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.