On April 6, 2019, I completed the Kentucky Kitchen Table (KKT) Project in hometown of Bowling Green, KY with eight people. Of these eight, there was one that I did not know well. Four of the others were family members that I had not seen in five years, contributing to the diversity and differing of opinions during the dinner. Together, we all sat around the kitchen table and shared a well-developed conversation about citizenship and democracy.
The names of the people at my KKT were Arika, Chad, Melanie, Scott, Bonita, Katherine, Ed, and Emily. Arika is my younger sister. She is active in art club, dance, and choir at her elementary school as well as youth group at our church. My father Chad works at a company that produces self-check-out lanes for major corporations like Wal-Mart and enjoys debating political topics with me. My aunt Melanie, whom I had not seen in a couple of years, works as the district manager of a major gas company; she is extremely dedicated to providing for her three children and her grandson. My uncle Scott is from a rural area and spends most of his time providing household services and spending time with his granddaughters. My aunt Bonita, whom is married to Scott, works at the local Shaker village and enjoys the family get-togethers we have since she does not see the family very often. Katherine, the daughter of Bonita and Scott, is my eldest cousin whom I relate to most and share many beliefs; she is dedicated to providing a family-oriented household with her longtime boyfriend and daughter. My great grandfather Ed is from Illinois and has been a major parental influence on my father and his siblings after their parents divorced. He is very strict in his beliefs of the Catholic church. Finally, Emily is the girlfriend of my cousin and longtime family friend of Melanie. Through this dinner, I learned more about her perspective on democracy as this was the first time I had a stimulating conversation with her.
To begin the dinner, Ed said a prayer and blessed the meal. We started with casual conversation to catch up with the family members we had not seen in a couple of years. They asked me about my experience in college; thus, transitioning the conversation to the nature of the dinner and the project of KKT.
What does citizenship mean to you?
Before I asked this question, I knew it would bring about some controversy and debate to the table, which is the foundation for intellectually-stimulating conversations. Arika answered first by saying that citizenship is being a citizen in the country that you live in. She had recently studied what it meant to be a United States citizen in her social studies class. I further inquired about other qualities of citizenship that are important to each of us at the table. Ed explained that he thought citizenship meant being patriotic and dedicated to serving your country whether that be through the military or community service. Many of us around the table agreed that being dedicated to the country is an important aspect of citizenship. Scott agreed with this as well and related it to his time serving as a marine. Despite this agreement, the differing of opinions lied in at what point are you a citizen if you were not born into the country. After many back-and-forth statements, we decided to shift the topic of conversation to the type of community we want to live in instead of focusing on the negative press of citizenship.
What kind of community do you want to live in?
At this point in the dinner, the race track near the house became active. Melanie joked that she wanted to live in a community where there was not a race track nearby so that she could have some peace and quiet. This lightened the mood from the previous indifference and got all the members reengaged in the conversation. Emily inserted that she wanted to live in a safe community that she wouldn’t have to worry about the safety of her kids when they played outside. She explained that the area of Bowling Green in which she grew up made her mother uncomfortable, and she was not allowed to go outside by herself during the afternoons. Katherine then stated that she loved the area in which she lives because it is secluded, so she does not have to worry too much about her daughter going outside to play in the back yard. Chad jumped in and said that living in complete isolation wouldn’t be so bad since there is so much corruption and crime in the world. I could see that the conversation was starting to focus more on the negatives and what we don’t want rather than the positives, so I asked everyone about their favorite part of living in the area they do now.
What is the thing you love most about living where you do?
Bonita answered this question first. Growing up in a rural area, she always lived next door to her family members. As her daughters grew up and started having families of their own, they kept this mentality as they moved out of the house. All of her kids live within walking distance of her home, so she loves that most. She explained that she loved the area because of the family atmosphere it provided with other families as well as her own. Arika said that she loves being able to go outside and play with the neighbors. Chad agreed with Arika and said that he really loves the neighborhood because everyone helps one another out. He explained that last week Arika saw an unknown vehicle parked near the house and was worried about getting into the house safely. He called the neighbors immediately to the left, and they picked her up off the bus and let her stay at their house until he got home. In times of need, the neighbors are always there to help.
Growing up, family dinners were an important part of my weekends especially when out-of-town family members came to Bowling Green. Each night, my family sits around the kitchen table with no electronics, and we discuss our day and important things. However, this project allowed me to have intellectual conversation and learn more about my family’s and friends’ beliefs in depth. The KKT project is a great example of the essential question of this course about how we can live better together. Initiating conversation like this one can create a better understanding of differing perspectives that will allow for consensus and progress in society and the community. This experience also relates to the reading of tackling wicked problems through deliberative engagement because although this dinner was not a true deliberation, it is a step to normalizing those types of discussions. My experience with the KKT was one that I will value forever and hope to continue in the future with more diverse people.