The dinner took place in Hopkinsville, Kentucky at the Pennyroyal Veteran’s Center. Present at the dinner was Matthew, a student at Western Kentucky University, Jeff, administrator of the Pennyroyal Veteran’s Center, Tim, a retired veteran of the army, Mark, another employee at the Veteran’s Center, Erica, and Paul, two more employees at the Veteran’s Center. Food was provided mainly by Tim and Erica and consisted of chicken, potatoes and macaroni and cheese. There was also cherry pie for desert provided by Jeff.
While many of those questioned were involved with veterans, they were still quite diverse. Matthew is a student at Western Kentucky University, and Mark, Erica, and Paul never served in the military. Paul also recently moved to the United States from Nigeria, and Mark is Jamaican. Jeff is a retired army veteran who went on to further serve the country he served by serving as administrator of the Veteran’s Center, and Tim is a retired veteran from the army who is currently housed at the center. The group, while diverse, was united under a banner of service and loyalty to one’s country.
The conversation centered on citizenship, with a strong focus on service. When asked what citizenship meant to them, many of the answers provided centered around loyalty to one’s country. Having served as a veteran in the military, Jeff and Tim emphasized service to one’s country as a key factor in citizenship. Jeff went on to say that this service is not exclusive to military service, and can be demonstrated by ways such as community service and, sometimes, even joining the work force. Paul was especially convinced that loyalty is the most important aspect to citizenship as loyalty and a wish for the country to prosper is the stem of all other aspects of citizenry such as the simple things like voting and paying one’s taxes. A point that was brought up was giving back to one’s community in any variety of ways, be it community service or providing support for those who need it.
As everyone aside from Matthew at the dinner was involved in the military in some way, be it through actual service or simply being employed at the Veteran’s Center, a prominent topic during the dinner became focused on military service. While everyone at the table agreed that military service was incredibly important and a great display of loyalty and pride in one’s country, it was not the only way to show one’s loyalty. Tim even went on to say that military service could be a way for one to form pride and loyalty in a nation. He described how putting your own life on the line instills a pride in your country that is hard to form through other ways of service. It is one of the most prominent ways to serve one’s country as you are essentially saying that the safety and prosperity of your country is more important to you than your own life.
When asked how their job at the Veteran’s Center relates to their role as a citizen, there was a near unanimous agreement that they were giving back to their community by providing for those who had willingly offered their lives so that our country – and by implication, those questioned – could grow and prosper. It was agreed upon that citizenship boils down to providing for one’s community, and that the way one does so is not relevant or important. As long as one is providing a positive benefit to society, then they are being a citizen. There are other important factors involved in this, namely loyalty to the community you are involved in, but the primary role of a citizen is to give back to the community in which they are a part of. This was the primary purpose of those employed at the Veteran’s Center, giving back to the community, specifically the veterans, and as a result, the employment of everyone at the table (Matthew and Tim aside) played a very important part in their primary role as a citizen.
Another major theme that arose during the conversation was race. While anyone at the table questioned would claim that they are not racist, Mark and Paul mentioned (though to be clear, they did not try to call anyone at the table out as a racist) that many people have subtleties and remarks that they make that they might not even realize would be racist, as they are neither of the minority targeted or even on the receiving end of those remarks. Actions such as hiring to fulfill a quota, or even finding a person of minority solely for the sake of diversity in a group setting, while not inherently racist could come across as objectifying the minorities in question. It was very reminiscent of the minor transgressions we don’t even think about that Rankine’s Citizen brought up as a focal point. We may not have any racist thoughts or tendencies, but it’s a way that we are brought up as a society and instills small tendencies that to the majority don’t seem as anything bad, but may come across as discrimination towards a minority in a way that we may not even see.
The major point that resonated throughout the entire dinner was service, fitting as we were eating within a shelter for homeless veterans. It does not matter how one can serve one’s community, as long as they are able to serve in some capacity. Even something non-physical like wisdom and knowledge to pass down to one’s prosperity can be a service and a way to give back to the community that has nurtured and helped one grow. As one of the major questions of the course is “How can people live better (or, at the least, less badly) together?”, this seemed to actually be a very fitting and appropriate response. If everyone in society can provide and serve, then it would benefit everyone else. This could potentially cause a snowball effect, as those benefitted would see the source of their growth and desire to leave that same effect on their prosperity, similar to ideas brought up in discussion of the “Energy Diet” article. If everyone is serving their community, then they should be improving their lives and as a result should be living better together.
A common thread that resonated throughout all of the questions asked was the importance of the small details. Whether it be the small actions ones makes towards a particular group, or a small contribution someone makes to a group or community, they are still important and should not be discredited because it is only a minor action. What might be minor in one person’s eyes may resonate greatly in another’s and, as discussed earlier, this other person could inspire another and cause a snowball effect. You don’t have to give your life in battle in order to serve your country or community. Sometimes, simply helping those around who have helped serve your community is enough needed to serve and give back to community. You do not have to take the grandest action to fulfill your role as a citizen. If everyone is taking the large roles, there will be no one providing the background support of the minor jobs. Every role is important. This was probably the most important message that was never explicitly said that resonated throughout the dinner.
Pictured from left to right:
Paul, Tim, Mark, Erica, Matthew
Not pictured (photo credits): Jeff