For my Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I held dinner at my brother’s house here in Bowling Green, Kentucky, this past Tuesday, November 13th. While planning this gathering, I decided to invite a selection of individuals that reflected diversity and engaged citizenship in order to deepen conversation.
The first individual that was invited to my dinner, partly because I used his home, was my older brother, Jacob. Growing up, Jacob was always an inspiration to me. He remains constantly involved within his community, whether that be through public service or leading worship at the local Christian church. Jacob is extremely intellectual, somewhat shy, and takes his faith into account when making political decisions (He tends to be more conservative). My next guest was my roommate and best-friend, Reed. Although I’ve only known him for a little over a year, I would consider Reed more like a brother. He is extremely friendly, a devout Catholic, and is very politically sound. Although he comes from a conservative family, Reed identifies as a liberal. In addition to Jacob and Reed, I also invited Alyssa, a new acquaintance I made through my brother and the Chemistry department here at WKU. I have known Alyssa for a few months now because of her involvement in my chemistry lab as a peer tutor. Although we have never delved into serious conversation regarding politics or community issues, I do know that Alyssa identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and is agnostic. My last guest was my dear friend, Hannah. Hannah and I have been friends since we met one another at the H-4 retreat for WKU Honors students this past August. She is the embodiment of kindness in addition to being one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered. When it comes to politics or religion, Hannah is quite indifferent, and seems to lie in the “grey area” of most societal issues.
Prior to the dinner, I asked these guests to bring a small dish to the gathering, but none of them were able to do so for various reasons (finances, time constraint, etc.). As a result, I decided to make a dish for us all: grilled teriyaki chicken on a bed of steamed white rice. Although it was simple, I knew this dish would be rather easy to make and pleasing to all those attending. Each guest arrived about 10 minutes before the meal was ready to serve, so while finishing up with cooking, I decided to start some intentional conversation.
First, I explained to my guests that in Honors251, the class has spent the semester studying citizenship, global issues and possible solutions for each. I then asked what everyone believed the best part about living in our modern world was. Jacob was quick to respond, humorously saying that the best part about living in today’s society was listening to Cardi B’s music. After a quick laugh, he continued on a more serious note, voicing that being able to practice religion freely and having political opinion in America was extremely valuable. Reed concurred with this statement, agreeing that our ability to have a voice in the happenings of the government is one of the best things about our country. On a different note, Alyssa stated that the increasing acceptance of minorities (race, sexual orientation, social class, etc.) was her favorite part about today’s society, in addition to freedom of speech. Hannah agreed with the other guests’ opinions but didn’t have much to say regarding her own thoughts.
Shortly following this discussion, the meal was finished being prepared, and each guest made a plate. As we moved towards our seats at the table, I snapped a picture of my plate, as well as my guests. After a few moments of casual discussion, I decided to ask another pointed question: Did you ever have meals around the table with your family or neighbors growing up? If so, did you enjoy this? To no surprise, Jacob spoke of our family, explaining that we ate a homecooked meal around the dinner table at least 2-3 times a week during our childhood. These gatherings always began with a blessing, followed by casual conversations about our day or important things happening in our lives. Jacob also shared some of the humorous stories about our sibling rivalries that took place at the dinner table. All in all, Jacob stated that he always loved these times of family fellowship and misses them now that he is in college. Hannah shared similar experiences growing up, stating that her family gathered at least once a week to share a meal and catch up with one another. However, Hannah went on to say that she didn’t always enjoy these times, explaining that these gatherings would often cause discourse between her family members. Reed responded that his family had dinner around the table almost every night of the week. He told that his grandparents and other extended family members were regular guests at these gatherings, considering that they all reside close to one another. Despite this, Reed explained that these times of fellowship were hardly conversational and mostly consisted of silent eating. On a much different note, Alyssa answered the question with a sense of somber, saying that her family rarely ever shared meals together, especially around a dinner table. Alyssa went on to say that if she wanted dinner, she would either have to go to a restaurant and pick up food or cook whatever she had in her pantry, leaving her with the feeling that she wasn’t a part of a family unit. Hannah agreed with this statement, saying that this scenario was sometimes the case in her family when her parents got divorced in her mid-teens. This was somewhat surprising to me, given that I had never experienced this with my own family. In this moment, I felt extremely blessed for my family members and their involvement within my everyday life. We continued to discuss various family stories until I was ready to ask my next discussion question.
Once our discussion ended, I asked my guests if they believed that they had any obligations to other people in our country or community. Hannah responded that she didn’t inherently think she had an obligation to other people besides being respectful and accepting. Reed quickly agreed with this statement, saying that the “golden rule” of treating others the way you would like to be treated should always be applied. He also went on to say that voting and voicing your political opinion is one of the most important obligations we have as American citizens. Jacob concurred with this statement, stating that voting is our utmost obligation in this country and community. In response to this, Alyssa voiced that our obligation to accept and care for one another was far more important than our right to vote. I interjected and stated my opinion, which combined and agreed with everyone’s previous statements regarding the importance of common courtesy and voting. At this point, everyone was done eating, so I collected everyone’s dishes and placed them in the sink. In a moment of curiosity, I peeked into my brother’s freezer to find something truly glorious: chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. After presenting this finding, everyone seemed quite interested in dessert.
Although I didn’t get the opportunity to take a picture, each guest received a bowl of ice cream. I continued our discussion by asking everyone about a current social issue they held closest to their hearts. Jacob responded that he believed the country’s refugee population to be one of the biggest issues facing our society. Coming from a church that has an incredible population of African refugees, Jacob knows first-hand just how significant this demographic is within the city of Bowling Green. He believes that this special population requires a more hands-on government willing to assist them until they are prepared to return to their home country, which has hopefully experienced diplomatic resolve by that point. Alyssa began by stating that, in her opinion, religious views are the cause of most of the world’s societal issues. She went on to say that she believed gender roles and inequality were the largest issues facing today’s society. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Alyssa believes that people should be able to live free of the negative labels associated with being a lesbian woman and should be offered the same opportunities as everyone else. She explained that, in order to catalyze change, it must begin within the minds of the youth, and bleed into the remainder of society. Hannah concurred with this belief, stating that inequality was the greatest issue surrounding our society. Reed, on the other hand, told us that immigration was the most prominent issue within the world. For the entirety of Reed’s teenage years, he has been very close friends with two DACA citizens. He is constantly advocating for reform of certain immigration laws and believes that immigrants in America sometimes work even harder than natural born citizens do. Reed’s thoughts quickly reminded me of class discussion regarding President Trump and his various proposals regarding immigration and citizenship. I began thinking about what it may be like for Reed to live a life being uncertain that his close DACA friends will always be permitted to reside in the United States. Upon this thought, I decided to mention this class discussion to my guests, and the discussion that resulted was extremely fruitful and continued until we finished our ice cream.
After collecting my guests’ dishes, I was sure to ask one final question: Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? Alyssa started by saying that caring about those around you is the first step to being an effective citizen. She then said that being involved within your community through public service was the next step to becoming engaged in citizenship. Hannah agreed with this statement, believing that the greatest way to be an excellent citizen is by being friendly and keeping those around you on the right path. On a different note, Jacob responded in agreement with Hannah and Alyssa, but added that citizenship was on both a national and community level. He explained that citizenship is a privilege, and that in order to be most effective, one must informatively vote and remain involved politically. Reed was quick to concur with this statement, as was I. In this moment, I mentioned my class’ experience with engaged citizenship and that our honors course was in place for the sole purpose of fashioning individuals to become engaged citizens. After a brief discussion concluding our thoughts on citizenship, the dinner had come to a close and it was time to depart. Before leaving, I thanked each guest for their participation in discussion and thanked my brother for allowing me to host a dinner in his home.
This Kentucky Kitchen Table project taught me an incredible amount about my peers, my community, and myself. Through this discussion with Alyssa, Hannah, Reed, and Jacob, I was greatly enlightened by the diversity and insightfulness of their thoughts and opinions. Just as we have discussed in class, I learned first-hand that, although opinions may be different, every voice deserves to be heard and differences should be celebrated. Whether liberal or conservative, religious or agnostic, LGBTQ+ or straight, people are the driving force of this community and this country. Although it may seem cliché, hosting this dinner was a great privilege and has instilled in me a sense of pride for my peers, community, and country.