Dinnertime is about more than food, Lawrence E. Adjah says. It’s about connecting with people. And millennials, especially those embarking on careers in big cities, need to connect. A millennial himself, Adjah traveled the world for an management consulting firm. These days, he leads Our Family Dinner, a New York-based nonprofit he founded to help young adults build and nurture relationships at large community and small neighborhood dinners. Since serving up its first meal in 2008, Our Family Dinner now has a presence in 35 major cities, including Atlanta, and has reached nearly 70,000 young adults around the world.
Q: Your focus is on building community?
A: I spend the lion’s share of my time as the lead host of Our Family Dinner. I also serve as the community life director for Renaissance Church, a nondenominational ministry right in the heart of Harlem. I’m also involved in a lot of other community building work around film and entertainment.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of Our Family Dinner?
A: My parents are Nigerian immigrants and we didn’t have a lot of immediate family here. Growing up, I remember calling the friends of my parents “auntie” and “uncle.” I also remember that we always ate dinner as a family. Then after grad school, I came back to New York where so many of my friends were starting their careers. Although things were going well for them professionally, they confided that they felt alone in the city. Those two things together compelled me to organize a dinner and 35 people came. We started having dinners every other month and they grew to 60, 100, 200 people. In 2010, I moved to California to attend business school and the dinners grew even faster in the Bay Area.
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: Multicultural millennials. That is really a repetitive term now because millennials now are inherently multicultural.
Q: What are you trying to do?
A: Without opportunities like this, we really run the risk of people feeling alienated and alone, without the support and relationships to thrive in their lives. In this age of social media, we are the generation spending most of our relationship-building years behind a computer screen. Five years later, we realize how shallow these relationships are because we didn’t build them in person.
Q: How does Our Family Dinner work?
A: To join, all you have to do is visit ourfamilydinner.org and click “Join the Family” and enter your contact information. You then select the city you call home and your membership type — free or paid, which includes special discounts and member benefits. Dinners themselves typically range between $25 to $45 to keep them accessible and affordable. You receive all the updates, which includes periodic neighborhood dinners as well as the larger, citywide dinners that take place twice a year.
Q: These aren’t career networking dinners?
A: No, this is an environment where you can really be yourself and not lead or even follow with your resume. People need balance.
Q: What is the Atlanta scene like?
A: We have hosted four dinners in Atlanta, which, as you know, is sprawling. We want to make sure that the different communities become tighter despite the geography.
Q: Where does Our Family Dinner go from here?
A: By 2017, we want the Our Family Dinner tradition to be hosted in every major city around the world. We’re also excited about expanding our national partnerships, including our most recent one with AARP, ensuring that our growing family is truly an inclusive and intergenerational one.