Thursday, June 23, 2011

It takes a village...

Kudos to the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and J. Wesley Tann for doing the right thing! The mayor and Mr. Tan have teamed together to sponsor and teach the basics of dining and social etiquette to the citizens of this "hard-scrapple" city. The story has been repeated on many online sites, and I couldn't think of a better, more uplifting message.

For Mr. Tann, "Good living is easy. All it just takes is practice." And he should know. Mr. Tann, 83,  was one of the first black fashion designers to open a shop on New York City's Fashion Avenue, and he designed clothing for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Leontyne Price, the famed black opera singer.

Tann's students include mothers, fathers and children all taking part in a city-sponsored program that Mayor Cory A. Booker hopes will take politeness and manners from "abstract concepts" to daily essentials. The city hopes that by improving the niceties shared among Newark's residents the quality of their lives and their futures will be markedly improved -- one fine meal and one properly executed place setting at a time.

The class will heighten awareness and appreciation of basic manners and dining skills in daily life by teaching handshakes, public behavior, and basic telephone skills. Students will be served a three-course meal prepared by award-winning Chef LeRoy Baldwin and served by wait staff to simulate dining in an up-scale restaurant complete with a formal table setting: tablecloths, china, flatware, and glassware. The students will learn table-setting, use of utensils, use of a napkin, European and American dining styles, dining posture, and appearance. 

Catherine J. Lenix-Hooker, manager of the city's department of recreation and cultural affairs, said that this program is important "so that they (the participants) are able to have the kinds of social skills that make them very productive and at ease in different kinds of social situations."

Youth from Newark often bear the heavy burden of being poor or working class, she said, or the bad reputation that can hang over even this city's most promising young people. Thus the importance of "learning the language of the silver."

"Our youth need to know how to conduct themselves in a public setting -- some of the dos and don'ts," Lenix-Hooker said. "If everything else is equal, it will help them break through these barriers."

All it takes is a resource and you, too, can teach yourself and/or your children the basics. A great website for just that is's Menu and Dining Etiquette Guide. It's a quick reference to double-check some of the finer points of eating at the table. But there are tons of these, just do a little searching. All it takes is a willingness to step in and expect more from yourself and your children around the table. 

One piece of advice: Don't correct out at a restaurant or any other public place. Save this for the safe environment of the home. You can always talk about whatever happened later, and it preserves the sometimes fragile dignity of young people. 

Manners, politeness, and niceties should never be a weapon used to make people feel superior to others. They are merely a way to honor those around you. Pay it forward. It will come back to ten-fold. 

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