KKT in London, KY

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By Mequeil Howard

My name is Mequeil Howard and I held my Kentucky Kitchen Table on March 13, 2018 in London, Kentucky. I held the dinner at my house with five people attending.  Those that attended my Kentucky Kitchen Table were Robyn, Colten, Ashlynn, Debbie, and Mitchell. Robyn, Colten, and Ashlynn are family friends from Texas who come to visit occasionally. Mitchell and Debbie are my parents who graciously allowed me to hold dinner at our house. Each of these individuals are very different and have different experiences.

Robyn is 48 years old and lives in Austin, Texas. Before she moved to Texas and got married she worked for the Red Robin Franchise out of Denver, Colorado. She is currently a stay at home mom and who is very involved in various community organizations. Her husband owns a construction company and she occasionally helps him with questions or issues he has. She recently helped him raise money to build houses for those that are homeless in Austin, Texas. Colten and Ashlynn are her two kids.

Colten is currently eight years old but will be turning nine by the end of the month. He is a boy scout and works on various projects such as building rockets and toy cars. He is very active and loves to learn about history. He is truthful and wants to know the facts. He will correct you no matter what.  Ashlynn is seven years old and loves to do art projects. She has a very outgoing personality once she warms up to you. She enjoys school and recently had her art work displayed in the community center. Her best trait is holding you accountable for whatever you say.

Debbie is 45 years old and owns a local flower shop in London, KY where she is the sole designer. She has always lived in London, KY and she has been a florist for the past thirty years. She is involved with the Laurel County Chamber of Commerce and stays involved with community organizations. Beyond having a local business and being involved in the community, she continues to help me pursue my education.
Mitchell is 47 years old and works as an accountant through the Federal Bureau of Prisons. On the weekend he helps my mom with the flower shop and whatever else may need done. He enjoys being outside and working on projects. He always ensures that I am doing well and succeeding in school.

As for me, I am 19 years old and attend Western Kentucky University. My major is psychological sciences and my minor is American Sign Language. I intend on going on to graduate school to be an Occupational Therapist. I am involved in various campus organizations and continue to look for more to get involved in.

When it comes to the Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner, we had ham, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and rolls. We also had cheesecake and regular cake for dessert. Since Robyn, Colten, and Ashlynn are from Texas, my mom made all of dinner. It was hard to decide what to make because Ashlynn is a picky eater, so she had all of the macaroni and cheese. I helped make both of the desserts because I love to make them. However, the most important part of this Kentucky Kitchen Table Project is the conversations we had at dinner.

When I first asked what citizenship means to them beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws it was hard for the adults to come up with an answer. Colten and Ashlynn are still young and Colten has had more history classes than Ashlynn so he was able to answer the question a little easier. With this, me and Robyn made the question so that it would be easier for them to understand and answer.

Robyn started off the conversation by saying the biggest part of being a citizen is the freedom we have. This ranges from being able to choose where you travel to where you want eat. She went on to mention the ability to share opinions and create change. She described how as a citizen we are able to create platforms to voice concerns and create change. She used the example of the “Me Too” movement. As a citizen we have the ability to create a change which leads to her last point. Robyn said that as citizens we are obligated to the community and to make the place where you live a better.

This related to our class extremely well as one of our main questions is how can we live better together. It also made we think back to wicked problems and how we as citizens have an obligation to help. Robyn personally helps with the homeless community in Austin, Texas by building tiny homes. She has already begun to help solve a wicked problem, homeless. I went on to talk about the conversations we have in class about being obligated to do the morally right thing and Robyn believes that to some extent we are obligated to help but at the same time there are certain situations in which you can’t help. We then talked about the opioid epidemic and how we may be obligated to save their life but we can’t force them to seek treatment.

Colten then began to describe citizenship as helping other people in your community through being kind, obedient, and respectful at all times. He then talked about our freedom to choose what you want to be when you grow up. Ashlynn mentioned how we have the freedom to do the right thing through being nice and loving each other. She also said that we are able to choose who we talk to and who we want to be around. After talking with Colten and Ashlynn, it reminded me that children see the world in a different way than adults/teenagers do.

Going from this my dad, Mitchell, believes that citizenship is about freedom. Freedom to choose where he wants to go, buy what he wants to buy, and wear what he wants to wear. He believes he can freely speak and is able to make choices that citizens in other countries don’t have the opportunity to. This leads to my moms, Debbie, idea of citizenship being the freedom to choose and not living to strict rules.

Robyn, Mitchell, and Debbie all used the word freedom to describe citizenship which I believe has to do with the time in which they each grew up. Many people don’t think of citizenship as separate from paying taxes, obeying laws, and voting so asking someone what citizenship is without these things makes it difficult to come up with another answer. We could say that the word freedom relates to the laws we have because they allow us to have those freedoms. But I think it is more important than that, it is the not the freedom to do something but the freedom to choose what to do with it. Such as choosing to speak up to abuse with your freedom of speech. Many other countries have strict rules for the citizens that live there and they do not allow them to speak up or become what they want to become.

As for what I have learned about being a citizen and what it means to me, citizenship is mainly about voting, laws, and taxes because that is what we are taught about in our history classes. Many people don’t go throughout life and think about why they are a citizen, it is not something that someone who is born in the United States has to think about a lot. I look at citizenship as doing the right thing, solving wicked problems, and making an impact on those around you. It begins with us having the freedoms and abilities to do different things but we as citizens should do more. We should want to make the country in which we live a better place and we should be friendly to those around us. From this dinner my answer kind of encompasses everyone’s thoughts. This could be form my age and where I grew up but either way you can see how the idea of citizenship has changed.

So how does this all tie into what we read in class. David Brooks describes how in the past there has been shared moral frameworks amongst individuals in his article, “If It Feels Right.” He then goes on to say that today many people have individual values that are separate from others. You can see this throughout our conversation at dinner as the older adults felt that freedom was key to citizenship where myself and Colten and Ashlynn look to the traits of a person characterizing citizenship.

The conversation then ties into the reading “Love thy Neighbor: A story of War,” by Peter Maass which describes the Bosnian War from the perspective of a newspaper writer. Maass describes how neighbors and friends turn on each other during the war. Maass concludes that we should be able to accept each other as we are and to stand up for what you believe in. The majority of the time we are put in a difficult situation we don’t stand up for what we believe in, instead we go along with the crowd. It is important to see that Colten and Ashlynn believe that being a citizen is being friendly and caring because we often forget that we need to be someone’s friend in a difficult situation. There are so many cultural differences between what we see as the meaning of citizenship, yet we probably learned the same things in history class. This relates back to moral frameworks being part of the induvial instead of the group.

Overall the dinner went really well and I learned a lot. This class has shown me how to have conversations about difficult issues in a constructive way. It is important to have these conversations because there are differences in the way we see different issues but there is common ground also. When we listen to each other we are able to live better together and learn to solve problems together. Holding this dinner has allowed me to see how our class questions relate to everyday life and can be a conversation starter.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table – The Importance of Community

By Rachel

IMG_1431I conducted my Kentucky Kitchen Table in my hometown, Fort Thomas, KY. The attendees were very diverse in terms of age and background, and less in terms of race and ethnicity. The dinner took place at Maureen and Don’s house, a retired married couple. Their son Ken, a college professor, and his wife Lori, a nanny, were also in attendance, along with Maureen’s good friend Mary, a retired widow and great-grandmother. To represent a younger demographic was Katie, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati. Perhaps the guest I knew the least about was Dan, a Catholic priest in his 60s, and a close friend of the hosts.

When asked the only required question regarding citizenship, everyone around the table seemed puzzled. It wasn’t that they didn’t know the answer, Maureen assured, it was that some of them were old and it took them some time to process what was being asked of them. Don later remarked that it was just a difficult question altogether, and to be fair, it was. When asked the question myself, it took me a few minutes to gather my thoughts and collect them in a way that would come across as comprehensible. So, we collectively decided to talk about some of the other given topics and hopefully that would end up tying into the first question. Because all of the guests were of varying age groups, I decided to ask about how they thought their age impacted their attitudes towards things like the government, morals, and citizenship. This question led to lots of stories about everyone’s childhoods, and gradually led into experience with certain historical and/or political events that happened at some point in their lives. Mary explained how when she was young, her family struggled to get by in the depths of WWII. She recalled that all she wanted one year for her birthday was a wagon. But because of the shortages of certain metals, she wasn’t able to get one. This, she explained, made her cherish the little things in life. Furthermore, to connect this memory to what she thought citizenship should be, she remembered sharing the ration stamps with neighbors in times of struggle, and this led to her belief that a sense of community and helping others is extremely crucial. We then briefly talked about neighbors. Ken, Lori, Don, and Maureen all said they had close relationships with at least 2 of their neighbors. Katie viewed this as less important, and Mary explained that it had been extremely difficult to try to build relationships with others following her husband’s passing. However, despite these differing relationships with neighbors, the consensus was that it is a positive thing to be close with neighbors because it creates a sense of community that some would argue is lacking in today’s society in the United States.

All of the older adults at the table explained that there had been times in their lives where it felt like everything in the United States was falling apart. Most notably, they collectively agreed, was the 60s. Not only was the Cold War happening in the early 60s, but it seemed to the American people that life in the U.S. was just one tragedy after another. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy left citizens feeling hopeless, and growing objection to the Vietnam War left the country divided. Maureen then went on to explain that it was in times like these where being a citizen is the most important, and she pointed out that when she felt an injustice was being done in Vietnam, she refused to be quiet about it. She continued in saying that although it may be easy for people to just give up when it seems like everything is falling apart, we cannot just “throw in the towel.” It is our duty as citizens to foster community efforts that will make our country a better place for the coming generations. You have a duty to care and to try to educate yourself, she argued, no matter how hopeless things may seem. She articulated further by saying that we cannot expect everyone to protest or to become a politician, but we can expect everyone to care about what is happening in their country. This idea of having a duty to care/educate yourself about the state of the country overlapped with later conversation about our country today. Without getting too absorbed into the mess of today’s politics and the 2016 presidential election, Katie made a point that it was easy for people, especially young people, to tune out important political points made by the candidates, because the focus was on mudslinging and taking down the other side. Likewise, it was easy for people who already didn’t particularly care about politics to tune it out even more because the slander and scandal gave them reason to.

I wanted to lastly bring up religion and its relationship with citizenship because we had a priest at our table and I was curious about his input. Fr. Dan explained that as a Christian, he hopes that everything he does shows God to people that he interacts with. He strives every day to communicate the love of God and the Christian faith to those listening to his homilies, and he wants nothing more than to show people the love that he believes God can grant them. In building these relationships within his parish, he strengthens his church community – the type of community that we had concluded was so important earlier on in the meal. Loving one another through God and doing all things through Him is something Fr. Dan believes to be a big part of citizenship. Loving people, accepting them no matter the circumstance, and withholding judgment are all important components in creating a more positive and progressive world for those to inhabit it in the future. His religion and his moral beliefs have shaped his political opinions and influenced his passion to create a happier and stronger community in his parish. The others agreed, and although they did not have the same experience as being a religious figure, each person agreed that their religious beliefs or lack thereof often influenced their attitude towards other Americans, the government, and politics.

To conclude, our conversation during dinner was largely centered around the importance of community, hope, and spirituality, which all in some way relate to central themes of Citizen and Self. In reflecting upon the conversations that took place during dinner, I realized that a lot of what was being said related to the central questions of this course. For example, everyone seemed to believe that a sense of community is crucial in making life better for us and those around us. This directly relates to the question of “how we can live better together” and other similar ideas that are associated with interpersonal relationships and an emphasis on working collectively. My first inclination is that this ties into Maas’s Love Thy Neighbor. Although we are not at war with our neighbors, everyone seemed to agree that fostering relationships with those living close to us is beneficial to everyone involved, and that all involved parties should make more of a conscious effort to develop these positive relationships. Furthermore, kindness should not be limited to those similar to us, and that to live better together and to make society a better place for the future, being respectful, tolerant, and generally kind is an easy, but often overlooked significant factor. Something else interesting that resonated with me was that there was a general consensus from everyone at the table that we have a duty to work together and make conscious efforts to sustain and improve our society for those to come.

Overall, I learned a lot about different perspectives that people older than me may have. It was very interesting to hear childhood stories from people of such a wide age range, and I even learned some history. Textbooks and documentaries can only teach you so much – and in my opinion, it is more interesting to hear the perspectives of those that lived through the times firsthand, and it is often an enjoyable experience for the storyteller as well, provided that the memories are positive. Conducting this dinner was an eye-opening experience for myself, and even some people at the table. Katie, the graduate student, told me post-dinner that she felt that her attitude towards the importance of community had changed. I felt similarly – it is no secret that millennials and those younger are often so caught up in their own lives and the lives of those closest to them that they fail to see the importance in building relationships with people unlike themselves, or even just their neighbors that may be a different age. Hearing the positive experiences of those older than us in times where community was crucial made us younger adults feel that maybe more of a focus on community and helping others without expecting something in return would create a brighter future and a generally better place to live. All in all, actively listening to the thoughts of people different from me not only taught me a lesson in history, but also one of acceptance.