My Kentucky Kitchen Table was at my mom’s house around our dining room table in my hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee on Friday November 2. Murfreesboro is the suburb of Nashville and therefore has an interesting mix of small town values and big city opinions. The area has changed dramatically in the past ten to twenty years, which has led to some changes in opinions or led to opinions even being held more dearly. My mother, Melinda, her friend and former co-worker, Monte, and my grandmother, Debra (who is not pictured as she arrived quite later – just how timing worked out) were at the dinner along with myself, Mya (who was taking the picture).
Melinda is a middle school teacher mainly working with special needs and behavior cases and is a part time college professor. She has raised me as a single mother; we have a very strong relationship. My mother is more private with politics and political opinions; we only have conversations if I am asking questions or need help understanding something. She believes that while it is important to be informed, politics does not need to be an every day discussion with everyone. She loves helping students especially those who need it most. Melinda has her doctorate degree, and has done multiple grants including those that involved research.
Monte used to work at the same school my mother does. Even though do not work in the same school anymore, they have continued their friendship. I have only met Monte a couple times and very briefly, so this was a great way to get to know her apart from her name and how she knew my mother. While currently teaching at another middle school, Monte is going to school to get her Masters degree. She also is an African-American woman, and thus has had different experiences compared to the rest of us at the dinner.
Debra is my maternal grandmother. She grew up and still lives in Shelbyville, Tennessee, which is a small town just south of Murfreesboro. She is a retired school teacher; she mainly taught with elementary school students and English as a Second Language (ESL). She is very vocal politically. We have previously had multiple conversations about politics and the world we live in today, but this was the first time I entered a conversation with a specific question in mind.
Besides the question dealing with class (which I will discuss later), one of the things we talked about how college was for me and how my mother’s and Monte’s jobs were going. Everyone at the table was somehow involved or formerly involved with the education system. Education is an important aspect in all of our lives. I went to a more privileged middle school and high school because it was a magnet school, yet the rest of the women at the table have taught or do teach at lower income schools. There is a vast difference in hearing the stories from their experiences. At the middle schools my mother and Monte teach at, it is common for students to have more behavioral and academic problems. It is not a matter of the students at my school being better, and the students at other school being worse. That is not the case. In hearing the stories, there is typically a recurring theme. The students in lower income schools generally have more difficult home lives such as parents are not often home because of work, lack of help with school in the home, and other responsibilities that can put school on the back burner. Some of these issues can also cause students to act out. While some parents try to excuse their child’s issues, many parents want to work with the school and the teachers to help the student succeed. There is also a greater amount of special needs students in the schools my mother and Monte work at. These students need unique care that is sometimes difficult to give them in a typical school setting and with the availability of resources (or lack thereof). My mother, my grandmother, and Monte all formerly or currently work everyday to help these students succeed in their academics and in their lives and overcome the difficulties they face. Talking to them at dinner gives me a new perspective each time I hear such stories because I am not only able to see how blessed I was and am but also am opened to the many different experiences and backgrounds that affect other people especially now since I am in college where the students and their backgrounds are diverse.
At the table, we also discussed things we have been doing or are planning on doing outside of work and school. I enjoyed discussing about my experiences at football games, with friends, and in my sorority. My grandmother has taken trips, gone to do many things with her friends, and has done many house projects given she has the time since being retired. For my mother, she has been enjoying living on her own and taking time for herself. Monte and my mom have even gone to the farmers’ market in Nashville and to see plays in Nashville. Despite everyone having busy lives, we all agreed that having things to do that are relaxing and fun helps us better ourselves by creating an outlet for happiness.
While the purpose of the Kentucky Kitchen Table is beyond the scope of one question, there was a required question – “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” – that had to be discussed. As someone who just turned eighteen this year and had not experienced paying taxes or voting, citizenship to me was already more than those. I explained how to me citizenship was supporting and acting towards bettering yourself, your community, and your country even if and when it is not always easy or when it is not something I agreed or approved of. Supporting to me does not mean just going along with every decision, but standing with people and having their backs even while trying to promote change. Citizenship to me also means if you see something going in the wrong direction to speak up and be a voice for change in whatever way (legally) that means for you.
For my mother, citizenship meant actively participating in her community and being a part of something to make it better. Citizenship is having a role in society that leaves a mark even if that means just helping one individual; you help and you care. My mother believes one should be education on the topics that affect his or her life and should know beyond what the news or social media says before he or she forms a belief. She continually tells me that I can think and believe what I want, but I need to be able to know why I do. The skills and values she raised me with help me be an active citizen.
Citizenship to Monte means being a part of your country in such a way that you give your opinions and your support. Citizenship involves being concerned enough about what’s going on in the country that you are willing and try to make changes when necessary whether that is through voting, petitions, or just individual actions. To Monte, citizenship on an individual level means being a good representation of your community and of your country. Citizenship also means actively helping fellow citizens; a theme that kept meaning mentioned during the dinner.
For my grandmother, citizenship means having freedoms that she is able to enjoy in America such as the ability to vote, free speech, and freedom of religion. In America, we are able to be a part of a community that is able to live in each individual’s uniqueness. Citizenship is respecting and honoring the ability to have that freedom. A part of that means honoring the military and the flag. Citizenship also means appreciating the sacrifices that the men and women fighting for our freedoms have made. This is not because of agreement but out of respect. Citizenship and communities are built out of mutual respect for each other and the values we hold dear.
This Kentucky Kitchen Table taught me how even people from different background and different generations can all connect through our citizenship. Each person believed that citizenship is one of the core values of America that brings us all together. We each demonstrate our citizenship in unique ways and hold different opinions, but at the end of the day we are Americans. We want to help improve our country and the lives of those in it. We want to be proud of our country and who we are. While our everyday lives focus more on who we individually affect and interact with, we take the time and actions to be involved in our communities and our country. During the dinner, as I tried to think how the conversation could relate to our readings, I remembered the stories “The Power of Patience” and “Why Bother”. The women at the table with me are helping teach and grow the children that will be deciding the future of our world. Each day they struggle trying to help these kids and sometimes it takes a toll, but every morning they get up and go to work. They bother to help and teach again and again. They have patience with the students and try to teach the students the skills they need to succeed such as patience and work ethic. Teachers and schools are some of the essential building blocks in making an individual into a citizen through skills, values, and education not only about academics but also about the world. Citizenship is more than just voting, paying taxes, and following laws; citizenship is built of what people do everyday to improve and help their lives, the lives they affect, and the communities they are a part of.