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A Black family pastime erodes

Daily dinners around the table not so tasty in modern times

Erick Johnson | 5/1/2014, 9 a.m.
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In the 1997 movie, “Soul Food”, a Chicago family enjoys large Sunday dinners around the table where they engage in lively conversations about life and relationships. The gathering is the culmination of hours of teamwork that went into preparing a huge spread of traditional soul dishes, including fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread.

But when the matriarch Momma Joe dies after a debilitating stroke, the family falls apart with extra-marital affairs, fights and nasty sibling rivalries. The Sunday family dinners stop altogether.

At the height of the conflicts, Maxine starts preparing a Sunday dinner when her rival big sister Teri, who she has been fighting, comes in the kitchen. Teri sees that the cornbread in the oven is ready and decides to help out. The healing begins and the arguments subside. The family is brought back together again.

Fast forward to 2014, where microwaves, fast-food and takeout are the new norm for Black families as they work multiple jobs to keep up with changing times. But some say today’s busy schedules may be taking away one key ingredient that’s needed in keeping this time-honored tradition alive: unity.

America’s Thanksgiving holiday brings the Black family back to the dinner table, but that’s different. For many, the Black family dinner was a daily custom that is now just a weekend event. Experts believe the fading practice is just another sign of the breakdown of the Black family.

Older parents still value family dinners as a sacred event, where prayers given before meals begin a time of bonding and open conversations about problems affecting children and family members. Children from the baby boomer generation say these moments kept the home together during challenging times like the civil rights period.

Today with many more social ills, including crime, teenage pregnancies and unemployment, experts say dinners around the family table are needed more than ever before.

At the White House, President Barack Obama has made family dinners an almost inviolable part of his daily, personal domestic policy. Regardless of what bill is moving through Congress, the president takes a break to sit and eat with Michelle and his two daughters, Sasha and Malia.

Obama has remained faithful to his strict vows not to miss more than two dinners a week.

“Sometimes, Michelle and I aren’t doing the circuit and going out to dinners with folks is perceived as us being cool,” Obama was quoted just recently in an article, Creating a Positive Family Culture: How to get the Most Out of Family Dinners.

During the 1980s, the upper-middle class Black family, the fictional Huxtable family on NBC’s “The Cosby Show”, addressed many concerns during family dinners in their elegant brownstone in Brooklyn, NY. When the eldest daughter Sondra, then a Princeton University student, was dating another college student, the family patriarch, Cliff Huxtable invited him over to dinner just to get to know him.

Theresa Brown, 60, of Liberty City, remembers those days with her daughter, who’s now a corrections officer for the county and happily married.