The Southeast White House is a community house located one mile east of the Anacostia River, over the John Philip Sousa Bridge. The house is situated in an area that is often referred to as the forgotten quadrant of the city, because of the limited number of social services and assistance available to the community. Demographically, the median income is $17,000 per year, 22 percent of the population lives in public housing, 35 percent qualify for public assistance, and 77 percent of the children live in single-parent families. The Southeast White House calls itself a “house on a hill for all people.” This house desires to be a place of reconciliation in a city that is divided racially, politically, and socio-economically.
The Southeast White House provides many services to the community it is located in. They have full-time mentors, who work with an average of eight children and their families. The full-time mentoring program starts with children at age six and provides a committed mentoring relationship for that child until they graduate from high school. There is also a volunteer mentoring program; an afterschool program; a resource center for those in need; a weekly prayer breakfast for community members; a bi-monthly reconciliation luncheon.
The reconciliation luncheon stands out as one of the services that best helps builds peace in Washington, DC. The luncheon was designed to bring together people from all walks of life, all races, and all socio-economic backgrounds and have them break bread together in an effort to build peace by demonstrating reconciliation. Every other week when lunch is served, it is served in the Southeast White House dining room, which is adorned with proper linens, beautiful decorations, and on fine china. Volunteers are brought in to cook the three course meal and serve the meal to guests.
Anyone who shows up at the door to the Southeast White House is welcomed in for this luncheon. Everyone is treated the same. There have been countless times that the luncheon has included members of Congress as well as members of the community who may be homeless or in desperate need of financial resources. Allowing people to sit down and share a meal together brings about an awareness of the humanity of what is preconceived as “other” or “unknown.” While a member of the community may have never had the opportunity to interact with a member of Congress, they are given the opportunity to sit, eat with, converse with, and see the goodness and humanity in the “other,” as well as in each person seated around the table.
I have been employed at the Southeast White House for approximately seven years now as a full-time mentor, and my first interaction with the house was through one of these luncheons. It was such a unique and wonderful experience that it made me want to be a part of a community house that sought out peacebuilding the way that this house does. With the great divide of a river only one mile away, which divided out Ward 7 and Ward 8, I couldn’t overlook this two-sided city. The reconciliation luncheon doesn’t overlook that reconciliation needs to happen but rather, addresses it by bringing “all sides” together.
Studies have shown that eating together as family, friends, and a community is one of the most beneficial things you can do to strengthen bonds amongst each other. The reconciliation luncheon breaks down the walls and strengthens the bonds of a city that is divided and is in desperate need of reconciliation and peace. You are welcome to join in this experience any first or third Wednesday of the month at the Southeast White House. We hope to see you there!