In November, I went to my friend Allie’s house in Bowling Green to talk to her family and some family friends about democracy and their role in today’s world. Our table consisted of Trent, Allie’s dad, who works in sales, is strongly opinionated, and is good at persuading others; Lee, Allie’s mom, who works at a church in Bowling Green and is very nurturing and accepting; Becky, a family friend, who works in the business world and is quiet and compassionate; Ed, Becky’s husband, who is a high school English teacher and is very passionate and involved; and myself & Allie, both freshmen in the Honors College at Western Kentucky University. I am studying public relations and she is studying middle grade education. I was the only one from outside of Bowling Green; I’m from Louisville.
We had green beans, mashed potatoes, grilled chicken, rolls, and salad, with angel cake, ice cream, and caramel sauce for dessert. This has by far been the best food I have had since I have been here. It was something I eat frequently at home, and I was so excited for this meal. Allie’s mom even packed us some to take back to our dorms and I am still so grateful.
We started the conversation by asking beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? The answer started generically, suggesting that as citizens we must attempt to do the morally right and kind thing, but grew more specific with examples. Becky and Lee explained a project their church leads each year with Room In the Inn, a homeless shelter in Bowling Green. The members of the church offer their time and resources to the shelter in the winter months, learning a lot about themselves as well as the people around them. They explained that this project helps them earn to be more accepting of others and not being quick to judge.
Room In the Inn has allowed them to build relationships with the people at the shelter; one in particular, Ernest. Becky explained that through Room In the Inn, some of the people who volunteered were able to get Ernest a job at the White Squirrel Brewery in Bowling Green as a dishwasher. Although this didn’t seem like much, it has allowed Ernest to build those connections with the White Squirrel employer, as well as customers that come through. This also allowed him to save money to go to a home or apartment of his own, instead of staying at the Room In the Inn shelter.
Our next question was what do you think are the best things about our world today? The answer that was most prominent was technology, but was discussed in two different ways: science technology and more social media type technology. Trent was more so impressed with the advancements in medicine. He felt as though the way we understand our world in a more scientific way has grew tremendously. On a slightly different note, Lee felt as though the way social media has grown over the past years has made us a smaller community, making it easier to communicate and understand one another. She explained that even though we feel more connected to one another, we still have some work to do when it comes to better understanding and accepting others.
Our third question was what is the thing you love most about living where you do? Becky said she enjoyed the fact that Bowling Green was big enough to where there is always something to do; there’s always new things to explore and people to talk to. But, she also enjoyed that it was small enough to be involved in the community and know a good amount of people around her. Ed enjoyed that the economy would always be stable here to an extent. He explained that the Corvette plant always offers jobs because there will almost always be people who buy those cars.
Our next question was do you see your job as serving a greater purpose? Ed responded quickly with yes because he is a teacher and he influences younger minds everyday. Lee also agreed, since she works at a church, she feels good about being able to serve others. The table agreed that Ed had the upper hand in serving a greater purpose, as they felt as though the influence he had on future generations was much stronger.
The next question we asked was what advice would you give to people running for office in our country? We felt like this was a very appropriate and very relevant questions, as the presidential election was less than a week away. The answers started simple and not very political. Be nice. Be a respectful person. Lee explained that we have strayed away from basic kindness towards one another, especially in the past few debates. She explained that rather than picking out what the opponent is doing wrong or tearing down their character, they should building upon the policies they want to implement. Ed wished that people running for office today be a statesman, not a politician. He feels as though the people running need to do this for the people and for the better of the community or group he/she is representing, not solely for a career or focused on reelection, and wants power brought back to the states. Trent thought those running should be informed before being opinionated. This was something the whole table agreed upon for the general population, but especially for those running for office.
The final question we asked was what social issue is closest to your heart and why? Becky answered first with animal abuse. She explained there’s no reason to abuse animals, as they can’t defend themselves and aren’t doing tremendous amount of harm. Lee said homelessness, relating back to some of the things she experienced at Room In the Inn. She explained sometimes they aren’t making enough money to pay for housing even with a job. We explained to her that this is something we discussed in class and that this is a wicked problem.
This really helped me learn how a sample of people originally from Bowling Green viewed not only national problems, but ones within their own community. As someone coming from a larger city, it was hard for me to understand some of the opinions people from Bowling Green had, as the culture here is much different. This gave me a deeper understanding as well as more of an appreciating for the things Bowling Green has to offer.
I think ending the conversation on a connection to something we learned in class really helped Allie’s parents and friends better understand not only what we learned in class, but why we asked some of the things we did. By discussing them, I think it was easier for me to identify the parts of homelessness that makes it identify with a wicked problem.
I really enjoyed this activity overall, especially the food.