My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place in the town that I live in, Franklin, Kentucky. I knew many of the people that joined us during this project, but there were two people in particular that I did not know well named Jennifer and Jessi. The others that participated in this project were named Jordan, Atalie, Ben, Destiny, Kaitlyn, and James. We had all met Jennifer and Jessi previously, but none of us were very familiar with their views or their personalities. A woman named Wanda had learned of this project and had insisted upon preparing dinner, giving us the options of spaghetti and fettuccini. Atalie cooked chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
Before we ate dinner, we played a little ice-breaking game of Speak Out to get some people laughing, particularly the people in the group that we were not completely familiar with. This was a great tactic, and it seemed to relieve some of the tension resulting from there being unfamiliar people. Jessi and Jennifer were familiar with one another, but they did not closely know each other, so they were quick to get in a group together. The rest of us had our close friend in the group that we automatically paired up with in teams. After the game, we all settled in to eat and talk together.
We didn’t have a super diverse group of people during this project, but there was some diversity in political views and religious views. Atalie and Jordan are married. They are strong, church-going Christians, and they have very conservative views. They are very nice people and are very giving to our church. Ben is also very kind and Christian, and he has the heart of a missionary; he loves to travel anywhere and everywhere that people are in need, and he also loves to help people in our community. Destiny is a hard-worker and comes from a very low class family. She has had to work all of her teenage years and supports her immediate family with her work. She goes to Bowling Green Technical College for the sake of keeping her finances under control. She is very conservative and is very compassionate toward those in need. Kaitlyn is a singer and is a very hard worker. She previously went to Western Kentucky University but was unable to continue due to certain circumstances. James comes from an extremely conservative family, and he is very strong in his Christian views and in what he believes. As we learned during this dinner, both Jennifer and Jessi are fairly liberal with their points of view, and Jessi is not Christian. At the age of 18, Jessi had a baby while still in high school, and she has been in a battle for child support ever since. Jennifer has no children, is single, and works very hard in her job. These diversities led to some interesting and thought-provoking conversations.
Our first topic of discussion was citizenship. I asked the group what citizenship means to them, other than the basic requirements of voting, tax-paying, and following laws. The group agreed, despite our varied views, citizenship means to be an effective part of society and to actively promote our various views. Jessi and Jennifer agreed that this meant promoting and actively seeking equality for all people regardless of race, sexuality, gender, or religion. Everyone in the group agreed with this to a degree. The more conservative people of the group did not believe that it is necessary to celebrate diversity, but they believed that it is acceptable and good for there to exist diversity. Ben even said, “Diversity is important for a functional society, and it is important for all people to be treated equally. No person is more important than the next; because of this, those that are diverse from the “normal” people should not be celebrated. Celebrating diverse groups of people does not allow equality for those that aren’t considered ‘diverse.’”
The conservative views in the group suggested that citizenship meant to protect what we believe in, no matter the cost. They agreed that, because of this view, some of the most honorable members of society, and the most underappreciated, are soldiers. The more liberal of the group agreed with this, but they claimed that what they most believed in was equality for all people of different sexualities, race, gender, or religion. This brought a little tension in the group as the majority of the group did not believe that “celebrating” diversity was most important in their lives, so the topic changed fairly quickly as the tension quickly grew stronger.
Upon prompting the group, we next began to discuss our ideal communities to live in. Having come from such a tiny town as Franklin, most of us agreed that Franklin is fairly ideal. Jessi and Atalie, though, suggested maybe a slightly larger town would be ideal as long as it held the same support system as Franklin. We all discussed how lucky we are to live in a town that, when someone passes away or leaves, we are all able to mourn together, and nobody living there is ever alone. We also discussed how, similarly, when a new family or even just a new person moves into Franklin, the whole town is quick to welcome them. I agreed very strongly with this, having come from three hundred miles up north myself only five years ago. I told them all how, when I moved to Franklin, it seemed like half the town was at our doorstep on moving day and how it seemed like the whole town was at church that Sunday to hear my dad preach there for the first time.
This conversation about Franklin led directly into our discussion of whether or not we knew our neighbors. Ben’s first reaction was immediately yes; his whole extended family owns houses around his house. Although, after considering his other neighbors, he realized that there were plenty of other people living around his house that he has never spoken to because their paths have never really crossed. Atalie and Jordan live in a neighborhood, and they know their neighbors that live right next door but do not know the neighbors down the street because they have only lived in their house for a little over a year. James said he did not know his neighbors well, due to the fact that his family has just recently moved into a new house. Kaitlyn, however, has lived in the same house her whole life and knows all of her neighbors directly beside her and down the road from her. Jessi knows her neighbors because she, too, has lived in Franklin in the same house her whole life, and she has even begun to raise her child in that house with the support of her parents. Destiny lives back and forth between Franklin and Bowling Green. When she lives in Franklin, she knows all of her neighbors because she has lived there her entire life; however, in the house that she sometimes lives in in Bowling Green, she does not know her neighbors because she does not live there full time and never has. Jennifer has only lived in her house for a few years, but she is very social and enjoys getting to know those that live around her. She knows some of her neighbors, but there are still some that she does not know because they keep to themselves. I told them all of how I know my neighbors, though I have only lived in my house for five years, but in the city that I used to live in, I did not know my neighbors because the only interactions we had had with them were negative interactions.
I then prompted the group as to how they thought we could improve our relationships with those around us. I suggested that perhaps trying to get a better understanding of people and of their backgrounds would help us gain a more positive view of who they are. Destiny agreed with this and said that sometimes her interactions with people were negative because of miscommunications and misunderstandings. She said that if we took the time to get to know each other better, we would have far less misunderstandings and miscommunications. It would give us a better sense of what to expect from specific people.
I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this project because, while many of the group members participating were my friends, there were also two that I was very unfamiliar with that had very different views than the rest of us. I thoroughly enjoyed getting a better understanding of Jessi and Jennifer, and I really enjoyed getting a better understanding their views and where they came from. I also, of course, appreciated the time with my friends, but I got a better understanding of their backgrounds too. It was nice to sit and have a focused conversation and to intentionally discuss their backgrounds, and a lot of the people in the group did not know about the places that I have previously lived, and I think they all enjoyed hearing about where I used to live as well. I really enjoyed having a civilized conversation with people of a democratic point of view because so often we get so defensive of our stances in politics that we never take the time to listen to opposing point of views. I appreciated being able to relate our civilized conversation to what we discussed in “How We Talk Matters” because it is very true that so often we just automatically scream at people without taking the time to understand. A lot of the time, I think we need to have times like this in our Kentucky Kitchen Table Project in which we are forced to sit down and have a nice conversation with those that are different than us.