Welcome to Kentucky’s Kitchen Table

Kentucky’s Kitchen Table is a project of Citizen and Self, a class in the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University. Students gather together friends, family, and neighbors to have conversations around the kitchen table about what matters to them and what it means to be part of a community. Here you can see some pictures from the shared dinners, and read about what people learn when they gather together for conversation about who we are and who we want to be.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table: Birthday Edition

By Emma
For my Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I decided to host a post birthday dinner on October 12th in my hometown Union, Kentucky. It was a super great, rather than a potluck (since most of the people there live in dorms) we cooked the meal together which was a great way to get the conversation going. We talked over chorizo rice, taco meat, and trying to peel avocados. I invited my two friends Toney and Morgan and their two roommates who I didn’t know very well, Jordyn and Sarah. Then my family joined the meal a little later because they got home late and seemed pretty excited to chow down on some homemade Mexican. My family consists of my younger brother Carter, my mom Allison, and my dad Jason. To begin we sat around my kitchen table and had some casual conversation to get to know Sarah and Jordyn better. I learned that both Sarah and Jordyn grew up around the same area that Toney, Morgan, my brother, and I grew up in. We talked about what their lives were like at home growing up. Morgan’s parents worked alternate shifts at Fed Ex, so they weren’t together at home very often and kitchen table dinners were saved for the major holidays, if that worked out with their schedules. Toney spent a lot of her time with babysitters growing up because her mom was often away on business and she doesn’t see her dad, so their dinners weren’t around the kitchen table often. Jordyn spent time at both of her parents houses so she would have dinner with them, but as she got older and busier it was harder and harder to keep up with, so they eventually stopped. Sarah’s family dinners were very similar to mine, we would get home from school, do homework, have dinner with our family at the kitchen table, and then would play. That is, until we got older and busier and kitchen table dinners weren’t a priority. The same goes for my little brother. Finally, my parents told us a bit about their upbringing. My mom was raised on a farm where they had hogs and tobacco and my grandpa was a truck driver because of that she didn’t see him very often. My dad on the other hand grew up in a military family. He moved a few times throughout his childhood until settling in relatively poor part of northern Kentucky and his parents worked a lot to support them. Our homelives were very different growing up which was really interesting to see how each of us perceived a family dinner around a kitchen table. One big thing we touched on was how valuable that time is and truly special it is to really get to bond over good food and conversation.
When I asked the main question of the night, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” I received different answers, as the discussion moved on the ideas sort of merged together and we began to talk about the ideal citizen. The “good” citizen we created through this discussion was involved in their community, passionate for those who need assistance, and truly cared for the safety and well being of those around them. Another thing we came across was the need for conversation between citizens, not just to be cordial, but conversation that can lead to development of the community that they reside in. Then we talked about our current jobs (my parents) or our jobs that we want (everyone else at the table who was a student) and how our jobs to relate as roles of a citizen. Four people at the table are in health care or want to be in health care talked about how their job is to ensure the wellness of the people in our community, that it is their job as a citizen to have a “good head and a good heart”, as Morgan said, for the people in the community to help keep them happy and healthy which was really interesting and impactful. Jordyn wants to go into architecture and interior design, she felt that her job was to provide safe and beautiful architecture and decoration to the community to create a special feel to the place in which other citizens live and work. Honestly, it was really exciting to see what everyone wanted to do and how they truly want to help out their community. The third question that we discussed that night was asking what kind of person the people at the table wanted to be. We heard the obvious answers that we assume everyone wants us to be such as nice or giving. The biggest trait that we talked about was being genuine. To be the type of person who is real in whatever situation they’re placed in, to be honest and trusted. There are so many good traits that go along with that word and I feel that it can really encompass the traits of a good citizen or person. No selfish characteristics were said like I had expected. I was waiting to hear, rich or powerful or influential but I generally heard things that were for the betterment of those around us. These questions were a really great way to get to hear everyone’s thoughts and beliefs and I absolutely loved getting to absorb and consider their them.
Overall, I loved this project. I enjoyed getting to sit at the kitchen table I grew up around and have genuine conversation about real things. As the time passed the conversation drifted to the most random of topics, some were serious, and some were so funny I had tears in my eyes. That’s something I miss about being at home. But, through these conversations I learned that the world isn’t as dark as it is portrayed in the media. Most people want to be good, they want to help others, and they want to make a positive impact on their community. I also learned that there is a general desire to understand those around us, during dinner we didn’t just sit there and talk on and on or listen to one person do so. We interacted, asked questions, and sometimes debated statements just to better understand their perspective. One of my favorite questions was about the issue closest to everyone’s heart. What was interesting to see was that all of them whether they were education, the wage gap, international relations, mental health awareness, they were centered around everyone being treated equally. This was really eye opening because it showed that everyone wanted everyone in our society to have a chance to be themselves or to have the opportunity that someone else had no matter their circumstances. Mostly, I learned to listen more than talk because you get to see what really matters to everyone and how they perceive the world. Once you gain that understanding you have the opportunity to make change and answer the three central questions of the class.
This totally relates to our class because we talked about right and wrong, values, and what it means to be a good and proactive citizen. It really reminded me of our reading How We Talk Matters because what we say and how we say it really does impact how we view people and how we view ourselves. Good communication indeed transforms people and can transform the society we are living in. So, how can we live better together? Maybe it’s by sitting around a dinner table and talking. Maybe it’s just better conversation, better communication. We can live better together by understanding those that live around us, so we can make it better for everyone else, not just ourselves.

 

A Kentucky Kitchen Table…in Tennessee

By Kallyn

In my family, eating together at a table in the comfort of our home with homemade food is a norm. Almost all our larger family gatherings (birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) are potluck style and every household is responsible for bringing some sort of dish. This assignment felt just like any other large family gathering, just with a few extra guests and a required question. Everybody met at my dining room table at my house on October 12th, 2018 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

I must confess that due to the celebration at hand there were more than 10 people in the house of this table but less than 10 sat at the table that were actively participating in my project. The participating members are pictured below. The older man closest to the front is my grandfather, Rich. He’s 82 years old but has a young heart. My grandfather is one of the smartest and most hardworking people I know even in his old age. Then on his left is my grandmother, Frankie. She’s big on traditions and she loves her family fiercely. This dinner also doubled as a celebration of her 81st birthday, making her the longest person to live on either side of her family. Both my grandparents were born into poor families and were very poor for most of my mom and aunts’ childhoods. My grandfather worked as a mining engineer and worked diligently to earn the respect of his coworkers. My mom has told me many times how hard of a worker and how well respected my grandfather was when he was working at the mine in Carthage, Tennessee. Through frugal living and hard work, my grandparents made a fortune for themselves and they have been able to live beyond comfortably, travel the world, and spoil their daughters in their adulthood and grandchildren from their birth.

My aunt, Darise, is the oldest daughter on my mom’s side of the family. She’s a teacher at a local middle school and probably the most liberal individual in my family. Then there is my dad, Joel, who knows more about sports than ESPN. He played football at Vanderbilt University and has instilled a love for football in his children. He works as a salesman selling some sort of medical test. He was born and raised in a speck of a small town in rural Ohio but moved to Nashville for college where he met my mom who is the next woman in the picture. My mom, Amy, will, by the time I have posted this, have run her fifth half marathon. Both of my parents love the Lord and raised me to do the same. They are passionate about having their children know the history of this country as well as current events.

My aunt, Michelle, has two kids of her own who I am very close too. Her son and my cousin, Ben, is currently working as an English teacher to children in China. He Facetimed us during the meal and we all got to hear about a few funny stories he had so far. Ben confessed that although he doesn’t regret coming to China, he doesn’t enjoy it as much as he thought he would. According to him, the food isn’t that great and the people are very rude. He said that he has more of an appreciation for America and for his family. He doesn’t come home until August 2019 so he still has lots of time left in China. This will be our families first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter without our Benjamin.

The last two people at the table, and dare I say the most important for the sake of this assignment, are friends of my grandparents that they made when they lived in a retirement community called Fairfield Glade in Crossville, Tennessee. My grandparents lived out there with them for 11 years. I have very fond childhood memories of “the Glade” as a lot of our family gathering used to take place around my grandparent’s dining room table instead of my own. The woman’s name is Pat and her husband’s name is Jerry. What I learned about Jerry was that he not only graduated from West Point but did so without any help from his parents. His mom had in her mind that he was going be a minister and had no idea that he had even applied but Jerry defied her by going to West Point.I didn’t get to learn much about his wife, Pat, other than she lived in Detroit for a while and loves the NFL team, the Detroit Lions.

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I kicked off the conversation with the key question about citizenship. Michelle was the first to answer. For her, citizenship means being proud to be an American. She looks at living in America as a privilege but also a responsibility. My other aunt, Darise, expanded on that idea and said that she felt that as Americans we don’t just owe citizenship to one another but to other countries. She stressed that we need to prove that although sometimes flawed, America is still one of the best countries in the world to live in. My grandma continued saying America is meant to be a beacon of light to other countries and talked about how she’s been proud to be an American her whole life. My dad, who just came back from a trip to Washington D.C. with my little brother, said that he felt citizenship is the right to assemble and protest peacefully without fear of the consequences. Citizenship to my grandfather meant leaving the world better than you found it. Lastly, Jerry added that Americans have been given the gift of freedom through citizenship and that living here is a privilege. This privilege comes with a price as we need to give back to our country as it has given to us.

During the conversation, my cousin Josh passed through the room and although he was not technically a Kentucky Kitchen Table participant because he did not eat at the table my other participants absolutely insisted on knowing his definition of citizenship. He responded with a quick and simple definition of just where you were born and live. That’s all he thought of because he explained that I hadn’t mentioned America at all but I had just said simply “citizenship”. Before I continue, I think I should point out the diversity in age at my table. Josh is only just now in his 30s. Besides me, my international guest, Ben, is the youngest at 23. My dad, my mom, and both of my aunts are in their 50s and 60s. My grandparents are in their early 80s and their friends are in their mid 70s. Because of the stout age difference between most of the table and Josh, one might jump to the conclusion that Josh’s age was revealed in his response. I don’t know if that’s a fair assumption as I had an answer similar to the more complex and patriotic ones that everyone else was discussing. However, Josh did serve as a reminder of the importance of understanding that everybody may not feel as passionately about citizenship or process that it is more than paying taxes, voting and following the law.  Josh stresses the importance of making Americans aware of how blessed they are and informing them what being a citizen encompasses.

After the citizenship question, I decided just to let the conversation flow naturally. We started talking about David Price, the current pitcher of the major league baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Darise taught David when he was in middle school and Josh played on the same baseball team as him when they were 10. Darise talked about not only what a stellar student David was but how he was very kind. David has not forgotten about Murfreesboro and has done a lot of good things for the community. His most recent and biggest project, a special baseball field and playground for children with physical disabilities. We started talking about how there are people in this world like David, who remain good people despite the temptation to be corrupted by money and fame. They remain their kind selves and the money and popularity only helps them be able to expand their kindness and generosity further. But, there are also people in this world who are corrupted by money and fame. Although these people have the capability to help make the world a better place, they don’t seize their opportunity as they should.

At some point later in the evening, I learned that Pat and Jerry spent time living in Venezuela. This got the group talking about the cultures and differences from other countries to the United States. My whole family has done quite a bit of travel for vacations, work and as I mentioned early I have a cousin currently living in China and another living with her husband on a U.S. naval base in Spain. These are just a few of many international excursions my family and our guests have been on. We talked briefly about the tragedy of natural disasters in places such as Venezuela and Haiti. Though natural disasters have had devastating effects in America ( Hurricane Michael, wildfires in California, Hurricane Harvey etc.) countries like Haiti don’t have the economic or political stability to help people that need it. Haiti must depend almost entirely on individuals or other countries, like the U.S. to step in and help.

Overall, what I think I learned is that even though America has its flaws, it is a gift to live in the United States. This group is well-traveled and thus I feel safe concluding that the United States offers its citizens an opportunity for a wonderful, blessed life. In class, we toyed with the idea of whether Americans should use this opportunity to give back in the form of mission trips when we discussed “To Hell with Good Intentions”. The author argued that Americans should stick to tourism because when we try to help we do more harm than good. However, I think my table and I have concluded that in the terms of one of the key questions we deal with in Honors 251 that Americans can help others only have more say over their lives by representing America well. U.S. citizens can also improve the quality of other lives by donating their time, talent and treasure in helping their neighbors outside the United States. Just as people hope that athletes use their money and fame to make a difference, Americans, who have the resources and power to help people both domestically like David Price and abroad should do so.

I also learned is how lucky I am that I have a family that has sit-down, homemade meals often. I think the fast-paced, workaholic trend in America today pushes people away from both home-cooked meals and taking the time to fellowship with one another during meals. It occurred to me that this project may be one of a few times that some of my classmates have had dinner in this style. The community that one experiences from sharing a meal with other people is irreplaceable. And if nothing else, this project reminded me to be thankful for the country I live in and the family I’ve been given. Time is precious and these family dinners are going to end up being some of my most cherished family memories.

P.S. Here’s a picture of my grandma with her birthday cake and candles.

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Sean’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Sean

On Friday October the 12th I did my Kentucky kitchen table project in Crestwood, Kentucky, which is outside of Louisville, Kentucky. I did this in my childhood home. Including myself there was a total of seven of us, all were my parents’ friends that they have known from church. These people were different ages and did different things in life, so they had all different experiences. Even though I was a little nervous for the experience and the discussion, I was pleasantly surprised by everyone’s answer and had a great time discussing with all that participated.

The first person at the dinner is Cindy. A 52-year-old white female mother of 3 a widow in her second marriage, she has  BA in English, she has education degree and a Master of Arts and teaching. She is currently  a sales clerk and an invitation maker. She is an artist and a truly nice person. She is religious and goes to church on a regular basis.

Andrew, who is the significant other of Cindy, a 51-year-old white male, recently married, he has a degree in business in technology from the University of Kentucky and a bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University in business and behavioral science. He is a luthier, so that means he repairs string instruments he’s in a blues and jazz band and he plays guitar. While he was religious when he was growing up he does not currently go to church anymore.

Mark, a 56-year-old white male who is an engineer, with a master’s degree and MBA who went to the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. Mark is a very creative man who has a wood shop in his basement, and he helped me once create a case for my grandfather’s American flag from when he was buried, so he is a very helpful man and very kind. And like Andrew he is musically inclined and plays music regularly for church. He currently works in the health care service. He has always been a Christian person and goes to church regularly.

Laura, a 54-year-old white female, who is a mother of four. She is a registered nurse with a BSN from Vanderbilt University. She is a very nice person who is the wife of Mark, and like Mark she is also religious and goes to church regularly as well.

Terry, my father, a 53-year-old white male who works in health care for kindred health care. He got a communications degree from Vanderbilt University, and a sports management degree from The Ohio State University. He grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, which when he was growing up wasn’t a very big place at least compared to now. And he grew up in a religious household and continues to stay very religious to this day going to Middletown Christian Church.

Carrie, my mother and wife of terry, a 56-year-old white female, who is a retired fourth grade elementary school teacher of 33 years. She received a teaching degree from the University of Wisconsin at River falls and a master’s degree in education from the University of Louisville. She also grew up very Religious In Hudson, Wisconsin and still continues to go to church also at Middletown Christian Church.

And then there’s me, Sean, a freshman at Western Kentucky, I too grew up religiously and still go to church.

The first thing that I asked to my group of people was the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” I got mostly the same answer from everybody, that citizenship is really just always about helping your fellow man and respecting each and everybody that is around you in everyday life. This could be someone you know extremely well like your best friend or this could be someone who you’ve never even met before like someone who needs help taking groceries to their car at the store. We talked about being a good citizen who contributes to their society is just someone who makes the society they live in better. This goes along well with one our three essential questions, “How can people live better (or, at the least, less badly) together?” Because we discussed that a good citizen really does try to just live together better with everyone, not just the people they know and like. These answers could all be a result of the religion of the people who came to my dinner. Everyone who came was a Christian in one way or another, and one of the key values of Christianity is helping people, so this definitely influenced them to want to help others a citizen.

We talked about a lot of different questions from the list in the handout which led to other questions, but one of the first questions I asked as the leader of the discussion was, “Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? Does it relate to how you see yourself as a citizen?” Like I talked about before they talked a lot about how going to church and growing up in Christian household, influenced the way they treat other people and that it has had such an impact in all of their lives. They all talked about how to love to help people, because it’s the way they are now. But sometimes it really makes them guilty that they have all this stuff and a lot of people don’t really have anything. So, I told them about what we talked about in class. That a lot of times we feel guilty about people having a lot less than us and being less fortunate. While it’s okay to feel bad for those people, because that’s just basic human empathy, you shouldn’t feel guilty but instead thankful that you have all that you do. Because you shouldn’t feel guilty for working hard and being rewarded for that hard work.

This relates to the reading by Ivan Illich, “To Hell With Good Intentions.” In this reading he talks all about how sometimes we feel so guilt ridden about the less fortunate that we try to go to those places with the less fortunate and help them out, but in the process,  we sometime impose ourselves too much on the cultures we are trying to help and end up doing more harm than good. So, our religion can be a good thing and help us know the right thing to do, other times it can cause us to do stupid and irresponsible things too.

We also discussed the questions, “How do you think your job relates to your role as a citizen?  Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” They all had something to say for this. Both Mark and my dad, Terry, work for health care companies. While Mark works for a nonprofit, Norton Healthcare, and Terry works for a for-profit healthcare company, they both say that they feel like they really help people live better lives because they can live healthier lives. Laura who is a Registered Nurse gave a similar answer saying that she feels she lets people live longer and better lives than they would if she wasn’t there to help them. My mom, Carrie is a retired teacher, so she felt that since she got to help mold the minds of the future and help kids learn things that they might not learn if they didn’t go to school or have her as a teacher, so she felt like she helps to create the citizens of the future and instill her good values on them. Then there’s Cindy and she helps to create specialized cards for various events which might not seem like much, but if very special because she can help people realize their dreams, and celebrate them in a good fashion, like she can help people create very cool cards if they’re getting married. This is very special because she can make people’s special moments even more special. And lastly there’s Andrew who is a luthier, which means he is a creator or repairer of stringed instruments. This may just seem likes he fixes up guitars, but it’s a lot more than that. As he explained it, he helps people to repair family heirlooms, like if they had a guitar that was passed down from generation to generation that was very special to the family then he could help restore it. By doing this he helps people keep something that is very special to them and to their family. This show we all have something to bring to the table when helping the world.

And lastly, we talked about the question, “Do you know your neighbors? Why or why not?” And we talked about how a lot of us don’t really know our neighbors all that well unless we have something in common with them, like we had kids the same age or similar jobs, etc. I just thought that this was interesting that not a lot of us know our neighbors.

What I learned from this experience overall is that we all have something to contribute to the world whether it’s something big or small, no effort that can be given to the betterment of humanity is too small. I learned that every once and awhile it’s beneficial to work together and talk about bigger issues with people, because it can help us become better citizens in our own societies.

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Left to Right, Terry, Carrie, Andrew, Cindy, Laura, Mark, and I’m (Sean) on the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Diverse Table and an interesting Meal

I did my Kentucky Kitchen Table at my home in Oakland, Kentucky. I invited my girlfriend Halee (Third from the left), Chase (second from right) who I met on the bus one day on my way to class about a week prior, his grandmother Ramona (second from left), and one of Halee’s teachers at Ross, Mendy (right). Halee insisted on making the whole meal (and since she scares me a little bit I let her).

The people around this table, with the exception of Halee and me, had very little in common. Chase is a first generation college student from Washington who came to WKU for a Photo Journalism degree. He is from a very poor family in one of the rougher neighborhoods in Seattle. His political leanings are more liberal than conservative and he considers himself to be a democrat. His grandmother, Ramona, was in town to visit him (which is why I chose the date to have the meal). She is originally from Minnesota, but moved to Washington for her job back in 1982. She is a member of the LGBT community and recently got married to a woman named Emily. She is more liberal than conservative but does not claim to belong to a political party.

Halee is from a middle class family and went to the same high school I did. She is politically conservative but has never really given much thought to a political party. She went to higher education at Ross Medical where she received a certificate in medical billing (it has a longer name but I couldn’t remember that for the life of me). Her teacher, Mendy, is also from Bowling Green. She has been teaching at Ross for 7 years. She has a husband and three kids. She is politically conservative and is a member of the Republican Party.

The conversation started with small talk (the weather, sports, etc.) There was no feeling of awkwardness that I could tell. Everyone seemed very comfortable. So when the conversation died down a bit, I asked “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Surprisingly to me, the answers were very much the same. Everyone agreed that to be a citizen was to be active in the community in some form or fashion. Whether that be to donate to local charities or to be active with local causes.

I then asked “What is the ideal society to them?” This got some different responses. To Chase, it is a place where the arts are well funded and encouraged. He wants a world where following a passion or hobby could make you just as successful as following jobs for money. He says that an art program would really help to inspire people in lower classes to become something more. Ramona said much the same thing but she specified more tolerance of other cultures. She said that she is tired of people being marginalized because of their race, culture, religion, etc. My ideal place is where everyone’s identity was American first, then religion, race, identity, etc. I feel that if everyone agreed that they were American first, much of the violence in this country would decrease.

After this question we just ate and talked about random things for a while. I learned that Chase is a Patriots fan but Ramona is an Eagles fan. They said that at the super bowl they made bets and the loser had to buy the other dinner. After some more small talk, much of it hilarious, I asked “What advice would you give to presidential candidates?” Mendy said that she would tell a candidate to base his policies on the people he is representing even if it conflicts with his own political beliefs. This was the first question to have differing opinions. Chase said that it is important for candidates to follow their own beliefs because if they didn’t “Then what they do will be fake.” He believes that people should elect a candidate based on the candidate’s belief system and to do otherwise was dangerous. Halee and I agreed with Mendy. Ramona was more interested in a candidate that was transparent with their personal lives. We all agreed on this to a point, but I said that his or her personal life should not be a problem unless it conflicts with their political lives. For example, I don’t think it would matter if a candidate was unfaithful to his or her spouse as long as they remain a good leader. Halee disagreed saying that we should elect not only good leaders, but morally good people as well.

I tried to ask “Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people?” but the problem was that only Halee and I were religious. The other three were either agnostic or atheist. Chase said that seeing the world through a religious lens is dangerous and leads to much of the racism and world problems today. I disagreed saying that only religious extremists’ view of the world is a dangerous thing. But people who follow the religions more moderately can become more helpful and caring than if they didn’t have that aspect of their lives. Halee said much the same thing (But she sounded much smarter when she said it). Ramona didn’t think religion was dangerous, as Chase did, but she just didn’t think people should need that as a reason to treat others well. She said that it should be intrinsic to be kind to people. Mendy agreed with this statement basically saying that most everyone is kind whether they have religion or not. It is only the crazy people (religious extremists or just nutjobs) are the ones destroying the world.michael picture

The meal ended with the question “what social issue was most important to you?” The basic theme was poverty. Everyone agreed that poverty was a driving force for much of the other problems in America. We all basically agreed that poverty breeds crime, and if you can fix or decrease the amount of poor, you can also decrease the amount of crime in America.

What I learned from the meal is that even people from completely different walks of life can meet around a table and talk about things as civil people. Even when we disagreed, no one raised their voice or looked offended. We all parted with more knowledge of the other side of issues that we haven’t thought about before. I know that at least for me, I walked away more knowledgeable of the struggles and thoughts of near-strangers.

BriAnna’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By BriAnna

This past weekend I was able to sit down with a few friends and acquaintances for dinner in Nashville, Tennessee and simply talk. There was a total of six of us, and some of these women I had known for years, while others I had met a few weeks ago mutual friends. Even though I was nervous about the diversity requirement for this assignment, I was surprised to see just how diverse the table was and how my friends whom I had known for a long time had opinions and ideas that were different than mine.

Lexi, who is currently about to graduate high school, was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee with her younger brother Collin and her German Shepard Cece. Her parents were very culturally aware growing up and they raised their children to be the same way. While they do have slightly more conservative views they allowed their children to make political decisions for themselves as they got older. Lexi also grew up in a Christian household, specifically Church of Christ, and is very involved in church. A lot of her decisions and morals are based on her religious beliefs.

Julia, a 19-year-old who is currently attending college in Amsterdam and visiting the States on a break, was our second member in attendance, Julia is an independent red-head who was born in the city of Amsterdam in Holland and grew up there and also in France, before eventually moving to the United States with her parents and her younger sister Loren. Her family is very diverse. Her dad is an African American who was born and raised in New York, while her mom is a Caucasian Dutch woman who was born and raised in Holland. Religiously her family is very diverse. Her and her dad are both Christians, her mom is Buddhist of 3 years and former Christian, and her sister is Atheist. Julia did not grow up in an overly religious household, and lives life by her cultural standards rather than her religious standards. Her parents are not strict but are rather involved and let their children have more of a free reign.

The next member was Megan. Megan, a high school senior, grew up in a single parent household and has a dad who lives in Michigan. Megan grew up as the only girl in her family and has a twin brother, as well as a brother who is a junior in college. She was instilled with Christian values from an early age, as well as the perfectionist attitude that her brothers seemed to lack. She is going to college at Vanderbilt University in the fall for Molecular Biology and Chemistry.

Jasmine, a college sophomore at Vanderbilt University studying Political Science and Women’s Studies, grew up in a Ghanan household. She herself is Caucasian but was raised in Ghana. She was adopted by a family who used to live in Ghana but then moved to the states, and they were looking to adopt. She told me that no one would adopt her when she lived in the orphanage in Ghana because people who lived there did not want a white child and that they would be judged if they took her in. She was adopted by her family at the age of twelve. She has a total of 2 brother and 3 sisters. Her brothers are twins and were adopted from China, and her sisters were adopted from Nigeria, Brazil, and Afghanistan. She is the second oldest child in her family. Jasmine was raised in a Christian household and was taught Christian values while she was in the orphanage as well. She says that she frequently visits Ghana so she can keep in touch with her roots.

The last member of the group was Sasha. Sasha, a college junior studying music and elementary education at Tennessee Tech University, was born in Arizona but moved to Nashville, Tennessee when she was in the fifth grade. She was raised in a single parent household and lives with her mom, grandmother, and older sister. Politically, she is very liberal in her thoughts and beliefs and is also politically active in the sense that she often participates in marches, petitions, and protests. She is an atheist, so her beliefs and decisions are not guided by religion. Her family is German and Irish, and she grew up with both cultures actively present within her home life.

When we started talking about the central question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”, Jasmine began saying how citizenship was taking care of those around you and looking out for one another and contributing to the overall wellbeing of your family. She described how there was no one to look out for her during her childhood and that her siblings do that for her now, even though they all come from various parts of the world with different cultural influences. In Ghana a really important value is that you do whatever you can for the wellbeing of your family. So if that means dropping out of school to save your family money or working several jobs even as a child to bring in more money for your family, that’s what you did. It is not a culture where you can be selfish because it is so culturally inappropriate to be that way. You are expected to be selfless for the sake of your family. She also went on to talk about how there are exceptions to that and some families will suffer so their children can stay in school or not have to work when they are young, and how people look at those families as odd or weird because that isn’t the norm there.

Megan then made a really good point, saying that she thinks Jasmine’s circumstance was a good example of showing that caring for one another may be a part of the human nature, even if it occurs among people who are different from one another like it does in Jasmine’s family. Sasha then made the statement of how she thinks it is what being a part of a global community means, and how it is possible for people to coexist together. Everyone at the table agreed with this idea and this was the starting point for the main topic of the dinner.

Two of the major themes, if not the two most significant themes, of the conversation were centered around how many communities a person was really involved in and how they are a part of those communities. Some of the communities that were mentioned were on a smaller scale such as friend groups, neighborhoods, and schools. Others were on more of a larger scale such as your county’s community and your culture. And according to Julia, communities such as your religious and political community can be on both the small and large side of the scale. A lot of these communities were ones that people did not think of and it was actually really fun to go through a lot of them and see the ones that applied to us and those around us at the table. We also all talked about how it was sometimes stressful to balance being a part of these communities, especially when one or some conflict with another.

When I was reflecting on my Kentucky Kitchen Table Project, I learned that it is highly beneficial for people who are different to come together and be able to talk about topics such as this. I think that by sharing thoughts and experiences it helped us be able to become closer to one another as well as being able to see not only what was different about us but also what similarities we shared. I learned how everyone has a different take on what citizenship means to them because of the different lives they have now and had growing up, and there is no definite generic answer for what citizenship is.

I think that this experience is relatable to the class because it reminds me of the article “How We Talk Matters” by Keith Melville. In the article Melville talks about how talk is the essential ingredient of politics and that it can be used to shape people, as well as being used as a tool in the early stages of democracy. It also relates to the central question of “how do we live better together?” Being able to come together and talk about our differences and experiences can help us solve problems and be a better part of our communities.

KKT

Left to Right: Lexi, Julia, Megan, Me, Sasha, Jasmine

Madeline’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Madeline

 

My sorority sister, Anna Kate and I pull up to the house in a new subdivision in the city of Bowling Green, that we plan on doing the Kentucky kitchen table assignment at. My roommate Jenna is putting the finishing touches on her vegetable dish while her boyfriend Carter garnishes his mac and cheese. His friend Damien, whom I have never met has brought soda and is pouring some into glasses as Anna Kate settles in and I sear the chicken that Anna Kate and I had brought mostly cooked.

Anna Kate is a sweet blonde haired girl who I have met only a handful of times. She was in my new member class in the Fall of 2017 with my sorority Delta Zeta. Anna Kate is somewhat more southern than the rest of us, evident in her double first name. She’s sweet and a little meek around new people but loves to have a great time no matter what the event. Carter is a large man, a former football player. He’s a gentle giant. Wouldn’t hurt a fly but at 6’2” and over 200 lbs he doesn’t have to do anything for people not to challenge him. He’s boastful and loud at times but thoughtful and the jokester of the group. Jenna jokes he would have made a great jester in medieval times. Jenna, Carter’s counterpart is small in comparison. She’s barely 5’2” but she’s feisty and very opinionated. She’s my best friend and complements Carter and I with her swift comments. She stirs the pot every once in a while and keeps life interesting. Damien turned out to be more observant like me. He’s lanky and cool. He and I set idly listening to the conversation as dinner was being prepared. Throughout the dinner he laughs and smiles before throwing his head back and sighing before answering every question. In a way it’s comforting. The unspoken language of a wallflower when asked to speak.I, myself, am a wallflower type of person. I enjoy being in a social setting just not in the spotlight. My legal first name is Madeline but almost no one calls me by that. Usually I go by Madie, Anna or Smiles depending on who I’m around. I’m fine with Madeline but my friends and family seem to not be. I’m brutally honest at times with candid quips here and there but most of the time I’m fatally awkward, unsure of myself, clambering around in my lanky off-balanced body. My hamartia is my avoidance of conflict yet I’m loyal to my ideas and like to throw my opinion into the mix.

Everyone fills their plates and sits down at the table where a few pictures are snapped and we begin. I start by asking the required question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the law, what does citizenship mean to you?”  Carter answers first talking about being active in the community and everyone builds off of that with Anna Kate adding that we’re protected by the laws and get to take advantage of a multitude of amazing opportunities that come with our US citizenship. Jenna and Damien have a harder time and think on it for a while. Jenna adds that being a citizen means being a part of a bigger community and loving all those that are a part of it even if you aren’t friends with them. Damien talks about the duties citizenship imposes such as being informed about the political happenings within your country and being responsible with the opportunities you have. We all discuss with him the responsibilities we have to our country and if those born into citizenship have more or less responsibilities as citizens.

Between bites of food I ask if anyone had dinners around the table with their family growing up and the impact they think it had on them. Damien turns out to be the only one of us who had everyday dinners at the table with the whole household. Carter had a once a week dinner at the table and the rest of us almost never had family dinners. In my household I am the only person who has used our kitchen table for a meal for over a year. Anna Kate’s family didn’t eat together because the whole family was always so busy with dance lessons and recitals and acting classes. They simply just didn’t have enough time to eat a meal at a table. We all agree that eating at a table together is helpful during development and that we would have all like to have meals like Damien’s family did.

Throughout the evening we discuss career choices, environmentally sustainable food, homelessness, buying local, where we all came from, and fond memories with neighbors and friends. Growing up in Kentucky we all had those barefoot in the backyard amongst friends and lightening bugs stories. We also playfully argue with one another if its lightening bugs or fireflies. (it’s most definitely lightening bugs) It’s interesting to see how everyone grew up and the different perspectives it brings.

Carter and Anna Kate had everything they could possibly desire growing up as children of well off households, Jenna and Damien came from middle class households, and I came from a household that was under the poverty line most of the time.  Damien talked about being black and how that has affected how he has seen situations. We discussed Rankine and he explained his encounters with racism and we all discussed solutions. It was interesting to hear about and with the rest of us being white we found it hard to empathize fully. It was a depressing topic but enlightening.

When asked what they think they would give out as advice to their neighbors a few jokes about neighborly issues arise but everyone generally agreed that they wished their neighbors were more open to being friends and they wished to be like in the movies where the neighbors all hang out and have bonfires and dinners. We talked about how American culture has made being close with neighbors a long lost dream. People used to sit outside on porches talking with one another and now people are always on the go or they’re inside watching television. Someone talked about how people just care about themselves now and after some discussion we realized that was quite true.

I learned a lot about how different opinions can come together to form a call to action among a group that better situations that we all see but haven’t done anything about. I also realize how much of an impact our childhood and upbringing has on us. We look at things from an epistemological viewpoint based on our experiences and have to link them together with similarities to relate to one another. From this dinner alone I realize that experiences are the biggest foundation to our opinions. We are either scorned or elated from them.

Jenna wants to be a FCTs education teacher (basically a home ec teacher) because she doesn’t feel like she was prepared for life outside of her parent’s home while going through the public education system, Carter wants to go into broadcasting because he wants to share news with everyone he can to keep them informed and joyful at times, Damien wants to become an actor to bring joy into the world, and I want to go into healthcare administration to make a difference in the lives of the sick. Each of our careers has its place in the world. Without all the different facets we wouldn’t help humanity live better together. You can make a sick person healed but that doesn’t bring joy to them, you can prepare children to avoid food poisoning but life doesn’t always go as planned.

It was interesting to get so philosophical with these people that I now all consider friends after our meal. Jenna and I are realists but Carter and Anna Kate have dreams of the world being perfectly harmonized someday. Damien just wants to provide laughs through the pain.  Like we have discussed in class and gathered from our reading, life doesn’t go as planned all the time but we can’t numb the pain without numbing happiness. I think that concept rang true for everyone in the group. We all agreed that life has thrown us around but we wouldn’t give up the pain because the beauty of life is derived from the pain.

Overall, I walked away with a new sense of purpose in life and a reminder of my duties as a citizen. I realized pain and happiness are on scales and sometimes they tip back and forth but they will always even out in the end. We have to buckle ourselves in and be ready for anything to be thrown our way to become the type of person we want to be which as Damien and Jenna pointed out, is ever changing as we get further and further into our journey. According to Carter, you have to pick and sort through the rubble and decide what’s worth fixing. Anna Kate finished off by adding that to do great things and be great people we have to love one another and help those around us stranger or not. She really thinks we are obligated to donate our time to our community and country and I think that’s important. As we all started to clear our plates, we decided we were all going to find something nice to do in the coming weeks before we pack up our stuff and head home for the summer. So if you see two girls picking up trash on the side of the road this week just wave. Jenna and I will probably wave back.

My Small Town Kentucky Kitchen Table

IMG_4242By Ally

In the little town of Somerset, Kentucky, it seems as if everyone has the same opinions. You seem to hear the same political and social ideas throughout the city; however, at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, it was refreshing to hear different ideas. At my table, I had my mom, dad, my aunt Pam, my aunt Paula, (they’re twins), Pam’s husband Keenan, and Paula’s new boyfriend, Steve. My mom and aunts’ jobs all involve education, while my dad and Keenan are retired. Steve works at a rental car place in my city. I was excited to hear that Steve was coming to the dinner because he seemed to be different than my other family. Most of my family are seen as Republicans, while Steve is a Democrat—I felt like this would add a lot of character to my answers and not get the same, repetitive statements every time. We ate a hearty meal of vegetable soup, cornbread, and mac n cheese, one of my favorite meals. After filling our stomachs with too much food, I explained the basis of my topic and began to ask questions.

First of all, I asked the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Paula immediately answered with the statement, “Helping everyone in your community out even when you don’t think you can.” Keenan agreed but wanted to add to the statement, “Not just the community, the country. I think being involved and understanding what is going on in politics is a huge part of being a citizen.” Everyone around the table seemed to nod their heads in agreement. I asked if there were any other thoughts, but no one really seemed to have any extra statements to add besides my mom. She chimed in saying that people shouldn’t really focus on the basic parts of being a citizen, like voting and paying taxes, but focus on the larger parts of citizenship, such as political and social knowledge and being there for others in a time of need. There seemed to be a large common ground in helping out others if it were possible to do. This reminded me of the empathy discussion we had in class where we discussed how far you would go to help someone. It also reminded me of parts of our empathy reading, “The Baby in the Well” by Paul Bloom. It seems like people help in theory, but only the commercialized versions of it. Hearing my family discuss this, it seemed like they would go as far as possible to help—and that makes us a good citizen. When I brought up this statement, it really brought up some disagreement. Pam said it wasn’t the citizens’ faults because they don’t know anything without having the media involved. Steve bounced back with the statement, “That’s why we should stay as involved in issues as we are with social media. We should focus on finding the misfortunes so we can help.” I thought that seemed a little excessive and negative. When I thought about the question, I suppose I agree with these statements as well. Being involved in the country’s social issues is a huge part of citizenship but I had never really thought of it being that important until it was said at the dinner table. I think that there is a fine line between being involved and becoming obsessed with these issues, however. Even though my family had very similar answers to this question, I know there are so many possibilities to answer the question.

I continued to ask questions and create conversation. The next question I asked was, “What do you like about where you live?” My mom answered, “The peacefulness of living in the country.” My dad agreed with it being peaceful, but also said he loved being able to have a large amount of land he can do whatever he wants with. Paula answered the question, “Even though I know I’m not, I feel rich.” She lives in a subdivision in a larger-scale house she recently bought and renovated after her divorce. She wanted her house to have a wealthier feel, she said. This answer really intrigued me because it made me think about how materialistic we are as a culture. Most people in our society feel the need to look and seem wealthy to have this status. When I brought this up to Paula, she said “That’s true. It also may be because I grew up poor and it may just be a change to me.” I really liked that answer and it gave much more clarity. I asked Pam the same question, and she answered, “It’s such a tight-knit community. I just love it.” She lives in a subdivision in the city. “Everyone can go on a walk around the block with anyone and you really get to know your neighbors. There’s no negativity anywhere throughout my little neighborhood.” Steve said his favorite thing about where he lives is that it’s close to Paula. This really showcased the importance of relationships in our lives and how it is implemented into our daily lives. Even though I live in the middle of nowhere, I have very close relationships with my very few neighbors and they are important to me—especially when I go home in the summer. These relationships make all of us happy and are important to what we like about our location of residence.

Another question I asked was, “Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” My mother immediately chimed in with the answer yes. She just recently retired from being a high school English teacher and is now a substitute. She said, “I know my job serves a greater purpose. I am educating the youth about how to talk and speak and communicate throughout life. I don’t think that any other job can do this better.” My aunts work at the local college and agreed. Steve said, “All I do is give rental cars to people and drive them to and from there houses. In the eyes of rental car company owners, I suppose I do.” and we laughed. Then he added, “It almost makes you feel bad about yourself if you don’t, but I don’t mind. I like my job.” We all agreed that it’s most important to like your job.

I also asked, “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Paula said that child hunger, especially in Appalachia, was important to her because it’s heartbreaking to see these children who can’t help it starve. She also said she tries to donate food to God’s Food Pantry and local schools to help with this issue. “I just think that no child should have to go home from school hungry because their parents can’t feed them. Children shouldn’t have to starve.” was her final statement. Pam answered next. She said, “The poverty issue that I see every day while at work really hurts me and I wish I could help.” In our county and surrounding counties, there is a high poverty rate. My mom also agreed with this statement. Since my mom worked in a high school, she saw children that ranged from very wealthy to homeless. She said, “It was so awful to see some of the brightest kids come to school and fall asleep because they had to watch their younger siblings all night while the mom was at work, or they didn’t even have a bed to sleep in.” This made me think about how we could help them—but it also seems like a problem that cannot be solved and has no true solution. Child poverty also can be the fault of the parents they are with. Poverty seems to be a wicked problem in our county. At the table, there seemed to be a common theme of helping children, who are seen as ultimately helpless.

From my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I learned a lot. I asked every question on the list but included the question’s that had the most interesting answers to me. I really thought that since there were differing political views, there would be many different ideas at my table. There seemed to be a lot of common themes throughout the answers. I really loved how well everyone got along at my dinner table and I got to know my family a little better. I am generally the cousin that seems to stay away from political or social conversations and stay out of lengthy conversations with extended family. Being forced to do it was good for me, I believe. It almost made me realize how much I don’t know about my family; these were only two of my mom’s siblings and she is one of seven. I really would like to do this project again with my whole family, all six of my mom’s siblings and four of my dad’s, along with their partners and children. I was constantly engaged in the conversation and even shared some of my viewpoints, which I tend to keep to myself. At the end of the conversation, Paula asked if we could do something like this once a month. Everyone at the table happily agreed.