After the Table

Meet the Host: Lena Walsh

Pictured above: Participants in Legal Prep Charter Academy’s 2016 On the Table.

Edited by: Yolanda Y. Harris | April 16, 2018

Lena Walsh is development and special programs manager at Legal Prep Charter Academy. This is Lena’s third year as an On the Table host, and it’s the school’s fourth table event. She’ll focus her table’s discussion on gun violence and Chicago’s racial climate.

Legal Prep has hosted several tables at a time during its On the Table events. Who participates in your table discussions?

We usually host seven to 10 tables of 10 to 15 people. Our events regularly involve students, teachers and parents. We have also invited community members from the West Side, such as police officers, after school program administrators, volunteers and representatives from the state’s attorney’s office.

Pictured above: Lena Walsh is a 2018 On the Table Host.

Why are you hosting an On the Table gathering again this year?

We have really enjoyed the dialogue that this event has created between young people and adults. Young people do not often have a voice at the table when it comes to issues like neighborhood culture or disparities in economic resources, but they have deep thoughts and ideas about it. This event gives students a platform for discussion and reminds adults that young people have a lot to say. It is great to hear from a variety of age groups about issues that are relevant to the community our school serves. It is also a great tool for the employees or volunteers who come from outside the community to better understand their role in supporting it.

What are some issues you’d like to discuss at your table?

In the wake of the national conversations around gun violence, many feel that would be a meaningful place to direct conversation. Also, there  cannot be talk about violence without talking about the systemic issues around the racial climate of Chicago, an important topic to us. We hope to fold those issues together for our discussions. We also want adults and students to think about things we can do in our locus of control as individuals or as a school to proactively reduce and repair harm in our community.

Why are these issues important to you?

Our neighborhood sits at the center of some of Chicago’s most shocking statistics in terms of crime and violence, but that does not and should not define it. Creating space for solution-oriented conversation around the realities for our young people is our goal.

What tips can you offer other hosts who are organizing tables this year?

As a host, try not to set big expectations for where a conversation should go. You never know where a conversation will lead. We host multiple smaller tables that have the same conversation starters but have wildly different results. People will want different things from this event. Allow them the space to take what they need and give what they can. You, in turn, will get richer responses and more meaningful conversation.

Where will your table convene, and what kind of food will you serve?

We will host our event at our school, located in West Garfield Park. We typically cater in different local favorites.  Last year we enjoyed MacArthur’s Restaurant, a southern food restaurant on the West Side.

Pictured above: Participants in Legal Prep Charter Academy’s 2016 On the Table.