'Our goal is that people have relationships:' Diverse Dining helping to bridge the gap

MILWAUKEE -- The best part of the day for Emerald Mills can also be the most challenging: Helping her nephew with his homework shows how much she loves taking on problems.

In 2018, while raising her sister's three children and working full time, she decided to tackle a problem a little more difficult than 3rd grade math.

"I think the lightbulb went off at my last employer and the fact I'd worked in public health for 20 years," Mills said.

Emerald Mills

She was concerned life simply wasn't improving quickly enough for so many Milwaukeeans, particularly people of color.

So, she used her birthday to try a little experiment: Would people who don't all look alike, talk more and engage more over dinner and games?

Could making us less segregated make us healthier?

She gave it a go at a Vietnamese restaurant and made a diverse guest list.

"I definitely used the concept of having a guided discussion," Mills said. "Having them learn about some who was totally different to learn about someone who was totally different."

A business and movement were formed called Diverse Dining.

Several times a year, Mills picks a spot and then takes on the role as host and emcee. Then, she gets the group talking.

Dinner is served and conversations go deeper. They're guided by Mills, the mistress of ceremonies.

Suddenly, a once-quiet room is filled with people hungry to learn more about each other.

"I like that right away, people see and identify with a sense of ownership," Mills said. "It's something I can do and it`s more than I can do and not that someone somewhere is supposed to do something."

A different night and theme draw a younger crowd and Mills is making sure the conversations are flowing.

"With Diverse Dining, our goal is that people have relationships, not just sit across the table from each other but someone you can meet and connect with," Mills said.

UCC's Cafe el Sol

"If you`re dealing with something major like racism, segregation, isolation -- you need someone to walk through it with you," Mills said. "You`re gonna say things that are inappropriate sometimes and you`re gonna feel things something that is offensive."

Rooms like this are a good place to start, but people came here voluntarily. Mills knows what happens once they leave here is the rest test of success.

"I think we preach to the choir, but I think also sometimes the choir needs to move out of the church and sing to the neighborhood," Mills said.

Check out the next Diverse Dining event HERE.