On November 23, 2017, a Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in Louisville, Kentucky on Thanksgiving Day. The participants involved included my mother Mary, a 1st grade teacher who enjoys time with her family, Alexa, the just-graduated-college girlfriend of my cousin, Jeanne, a fun, loving aunt, Katie, a smart and determined woman a couple years out of college who is my cousin, Emma, a silly cousin adopted from China who is still in high school, Elizabeth, another cousin a couple years out of college who loves traveling the world, Rhonda, an aunt who enjoys the company of others, Donna, the mother of Alexa’s boyfriend, and myself. Together we stood around the table and ate various snacks and veggie trays before making ravioli to be eaten on Christmas Day, a family tradition. While most of their husbands either made the ravioli filling or cooked chicken outside, we all flattened out the dough and filled it with its filling before cutting it into bite size pieces and storing them in containers. I chose this group of people to discuss citizenship with because it contained a diverse group of young, middle aged, and older women who have all taken different routes in their lives and never fail to impress me with their own unique wisdom. I approached the table to help make the ravioli and it was then when the Kentucky Kitchen Table really began. I started off with a simple question with not so simple answers. “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Answers included themes such as holding those in your community accountable, being a part of a larger group, thinking about others in a selfless way, and creating the best possible environment for everyone to live in together. Mary, being a teacher in a public school for years, understands the importance of making others feel welcome in our community. She’s taught kids from multiple countries, who speak different languages, and believe in various religions. No matter where they were from though, she always considered it her duty not only as a teacher, but as a citizen, to welcome them in and make them feel just like everyone else. Emma, being from another country, personally knows what it’s like to be welcomed, despite not being born here. Donna herself has brought in her son’s friend from high school to live with them for years due to his own family life at home being unfriendly. She felt like it was her duty to take care of those who need help. Not only take care of him, but hold him accountable when he got in trouble or struggled in college. Citizenship is not only about making others feel welcome, but making sure they are doing their own part to be a successful citizen. A community like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link.
The next question was what kind of community do you want to live in? Rhonda felt like a community you can feel safe in and be able to enjoy being a part of without any doubts was the best kind. Alexa wanted a community filled with friends and loved ones where you always have a place to go. Katie liked the idea of a place where everyone is accepted and not judged based on their appearance or beliefs. The overall theme of the answers to this question were the ideas of love, acceptance, and safety. The idea was your home should not just be the building you live in, but the community you are apart of. Luckily, everyone present felt like for the most part, they did live in communities described. No one was afraid of where they lived, and no one felt they were alone. Although not everyone can be as fortunate, I’m very grateful that my family seem to all live in healthy and successful communities.
I then got more personal and asked what kind of person do you want to be? Elizabeth just wanted to be someone who can make others laugh and feel good about themselves. She wants to leave others with a sense of warmth within. Jeanne said she wants to be a person who is loving and forgiving. She wants to leave her impact on the world as someone who just radiates with love. She feels like she’s tried to do this so far in her life and will continue to try to be this way going forward. Emma gleefully said she wants to be someone who is always happy and never hurts others’ feelings. Not one person said they wanted to be a rich and successful or something more self-focused such as that. Everyone talked about how they wanted to impact others or how they want to be a beacon of joy. This personally gave me a sense of joy and almost a pride to be apart of the family that I am.
The next question asked was what kind of advice would you give to people running for office in our country? I knew various members of the Kentucky Kitchen Table has different political interests, so I was interested to see what kind of answers were going to be said. Mary just hoped that whoever is in charge of our country governs with compassion and love. She wants our leaders to be thoughtful and caring even when tough decisions have to be made. Donna claimed she believes that the leader of a country should listen to the people and make clear decisions with honest intent. Those leaders should be open with the people about what they are doing and stay true to what they initially said they stand for. Emma admitted while she does not know a lot about politics, she still hopes that our president is kind and caring. She doesn’t want a malicious person leading our country who acts without remorse. Alexa wants those in charge to be thoughtful and accepting but also decisive. She prefers our leaders to act together and be confident in their decisions: not indecisive and arguing among themselves all the time. A successful government is one that is unified from the inside.
The last question asked was is there anything you can think to do that might make things better for you or your neighbors where you live? Jeanne believed trying to get more youth properly educated would result in healthier communities across the country and we should try to get more people aware of what a healthy community looks like. Emma said that you could get together a neighborhood event filled with bouncy houses and fun games in hopes that it draws people out of their homes so that relationships are built, and you get to know those living next to you. Elizabeth says just stopping to say hi or introduce yourself to neighbors you see while outside or on a walk will promote a more loving and unified community. All of the responses to this question dealt with people and making their lives and relationships better. It was not about building new facilities or anything physical but rather getting people together and fully aware of a caring community where all are welcome.
Once the conversation was over I could really see why we were required to be apart of a Kentucky Kitchen Table for our class. It reminded me of “Practicing Democracy,” in Smart Communities by Suzanne Morse. In the reading, communities such as those in Jacksonville or Oregon formed councils and groups that helped inform citizens of certain issues and helped decide how the local government should act. It was ordinary citizens who banded together and discusses local issues. Although this was a much smaller scale, it was similar in the sense that regular people sat down and talked about citizenship and real-life problems. Because of it, everyone involved had a better understanding of each other and the issues brought up. Questions that Honors 251 is centralized around like “How do we live well together?” and “How do solve problems?” were addressed and this project really did feel like the class was being applied to the real world.
The general themes I noticed from my Kentucky Kitchen Table was that of love, compassion, and human interactions. Each answer throughout felt very similar in the since that they shared a theme that everyone seemed to agree on for the most part. It was interesting to see how the same couple ideas could be present no matter how different the questions were. Never before have I had these kinds of conversations with my family and I am very glad I got the chance. It gave me a new understanding how these family members think, and I became proud of their ideals and beliefs. It makes me glad to be part of the family while also helping me understand a new meaning to citizenship. Now I have a new appreciation for these family members and it might not be the last time we sit down and have a down to earth conversation.