Cut the Small Talk

By Callie

My name is Callie and my Kentucky’s Kitchen Table project took place in Bowling Green, Kentucky on April 14, 2018. There were six people present at the dinner including myself. Because my immediate family lives in three separate states, I decided to do my project with two of my closest friends who are like family to me, and three other people I had never met before. All of us come from different families and different cities. We have roots in five different states.

Ramon is 20 years old and is a nutritionist for the Army. He lives on base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky but is from Williamsburg, Virginia. He is African American but was raised by both a white family, who adopted him, and his black family. As a kid, he grew up in poverty until his best friend’s family took him in at age fifteen and provided him financial stability. Now that he has a stable career, he is able to send money back home to his siblings who live with his grandparents.

Michael is 22 and he is also a nutritionist in the Army and lives on base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Last year, he served nine months in Kuwait. In a few weeks, his contract will be up and he will switch from active duty to reserves. He is moving back home to Chicago, Illinois to study to become a nurse practitioner. He would prefer a practical career that will earn him a lot of money, rather than one that he feels passionate about.

Kayshla is from Texas and goes to WKU. She is mixed, Puerto Rican and Caucasian. She is 22 and has one more year of college. She is studying Communication and Leadership with hopes of working with the Special Olympics. She has a passion for helping people and making a difference in the lives of others. Kayshla is also a strong Christian and strives to model that in the way she treats others.

Chelsea is 25. She wants to work with children with intellectual disabilities and learn how to improve their learning processes in the most effective ways. She wants to help these children improve their skills in order for them to perform efficiently. Chelsea has a big heart and strives to help others in any way possible.

Lindsey is 21 and is from Somerset, Kentucky. She attends WKU where she is majoring in Electrical Engineering and Meteorology and minoring in Systems Engineering and Mathematics. She wants to be a satellite or radar engineer.

Finally, I am 19 years old and studying Exercise Science and Entrepreneurship. I am originally from Spartanburg, South Carolina but now call both Louisville, Kentucky and Norfolk, Virginia home. I am working to create and own my own gym and am currently studying to get my personal training certification. I believe very strongly in creating a life you love and never settling for a job and lifestyle that do not make you excited to get out of bed every morning.

To begin the night, we all gathered in the kitchen. Instead of all bringing separate dishes, we decided to cook together and combine the dinner with a game night. Kayshla and Lindsey made lasagna with veggies while Ramon and Chelsea made pizza because they didn’t want lasagna. Michael and I made cookie brownies for dessert.

I started the conversation by asking the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Everyone had pretty similar answers for this question with a focus on putting others above ourselves and helping out those in need. This was one of the biggest themes of our conversation.

I was really excited to talk to Ramon and Michael because I was curious about the effects of the Army on their viewpoints. To dig into this, I asked, “How does being in the army affect the way you view the world today?” They looked at each other with wide eyes and the conversation seemed to shift away from the light-hearted mood we had before. Michael said that the current president in office has a lot of the men and women serving our country on their toes. He said that with the recent Syria bombing, while most regular citizens take the topic a little lighter, everyone in the military immediately grew fearful of being deployed. Ramon who plans to get out of the Army as soon as his contract is up, cut in and said, “If World War III were to happen, we’d be gone,” suggesting that the military would deploy everyone. He also said that many people are indifferent about decisions involving the nation’s military and fail to realize that every number is a soldier’s life and every soldier has friends and family whose lives would also be drastically affected if they were deployed.

Michael added that he feels like the president is looking at a map and deciding a location to bomb without considering the fact that there are innocent families living there. He said that to the president, it’s entirely political and he seems to care so little about the aftermath. Michael said, “I hate that I’m technically apart of that and associated with the death of innocent kids.”

When they brought this issue up, it reminded me of “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove,” by Robert Hass. I took a minute to explain this reading to everyone at the table. All of us agreed that people tend to speak on issues without knowing all of the facts. In the case of the bombing of Syria, Michael and Ramon felt that some people were quick to support the president’s decision without taking in consideration the effects that it could have on innocent Syrian families and the United States Military.

Next I asked everyone what kind of person they wanted to be. I was afraid everyone at the table would say similar things, such as “I want to be kind to others,” but this question ended up sparking the most moving response of the conversation. I asked everyone to go in a circle and respond. When it was Ramon’s turn, he said that he wanted to be a person who lived every second of his life to the fullest. At age nine, Ramon lost his 26 year old mom to a severe heart condition. It made him realize that every day he is alive is precious because he is getting closer and closer to the age his mom lost her life. He was also born with heart issues which can sometimes scare him because he knows the next day is never promised. He then said that even saying this aloud made him want to get out of his routine because his biggest fear is living an average life.

The last question I asked was which social issue is most important to everyone. This question was super important to me because we as individuals cannot give our all to resolving each and every social issue but we can pick one or two and make it our passion to change it.

Ramon started by saying that the most important issue to him is racial inequality, and more specifically, police brutality. He said he cares so much about it because he feels like we as a country are not making progress with race issues. He said something to the effect of, “No one should be treated like that, it’s not righteous at all. I am scared because that could be my little sister or brother.”

Chelsea agreed with Ramon and said that she believes while we as a country have gotten better in many ways, she thinks it has been 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. She also brought up gun violence which has been so prevalent in our society recently. She said she thinks there are a lot of things we need to change.

Kayshla added that she believes change starts with teaching our children right from wrong. She believes that loving each other more and helping out those who need it will help us unite as a country.

Michael said that while he agrees that we need more love in the world, he also thinks there are more practical steps to making change. He said that we as a society need to continue bringing social issues to light and speak out when we don’t agree with something.

I agreed with Michael and added that many people are unwilling to understand other people’s point of view and need to practice the act of listening. I emphasized the importance of deliberation to finding common ground with wicked problems.

Lindsey was the last person to speak on the issue and said that she has never been asked this question and it made her realize that although she cares a lot about certain issues, she is doing nothing to change or improve them. She didn’t know exactly what was the most important issue to her.

Lindsey’s realization reminded us of the importance of making meaningful conversation with the people around us. Too often, we hardly scratch the surface even with the people we are closest with. Many times, they are willing to share the hardships they’ve experienced if we just get the courage to ask.

This project gave me the opportunity to not only meet new people but also grow as a person. I have many family members who have experienced interesting things, like war, poverty, divorce, disease, etc. that I am always hesitant to ask about, as they might be sensitive subjects. However, this project made me realize that I can learn a lot very quickly about people and the world if I am simply willing to ask questions and listen. This project inspired me to cut the small talk with my family and friends and dig deeper into what makes them the way they are today.

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