Unfamiliar Faces

By Cristina

Unfamiliar faces surround me in a wicked world consumed by materialism and technology. Society buries its burdens and layers them with meaningless conclusions. Long-term solutions wither in despair. The roots of our community are parched and famished from no conversation. What once was a community is now a graveyard of lost democracy, identity, and empathy. All that surround me are faces. Faces that were once familiar, founded upon living flesh, but have now dried to cracked, brittle bones.

These cracked brittle bones form the skeleton of our society. The spine supports our foundation. Yet, our foundation lacks the flesh necessary to form a community. In the modern age, it is difficult to establish this community, as the second hand on the clock begins to tick faster and our minds begin to scatter. Numbers become blurred images and faces become placeless, losing their identity.

Gathered around the kitchen table, we could once find this sense of community. This historical event is marked in history books as being the bridge between where society is and where society wants to be. Under the bridge are the waters. If we cross the bridge and sit at the table, the waters will flood our bones and begin to bridge the divide between the citizen and the self.

To bridge the divide, I set up a Kentucky Kitchen Table, a gathering of people—friends, family, neighbors, and the like—around a meal at a kitchen table where ideas of citizenship and community are discussed. Around the table in Bowling Green Kentucky, cracked, brittle bones had individual identities. 7 diverse identities belonged to those, not including myself, named: Liz, Sarah, Jack, Dwayne, Ernie, Jess, and Melanie. Around the table, those identities were dissolved.

Liz is the daughter of Ernie and Melanie. Liz is a character like no other, devoting her time by volunteering at Curbside Ministries. Curbside Ministries is a Christian based organization that goes to underprivileged parts of Bowling Green, Kentucky with the mission of representing and showing Jesus’s love. Through volunteering at Curbside Ministries, Liz plays games and spends time with underprivileged children to establish bonds and show love. As she continues her volunteering through Curbside Ministries, Liz wants to further develop Bowling Green as a community that extends roots of empathy and compassion to all citizens no matter what demographic.

Sarah is a college freshman majoring in civil engineering. With her degree, she strives to work for the state and a private firm, and eventually continue her dad’s legacy by taking over his business. She is an individual who derives her character from her faith, Christianity. Through her faith in God, she develops and refines her morals and values. As a result, her religious identity positively grows her thoughts and her treatment of others around her.

Jack is a freshman at Western Kentucky University. He is majoring in wildlife biology. After obtaining his degree, he hopes to pursue his dream job as a park and recreation research biologist in order to better understand the environment and how society impacts it. If Jack could give one piece of advice to his neighbors, it would be to consider the impact our choices and decision not only have on our environment but also on other individuals; for, we have the ability to strengthen or weaken the fibers of the relationships we have with people around us.

Dwayne is an individual who is outgoing, determined, caring, and charitable. Dwayne recently changed his major to biochemistry. After obtaining his degree, Dwayne desires to go to medical school and become a pediatrician. Dwayne is charitable and has sympathy. Aiding children as a doctor reflects this quality. Dwayne strives to be the individual who is willing to lend a helping hand.

Ernie is reserved and down to earth. He has traditional values and values social reform. He is a General Manager at Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). As a worker for TVA, Ernie supports their mission of providing regional environmental stewardship, reliable power, and economic development across seven states, specifically in Kentucky. Through employment at TVA, Ernie believes he is able to fulfill his role as a citizen, aiding others by the means of providing resources. Thus, his job relates to his role as a citizen.

Jess is also the daughter of Ernie and Melanie. Jess is a 7th grader who dedicates her time and effort to her favorite sport, basketball. Jess has a fireball of a personality. Jess is defined by the stamina and determination she puts forth during games and practices. Jess values teamwork on and off the court, from carrying out a basketball play with her teammates to working together with her family. The value of teamwork is Jess’s favorite thing about her community as it has no geographical domain and can be found anywhere she is present.

Melanie is a “blessing,” according to Liz.  Melanie has an outgoing personality and loves the company of others. As a mom, Melanie not only provides nurture and love for her kids, she also volunteers as a CASA. CASA works to prevent child victims of abuse, neglect, and dependency from being abused both in and out of their family of origin. In addition, Melanie volunteers at Hope House in Bowling Green, Kentucky; Hope House is an organization with the mission to alleviate physical and spiritual poverty through gospel restoration. There, she teaches classes to teenagers with kids. By preventing abuse and alleviating poverty through her job, Melanie can serve a greater purpose—providing children and adolescents with an open door of hope.

At the kitchen table, 7 diverse identities cooked in a melting pot to form ideas about community and citizenship. In order to develop these ideas, a series of questions were asked. The central question during the dinner asked what citizenship meant to each person. Specifically, what citizenship means, beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws. This question presented obstacles as there is no concrete definition of the word citizenship. Rather, citizenship is a word constructed upon a white pillar of values: the collective group, freedom, and respect. These ideas were discussed at the table.

Citizenship is not about the self; rather, it is about the individual working towards not only the betterment of society but also towards the betterment of individuals within that society. Citizenship is “you before me,”—the individual making the safety of others a priority over theirs. Citizenship means forming a collective group. When natural or manmade disasters strike the stone walls of our existence, it is the duty of citizens to form a group and provide aid and relief to victims of despair. However, citizenship means forming a collective group even when convenience is amiss.  When wicked problems are at a great distance from our foundation or when our journey begins in arduous terrain, it continues to be the duty of citizens to form a group. Ease is a deficit that weakens the group; with this, shortcuts to solutions become poisonous thorns. Individuals must learn that when thunder strikes and sets fire to the rain, the group must act.

As a citizen, one has an array of freedoms, such as the freedom of speech. These freedoms are what society affirms as their natural rights as citizens. Citizens have the natural right to articulate their values and morals. However, the freedom of speech may become inundated with hostility. At the dinner table, most individuals agreed that society is filled with hostility people have towards others. When an individual hears another’s person’s opinions they have three options: ignore, accept, or refute. Most individuals respectfully carry out these options; however, there remain a fraction of people who carry out these options through hostility. Hence, a lack of respect resonates. This further develops the definition of citizenship—the quality of being respectful, rather than hostile through discussion. Once, a person learns to respect another person’s opinions, people will begin to work together as a community to solve society’s wicked problems.

Gathered around the kitchen table, we have now found the lost sense of community. No longer is society buried under a thousand screams. Rather it is delivered as a thousand praises placing society where it had strived to be. We have taken up the oar of our ancestors to rediscover citizenship and traversed the waters under the bridge. We have crossed the bridge and sat at the table; the waters have flooded our bones and begun to bridge the divide between the citizen and the self.

I, as a citizen of society, have learned that citizenship is more than its dictionary denotation. Citizenship possesses a connotation that differentiates it from other words. Citizenship is formed from a collective group that consists of diverse identities, morals, and values. Citizenship is molded as a cast of freedom and respect for the very values on which it protects. We pick up the shovels and dig a grave for hostility. The tombstone is inscribed with a farewell to relics of old memories.

If we examine the word citizenship and redefine what it means to be a citizen within a community, we will have addressed a probing question, “How can we solve our problems?”  As Martha Nussbaum proclaims in her chapter, “Citizens of the World,” in Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities: “The problems we need to solve—economic, environmental, religious, and political—are global in their scope. They have no hope of being solved unless people once distant come together and cooperate in ways they have not before.” It is imperative to regard Nussbaum’s words as words of wisdom and truth. When we examine the word citizenship, we have learned it is more than tangible voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Citizenship is intangible at its core. It is a thread of our identity. If we take a needle and sew the gap of hostility and act through deliberation, we will produce a garden of solutions to our wicked problems.

A Kentucky Kitchen Table is not a dreaded project, but rather a collective group of individuals gathering about a brown, cedar table in a crisp fall to discuss citizenship and community while eating a warm meal. Around this table, the cracked, brittle bones belonging to diverse identities—Liz, Sarah, Jack, Dwayne, Ernie, Jess, and Melanie—flourished with conversation and blossomed with white flowers of hope. Unfamiliar faces became familiar.


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