This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to have dinner around a kitchen table with strangers in a local Bowling Green home. Going into the dinner, I was nervous that it would be an uncomfortable experience, but in the end it was so enriching. Rachel and Tanner from our Citizen and Self class attended the dinner. The three of us ate with Reverend Matthew Covington and his wife Anne. Matthew is the preacher at the local Presbyterian Church, and he was very welcoming and helpful. His wife, Anne, was extremely kind hearted. She worked hard as host and was very proud to show us her new Miniature Schnauzer puppy. Matthew and Anne brought their friend Thelma Baker from the traditionally African American Presbyterian Church in Bowling Green. Thelma was the life of the party; she introduced herself as Hallie Berry and told us about several experiences she has had as an 89-year-old African American woman. The six of us had very interesting conversation, and I think we would all agree that we learned so much from Thelma.
Thelma added the most to our conversation by far. She told us about her child hood living with an abusive step father. After growing up with a drunken step father that would kick her out of the house, she resolved to never drink or smoke. Even after 89 years, she has never touched alcohol. According to Thelma, “if alcohol could turn a sweet man abusive, why would I want to drink?” She also told us about several of her experiences growing up during the civil rights time period, and we saw how her life has come full circle as she was in attendance at Obama’s Inauguration in 2009. Her stories were fascinating and displayed exactly what we have been learning in class about race.
Thelma was a perfect example of all the race issues we have discussed in class. She has lived through racist comments and actions, and been on the other side of nearly every privilege that has existed in her lifetime. She has been a true example of democracy and citizenship. Though she did not specifically define what citizenship meant to her, (I don’t think she totally understood what we were asking) she told us the story of her trip to Washington D.C. to see Obama’s inaugural address. To her, citizenship was taking the opportunity to see a black man sworn into an office that during her lifetime she never thought would be possible for an African American to hold. She exemplified citizenship simply by her dedication and participation in democracy despite all she’s suffered from prejudice.
Matthew and Anne exemplified citizenship through their service to community and being active with their church on thinking outside only Presbyterian viewpoints. They mentioned how their church hosts theological open houses where people can speak and discuss with one another different viewpoints. They also told us about how they hosted an informational service on homosexuals for their church to try and understand different viewpoints. Their willingness to listen to viewpoints that are different from their own exemplifies exactly the kind of community we need in order to promote change and understanding.
Our table was racially, politically, religiously, and generationally diverse, but we were all able to connect and learn from one another. Though my experience as a college-age white female is drastically different than an elderly black woman, I still loved hearing her speak about everything she has been through. It was a realistic example of everything I have learned about civil rights in school. Thelma helped me to understand her viewpoints by sharing her elephant (emotion) through the experiences she has had. We were all different, but we all connected to each others emotions and were able to listen. It was a great practice of the elephant and rider we read about in Citizen and Self. This dinner taught me not only about the people sitting around the table, but it taught me how to use what we have learned about discussing with people different than you. I also learned how citizenship looks from person to person, especially with such a diverse group. It was a wonderful experience, and I am thankful I had the opportunity to participate.