Tea with the People

Tea with the People is a series of conversations on race and democracy in the time of COVID-19. It is a collaborative project between Racial Agency Initiative and Make America Dinner Again. We recognize the intersectionality that exists between what is happening politically with the pandemic and America’s ongoing problem of race that people across state borders are experiencing in real ways. These experiences deserve conversations so that we can see, name, and address them as they are happening. 

Tea with the People: Conversations on Coronavirus, Race, and Democracy, March 28, 2020.

The first phase of the project was a series of small group online conversations among strangers on three topics related to COVID-19:

1) The resurgence of anti-Asian sentiment.
2) The impact on migrant and immigrant communities.
3) The racial inequities in health and healthcare.

We chose these topics knowing that the racial issues are not new, and that this pandemic provides an opportunity for us to address them through a lens of democracy.

When the killing of Ahmaud Arbery became known to us, we hosted a pop-up Tea with the People event on May 16th called, “Public Grief of Anti-Blackness: A Tea with the People Conversation.” About 15 of us from across the nation, political ideologies, racial groups, cultural backgrounds, and social experiences gathered to hold space for pain people were processing.

Engaging the same topics as the first phase, the next phase of Tea with the People is designed to reach a broader audience. In May and June, we interviewed three peer-nominated leaders who are innovating and working creatively to engage, activate, and support their communities during this pandemic. These conversations will be released intermittently as a limited series podcast. Our hope is to inspire others to activate and pursue change within themselves and in their own contexts.



Are you a student, educator, or academic administrator looking for online student activity programming on race and democracy? We are ready to work with you!

Tea with the People College/University Package

  • 90-minute Facilitated group conversations on Zoom with optional 30 minutes for continued discussion. 
  • 10-25 students hosted in each conversation
  • Options for customized topics and conversation design
  • Educational handout with background research on current events as case studies
  • Parting gift for all attendees
  • Marketing materials
  • Registration management
  • Event follow-up

We have five different topics ready for your students to engage:

  1. Healthcare and health and race disparities
  2. Immigration
  3. Anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia
  4. Public grief and anti-blackness 
  5. The Criminal Justice System

Contact us at teawiththepeople@gmail.com to learn more about our packages.


Justine Lee and Jeanelle Austin met in December 2019 through the organization Bridge Alliance, a coalition of about 100 organizations working together as active stewards of our democratic republic. Initially, we had the idea to join forces to produce a dinner that brings a politically diverse group of people together to engage the topics of race and democracy.

While in the process of setting up our first cohort, COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing began to impact local economies, including Austin, Texas, our designated launch city. With this new information, we saw an opportunity and decided to pivot and launch a series of free online conversations among politically diverse groups of people to engage the challenges we are facing as a nation with COVID-19, race, and democracy. 


Justine Lee, Co-Creator of Make America Dinner Again

Jeanelle Austin, Founder of Racial Agency Initiative


“I didn’t even think about how the anti-Asian sentiments can go beyond current day hate crimes – how it can even push into future policies. That was a new way of thinking for me and an important idea to discuss.”

– Erica, TWTP Participant

“It was good to see people of different perspectives that I might not encounter in day-to-day life.”

– Patrick Y., TWTP Participant

“Participating in more than one [conversation] helped me feel better connected and motivated that I can move forward and potentially influence others in regard to the systemic brokenness we discussed.”

– Adrienne, TWTP Participant

“The conversation was a good reminder, in real time, with real people that the corona experience and actually – all of our “experiences” are totally unique and through our own lens. By entering a dialogue versus the typical consumption of news and events in a solo one-way manner, it humanizes and interconnects some of the many people behind each lens.”

– Ramsay, TWTP Participant


Make America Dinner Again (MADA) organizes dinners for 6-10 guests with differing political views and a common interest in the wellbeing of our country. Guests share in respectful conversation, guided activities, and delicious food.