” the world casually floated about, Nancy said.

It was out of this casual setting that Pizza and Social Justice was born. The format is simple, Adrian said. Grab some pizza and socialize, watch a video concerning social justice – typically a Ted Talk – and discuss. Having officially begun in 2017, the group is moving into its first year as a nonprofit organization and is seeing other communities replicate its formula.

“In the ‘60s with the Civil Rights movement, we saw some progress with legislation, but nothing changes the heart,” Adrian said. “For changes in heart, we have to start talking to each other because we’re not encouraged to know each other.”

Having pivoted to Zoom during the pandemic, the group typically sees 10 to 15 participants at each of its bi-monthly meetings, Nancy said. While Nancy and Adrian said they miss being in person, they plan to continue providing a Zoom option for attendance. They have seen participants join in from Milwaukee, California, Colorado, other states and Washington, D.C.

Just a year after launching the group, the McKees saw others reach out to replicate it and expand the effort to talk about social justice. One such sister organization goes by the name ComeUnity and is located in Lombard. Another organization is blossoming in Kansas.

Jim Percic began as a Pizza and Social Justice member, but decided to work the idea into the Lombard community as well. Percic, who participates in meetings for both groups, said the Lombard group mirrors the structure of Pizza and Social Justice meetings and has a typical attendance of 15 participants.

“Achieving racial justice is a very important thing because the effects of racism are not just among people of color. It impacts everyone, and that impact is detrimental,” Percic said. “It was easy to replicate because the information is out there on the topic, and I believe both groups have shown sustainability.”

Sustainability, Percic said, is a key to continuing the conversation, and these groups have found that by allowing participants from different backgrounds to get to know one another and become friends they build community, he said.

Yvor Stoakley, a former attorney and participant with Pizza and Social Justice, has been involved since the beginning and said he believes the discussions the group have are important. He said social justice has been an important issue for him for years, but Pizza and Social Justice has given him a way to focus more in-depth on the issues and look at things from new angles.

“It continually takes different perspectives, and I’ve found that being willing to have discussions is the first step,” Stoakley said. “Hearing others’ ideas and stories and sharing your own can create more understanding and build relationships [between] people with different backgrounds. That’s the real value that I see.”

Stoakley said the group makes a concerted effort to be inclusive and avoid partisan political conversation, which is something he enjoys.

Nancy said remaining out of politics was one of the motivating factors for legitimizing the group as a nonprofit, as well as providing even more separation.

Nancy said she believes people of all backgrounds want to engage in discussions concerning social justice and that Pizza and Social Justice simply provides an opportunity to fill the void. She said she believes society cannot succeed divided.

“We know not everybody is going to be on board for this conversation, and we want those people to know they are not required, but they are invited to attend our meetings,” Nancy said.

“We want to hear what everyone has to say,” Adrian said. “The truth comes out when people have different opinions.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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