Potatoes, Dessert, and Community

By Elijah

For my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I decided to host mine in my hometown of London, Kentucky which is roughly two and one half hours east of WKU. Leading up to my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I was honestly a little bit nervous about the conversations that were to come. Generally as a rule, I have been taught not to bring up politics, religion, or any other sore subjects at the dinner table. The night of the meal however, I was going to do just that. I also didn’t want to ask anything that would make anybody uncomfortable. To my relief, everybody at my meal was really cool and very honest about each of the topics I brought up. It also helped that whenever there was a small lull in the conversation, one of my guests was ready to step in and get the discussion going again. Let’s meet this delightful cast of characters.

First, we had a woman named Juanita who went to high school with my mom. She used to be employed in social work, but now she taught social work classes at Eastern Kentucky University. Juanita has a Baptist background. With Juanita was her husband Bill. Bill was the lone atheist at the table and he worked as a security guard. Bill is always a fun guy to be around as he always makes conversation livelier. Sitting next to Juanita was a very good friend to my family and me. His name is Alex. Alex has a degree from the University of Kentucky in chemical engineering. This fall he will be going back to school to get his doctorate in chemical engineering. He’s a smart guy. Although growing up Baptist, Alex is very open to religious diversity having attended different denominational churches. In fact, while he was at UK, he attended a Methodist Bible study. To the left of Alex was me. I grew up Baptist but I also attended many different churches. I really try to promote an atmosphere of religious and all-round diversity and acceptance. I am a freshman at Western and I began my college career studying mechanical engineering. I recently changed my major to strategic marketing however, and will begin taking business classes next semester. Beyond that, I am a very creative person and I love writing music and performing on stage. To my left sat a couple that I respect quite a lot. Their names are Dan and Debbie Eubanks and they moved to Kentucky from Missouri about five years ago. Dan and Debbie came to London because Dan was employed at my Baptist home church as our discipleship pastor. Dan and I instantly became close friends because of our shared dry sense of humor. His wife Debbie is also very involved in the church and is a very kind-hearted person. Ever since I have known them, Dan and Debbie have been great role models for me in my walk with Christ. To Dan’s left sat my cousin Donavon. Donavon just graduated from Union College in Barbourville with a degree in history and political science. He was also there on a soccer scholarship. How cool! He actually just landed a position to work with a very prominent politician in the state. Donavon’s church is non-denomination and is inviting of people from all denominations. Finally, next to Donavon was his girlfriend Destiny. Destiny grew up Baptist, has a degree from the University of Kentucky, and now is in social work. In her job, she helps put troubled kids with a good influence that also has similar interests as they do.

We had some interesting diversity at our table which brought fresh perspectives. For example, Dan who is a pastor sat across from Bill who was an atheist. We had generational diversity as well. Juanita and Bill are in their forties; Dan and Debbie are in their fifties; Donavon, Destiny, and Alex are in their twenties; I was the youngest of the bunch at eighteen. We also had a mix of republicans and democrats.

At the beginning of the meal, after we made our plates of course, I got the conversation rolling with my first question. “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Because this was the first question and the guest were just beginning to get to know each other, it took a few minutes for the conversation to hit its stride. The table came to a consensus that it meant being a good person and having a positive influence on society.

Next I asked, “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Destiny said that this question was bringing out her inner social worker which resulted in laughter from around the table. She said through her work, she believes that a child coming from a home with a parent in prison for any amount of time has a major affect on them and that this is an issue not many people think about. Everyone at the table seemed to agree with her and we listened to her talk about working with children from this kind of background. During this particular conversation, I explained to everyone a concept I had been discussing in Citizen and Self called wicked problems. I told them the characteristics of wicked problems and gave a couple examples and said how the problem aforementioned by Destiny could be referred to as a wicked problem.

I noticed that after each question was answered, the conversation would come to a slight halt and people would wait for me to ask another question. I wanted the conversation to be natural so I told everybody to just talk about whatever they would like and I would occasionally ask another question. I wanted to be sneaky when bringing up the issues I wanted to discuss, so I slyly slid them into conversations. I overheard my mom talking to someone behind me. She was bragging on me which she like to do because let’s face it, I’m pretty cool. She was telling them about the part of the dinner I prepared which was the potatoes and the dessert (see a picture of the desserts below). I wasn’t the only person at the table at my table and I repeated it and effortlessly slid in my next question. I said, “Yeah, I made the potatoes, the dessert, and what kind of community do you want to live in?” Laughter ensued. After the laughing died down and several guest commended me for my efforts, Juanita answered the question and hit the nail right on the head. She said she would like to go back to a community where people would sit on their porches in the evening, you could leave your door unlocked, and people were friendlier. The table also agreed that we wished there could be more face-to face interaction rather than just texting and social media.

The conversation shifted for a few minutes to Donavon’s new job working for the prominent politician. After a few minutes, it was time to bring up my next topic. I waited for my chance and took it. “Hey, Donavon, now that your working for {prominent politician}, do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” Honestly unintentionally, this time my segway actually made sense. I added that this question was actually intended for everyone. Destiny said yes. She said that she believed she was helping troubled kids get help they needed which ultimately served a greater purpose. Juanita also said yes because she was helping educate a generation of young adults. Donavon also said yes as he was helping a young, honest politician rise up so they could help people all around the state. The consensus around the table was yes although because Dan is a pastor, we joked that Dan wasn’t serving any greater purpose.

The last question I asked was, “What advice would you to people running for office in our country?” Although we joked at first and said they should lie and do whatever it took to get to the top, we eventually came up with some good answers. Everyone gave a good answer to this question. We discussed Dan’s answer, which was the most specific, the most. He explained that they should abolish Amendment 16 which would get rid of federal tax. This led to a small political debate before I gave my answer. At the end of the political discussion, I said that the ultimate goal of a politician running for office or anyone for that matter should be to help as many people as possible.

In Citizen and Self, we have done a lot of discussion about how beneficial deliberation is. During my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I really got to see a real-life version of this. It was very nice to sit around a kitchen table, eat a home cooked meal, and civilly discuss issues important to everyone at the table. In class this semester, we had a reading called “How We Talk Matters”. In the reading, Keith Melville points out that listening and deliberating allows issues to be solved rationally. This really proved true during my dinner. Further, I learned that when you bring people of different backgrounds together to discuss issues, you get a wide variety of solutions as well as different perspectives on the problems. Originally, I was only hosting the dinner because it was for a class, but after doing it, I would love to do it again sometimes. In a digital world, it is so relieving to sit around a dinner table and just talk to people, especially when it’s over a good meal.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

by Reid

We had our Kentucky Kitchen Table in my hometown of Belfry, in Pike County, a solid five hours away from WKU. I must say I was very nervous about doing my KKT, not only because discussing things like politics often get heated in my family, but also because the prospect of doing it for an assignment gave a whole new depth to that nervousness. In the end, it all went very smoothly, and we actually had a really great time talking deeper than we usually do with each other, not to mention the amazing dinner we had.

Seated around the dinner table were my dad, Kevin, who took a break from his mountain of work (he’s an accountant, and it’s right near the end of tax season) to make sure he could come to take part in the conversation. My dad was raised in a fairly traditional household, though he said that he didn’t really appreciate the values he was taught until he was already an adult and out of the house. Like most people in Pike County, he describes himself as a conservative democrat, and used the KKT to connect more with my little brother and I (both fairly staunch liberals) and understand how our view different from his, and why.

My mom, Shelia, a dedicated kindergarten teacher who always makes sure her sons do their assignments was also at the table. She also had a very traditional upbringing, but always understood why she appreciated them. She is the reason my dad began going to church, and is also the reason that my brother and I continue to go to church, despite our questioning of religion. She has influenced us all, in so many ways, regarding our faith.

My little brother, Ryan, who is just forming his own set of political opinions and used the KKT as an opportunity to round out his beliefs. He has had a sort of 180 happen to him over the past year. Where he used to hold the traditional values our parents taught us, he now has begun feeling his own way around the world, and trying to establish his own beliefs. He describes it as finding his independence, and I personally agree, as that’s how I described the same thing that happened to me. Of all of us sitting at the table, Ryan and I are the only two who weren’t Christians, both of us being agnostic.

My grandmother, Sheb, who insisted on cooking the entire meal, not because she believes she is a great cook, or that she must control everything, but because she couldn’t stand having people over to her house (where we did the KKT) and asking them to bring food with them. Sheb is probably the only person at that table who had not much to say. She’s never been a very talkative one, and even when we tried to engage her to step into the conversation, she hesitated. She describes herself as comfortable with her political beliefs, and not really one to stir up controversy.   

My grandfather, Cecil, who has shared several different political persuasions over the past 75 years and also saw the KKT as an opportunity to reexplore and redefine his political stances. Cecil is very outspoken, and not always politically correct, which made for some interesting conversations, but would never wish harm on an insect, much less a person. He is the oldest of us all at the table, and is the only one who is retired. His experiences while working the twenty-odd jobs he’s had added a sense of experience to the conversation.

And finally, one of our neighbors from up the hollow, Tina, who I’d only talked to in passing and never had a full conversation with, came to dinner to establish a connection with us, and get to know her neighbors better. During the conversation I learned more about Tina faster than I believed possible. I learned that she has two children who are both grown and moved away from Kentucky, she describes herself as a conservative democrat, but asserts that she’d rather give up her right to vote than vote for either of the last two candidates, and that she has never really sat down to ponder what citizenship means to her. She was probably the most fun to talk with, just because there was so much to find out about her.

I started the conversation with the required question “ Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Surprisingly, Tina was the first to answer. She told a story about her great-grandparents coming to America from Ireland, and defined citizenship as “the right to do all things American.” It was sort of a strange phrase at first, but once I started thinking about it, I thought it was genius. That question didn’t gather many responses, and so we moved on. I don’t remember many of the questions we talked about, as I didn’t write them down, but I do remember the answers I got to the question “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Ryan said he loved the interconnectivity of the small town we live in, and how “everybody knows everybody”. Shelia said she loved the attitude that most people held, and how they were ready to help everyone in need. Cecil said he loved how safe he felt living in the area, and Tina loved just being able to have a yard behind her house and a garden. She struck me as a woman who enjoys the simple things. My father’s answer had the most impact on me. He said “The thing I love the most about living here, is that I’ve never felt like I don’t belong here. I’ve never felt out of place or out of touch.” He went on to describe how he couldn’t imagine himself living or raising his children anywhere else, despite the decline of the coal industry, and the poverty and drug abuse that has stricken our little town. That stuck with me, not only because it involved me, but because, for my entire life, I had felt the complete opposite way. I’ve always felt out of place in that town, and the career I’ve chosen is specifically designed to take me out of it. My dad, though he’s given me countless amounts of wisdom and advice over my eighteen years, opened my eyes with only a few sentences, and made me question basically my entire life.

This reminded me of the reading about the snare of preparation, and how by being prepared, you sort of end up falling into a trap of your own design. Everyone has a tendency to over-prepare and sometimes it comes back to bite you. I had been preparing my entire life to leave my little hometown, and in fact, that’s why I came to Bowling Green in the first place, but in doing so, I’d lost the little magic that my dad relished about this place. I briefly described the main point of the reading, and everyone around the table gave their own stories of a time they over-prepared for something and found out they screwed themselves over. Most of them were funny, but a few of them were sobering, and one, given by my sweet grandfather, Cecil, was almost tear-inducing.

All in all, this assignment made me open my eyes to the differences in my family, and the similarities I shared with a stranger. I have to admit, I was loathing this assignment in the weeks leading up to it, but now I can’t believe I had not done something like this sooner. I believe that experience relates to the class more than anything. Everything we do in Citizen and Self might not make sense at first, but once you complete the task in its entirety, then you grasp the full meaning of it.

Note: I took the picture of the dinner table, and therefore am not in it. I’m if that violates any rules of the assignment.PEXD0712[1]

Healthy Conversation

By Bethany

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on a warm Sunday afternoon on the farm where I grew up in Hartford, KY. Participants included my two acquaintances Elizabeth, a marketing student, and Andrea, a psychology student. They brought along their two boyfriends, Hunter, a pre-med student, and Nathaniel, a participant of Chinese Flagship. My fiancé Seth, a paramedic, also attended. My parents, Karen and Brad, were the hosts. They are both members of the baby-boomer generation. My father is a manager at a local factory and my mother is a manager at a local restaurant. For everyone, it was our first home-cooked meal at a table in recent memory. This was also our first gathering together for the college students, and definitely our first time discussing topics outside of classes and our social lives.

We all shared a wonderful Italian dinner. My parents and I made the red sauce and noodles. Nathaniel and Andrea brought some delicious homemade brownies. Elizabeth and Hunter provided a wonderful white sauce. Seth brought us some zesty garlic bread to eat with our meal. My guests sat in the living room while my mother and I made final preparations for the meal. We set the table, got everyone their drinks, and soon after, we headed to the table.

To begin, we started off with some nice conversation about ourselves, our hometowns, and our aspirations. Elizabeth wishes to have a job in marketing with a business. Nathaniel also wishes to pursue a career in marketing, but is also fascinated by Chinese culture and language. He wishes to incorporate this passion into his career somehow. Andrea dreams going to a great graduate school and being a criminal psychologist. Hunter wants to go to medical school to be an anesthesiologist. Seth aspires to further his education and become a physician’s assistant. I would like to go to graduate school also. I want to get my masters of public health and make access to reproductive health services more accessible to members of my community. My parents, still young at heart, also have aspirations. My mother would love to publish a book, and my father dreams of gaining his pilot’s license.

I soon asked the first question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Nathaniel spoke, saying that he feels that being a citizen includes having a positive influence on your community. He thinks that working to improve your community and helping others is a great way to do this. Everyone agreed on this. My parents added that citizenship means being a productive member of your community and working to improve yourself. To them, this meant having a job if you can work, helping your neighbors, and being a proactive member of the community. I questioned my table on what they thought we could do to be proactive within our communities. They answered that volunteering, participating in community events, building relationships, and attending community meetings regarding local legislation we all important to being a proactive citizen. We all also agreed that we could improve on doing these things.

My second question was: “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” The table fell silent. It seemed as if everyone was kind of afraid to speak up. So I offered my answer: Healthcare. My fiancé, the paramedic elaborated a bit for me. He believes that everyone should have access to healthcare, but the issue with this that he sees in his profession is many people abuse resources like Medicaid. Hunter agreed with this, but pointed out that some people really do need those resources. We had found our first wicked problem. My father told us about what healthcare used to be like. Apparently, healthcare insurance did not exist before the 1980’s. He described how his father and mother would just write checks directly to doctors to pay for broken arms and doctor’s visits. Andrea asked how people could afford to do this. My father explained that healthcare was somewhat affordable before insurance companies came into the picture. It was after insurance companies that the price of healthcare skyrocketed to the prices of today. Elizabeth pointed out that everyone might not have been able to afford healthcare, even before insurance companies, which brought back the question of how can we make healthcare more accessible to other people.

I spoke and said if healthcare providers could come together to open clinics for people that operate outside of big insurance companies, perhaps then we could make healthcare more accessible. I told them my personal dream of opening a clinic for women and expectant mothers who otherwise couldn’t afford the care that my practitioners would provide. I hoped to set up affordable prices for services and exams, and to offer payment plans for patients without insurance. I also would enjoy to set up a network of practitioners, community members, and physicians who would like to see this positive change within the community. We agreed that coming together as a community would be helpful, but it isn’t necessarily realistic to always count on finding common ground.

My next question proved the most difficult to answer: “What do you think are the best things about our world today?” I immediately saw everyone making awkward eye contact and chuckle, as this was the weekend following airstrikes on Syria. The news lately was, for lack of better word, depressing. I acknowledged the tension, saying that yes, sometimes being positive was difficult, but everyone should always try to look on the brighter side of things. Nathaniel then spoke. He said that he felt everyone, in their own way and through their own opinions, genuinely did have the best intentions at heart. Everyone seems to care and want the best thing for others, even if we don’t all agree on what the best thing is. Seth said that this was especially true of our generation. He thinks that all of us want to improve our community in one way or another. My mother said that she enjoyed the resilience that people in our age tend to have to adversity. People today do not simply let others put them down. They fight back and try to promote positive change and they have hope for the future, despite everything. Perhaps things today are not as bleak as they seem.

To top off our dinner, I asked our final question, one that I felt would be pretty easy to answer: “What advice would you give people running for office in our country?” Elizabeth spoke immediately, saying that she thought that they should try to communicate clearly and honestly with citizens. They shouldn’t lie to us and give us false expectations just to get elected. Hunter agreed with this, and said that we need people in office who really represent us. We should shy away from career politicians and try to elect more business people, educators, and more citizens from diverse populations. We all agreed on this point.

I was pretty nervous about hosting this dinner. I have never done anything like this and this was my first time having this large group together. I was worried about a fight or someone possibly getting their feelings hurt. I was genuinely surprised with how well everyone got along. With my parents being baby boomers, and us being a part of generation x, I was worried about clashing opinions. But generally, we all had the same ideals and intentions, but different perspectives, which is a good thing. The topics discussed reminded me of the three questions we discuss in class. How can we live better together was encompassed in our discussion about citizenship. How can we take more control of our lives and help others do the same was related to our discussion about electing officials. How do we solve problems was a theme in our healthcare discussion. “How We Talk Matters” was truly relevant to this assignment. This passage highlights that deliberation is a skill that we must hone. Calm, respectful communication was key at the Kentucky Kitchen Table and is vital for understanding one another.

I am thankful for this assignment, as it opened my eyes to the opinions of others. I also helped me to not be afraid to speak my mind and express my feelings. It allowed me to better understand my parents and a few of my peers. These topics are ones we rarely speak of at home. This allowed me to get to know my parents better and to understand their thinking better. I won’t be as nervous to talk about issues with them because, as it turns out, we are not as different as I thought. I am also thankful for the connections with my peers, because without communication, we will never be able to make our future as great as we have the potential to.

Inclusiveness and Citizenship

By Christen

For my Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I decided to go back to my home in Springfield, Tennessee to have the meal. I chose to go home for this project not only because I knew it was where I would feel most comfortable, but also because I am moving to a new house in the next three days. I wanted to have one last formal meal in the house that I have grown up in for the last fourteen years. Although it was bittersweet to eat one last meal in my home, it was also a great experience that I learned a lot from.

I had a very interesting and fun group of people attend my Kentucky Kitchen Table. My mother Fonda, my younger brother Caleb, and my aunt Karen were some of the participants. My mother also invited two of her co-workers whom I had heard about, but not met at that point named Odaylis and Gelissa. These two women have very similar backgrounds that have helped them bond and become best friends. Odaylis, who recently became an official American citizen, is an immigrant that spent the first part of her life living in Cuba. She traveled to the states with her mother and grandmother, and now lives with her husband of two years who hails from the Dominican Republic. Gelissa on the other hand was born and raised in the United States. However, her mother’s side of the family is also of Cuban descent, while her father’s side of the family is African American.

Before starting the project, I was very worried that it would be hard to make the conversation flow. I was afraid that it would just be question after question answered with simple answers. However, that was not the case at all. It seemed that after the first question was asked, we just kept talking and talking. The conversation flowed so well that I often had to steer the conversation back on track. I started by asking the required question about citizenship, and being a new official citizen, Odaylis gave one of the best answers. To her, citizenship was of more importance than to a person that was born in the states and automatically labeled as a citizen. She thinks that being or becoming a citizen is about being apart of something bigger than yourself. She goes on to explain the benefits and the sense of inclusiveness that come with officially becoming a citizen. Somehow, the conversation went from discussing citizenship to discussing how to expunge certain behaviors off of criminal records. This conversation had nothing to do with any of the questions asked, but the information was very entertaining and overall useful.
After getting back on track, we next talked about the importance of community. Like earlier in the citizen question, overall inclusiveness seemed to be the theme. My participants also noted that they wanted to be a part of a community that was safe, open, friendly, and diverse. My mother went on to explain that these were some of the key things that she looked for when purchasing the new house that we are about to move to. Diversity and safety are important factors to her when choosing a new home because the neighborhood where we currently live is not diverse in the slightest.

Next, we discussed the importance of the job that my mother, Odaylis, and Gelissa do. They work for a healthcare company known as Bridges to Care. Again, the theme of inclusiveness and equity was brought up again. Everyday these three women strive to provide healthcare to individuals that my mother describes as “ people who have not been treated fairly”. She goes on to explain that these are usually people that don’t have any health insurance, not official U.S. citizens, and are also very poor. Because of this, these people are treated differently when they go to seek any kind of medical care. “ The bulk of our job”, she explains, “ is about making sure that people are treated fairly and are able to receive the services that everybody else receives”. Odaylis explains that she thinks that there line of work is important to her because in most cases, the people that come to Bridges to Care are all out of options. Bridges to Care are the only ones that will be able to help these people get the services that everyone deserves.

If I had to pick an overall theme for my Kentucky Kitchen Table would be inclusiveness. I think that inclusiveness is the key to one of the central course questions, “How do we live and work well together”. When considering plans that will help people of different backgrounds and different beliefs live well together within a community, it is important to make sure that everyone’s opinions, beliefs, and ways of life are taken into consideration.

Kentucky Kitchen Table in Small-Town Kentucky

By: Sophia
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This dinner took place in the small, but developed town of Owensboro, Kentucky at in my parents’ home where I grew up. My mother and father, Jennifer and Philip, hosted this dinner for Frankie, Jeanne, and myself. We gathered around to discuss citizenship and enjoy my mother’s homemade burgoo, Frankie’s cornbread, and a delicious rum cake provided by Jeanne. I prepared by helping my mother with the burgoo, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. In the picture we are seated (from left to right): myself, Philip, Jennifer, Frankie, and Jeanne. Jennifer is a Registered Nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and currently pursuing a doctorate in nursing. She has a passion for helping others and is a talented learner. Philip is a supervisor at the Toyota Motor and Manufacturing factory in Princeton, Indiana. He commutes an hour and a half to and from work each day. Philip is a war veteran who is proud of his service in Operation Desert Storm but reluctant to talk much about his days of combat. Frankie is a retired state employer who loves spending time with her grandchildren and tending to her garden. She recently moved onto our street so we thought inviting her would make her feel welcome to our neighborhood. Jeanne was a former Human Resources consultant for the Health Park in Owensboro, Kentucky and currently owns and runs a children’s boutique called Kid’s Stop. I was worked at Kid’s Stop before Jeanne bought it and had to quit before she took over to move to Bowling Green. I went to see how the store had changed with her ownership and ended up inviting her to my Kentucky Kitchen Table. Following my mother’s footsteps, I am studying nursing at Western Kentucky University and share the same passion as my mother of helping others. I wish to further my education after obtaining a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing by pursing a nurse anesthetist degree.
To begin our discussions, I first started with asking each guest what citizenship means to them beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Philip, who feels underappreciated by the American government for his eight years of service, believes citizenship entails certain rights in which he respects and actively exercises. He believes he has earned these rights, as a citizen and a soldier, through his service in war. Other than my father’s opinion, a common theme amongst the other guests was that citizenship is being actively involved in your community and engaging in bettering the lives of those living in your community. Jeanne mentioned something unique that stuck well with me: “Citizenship is also having a voice in your community and your nation’s society.” After all agreeing to this, we discussed citizenship being in the context of a verb: in order to be a citizen, one must be engaged in their community and in making it a better place. Jennifer talked about her years of community service as an active member of the Owensboro Junior League and how she feels she made a difference in the people’s lives for which her services were helping. “Our main focus was concentrating on issues and services in the community that were actually going to help people for longer than a day or two” By this she meant, for example, working with those in homeless shelters on reading skills. Jennifer feels as if, by doing services like this, she was giving people opportunities to better themselves and their lives by sharing and teaching helpful skills. The other guests shared times they felt they had done their duty as a citizen and helped their communities in various ways. Frankie enjoys taking her 20-month old granddaughter to the animal shelter and feels she is brightening the lives of the animals of the community and, in turn, helping the community. Jeanne tries to do various community service but finds she does not prioritize it and it, therefore, gets put on the backburner. She also tries her best to help the parents of Owensboro by offering higher-end children’s clothing and doctor-recommended children’s footwear for more-than-fair prices at her boutique, Kid’s Stop. She often has sales where she will make no profit off of her merchandise because she believes it is her way to help her community. I am required to serve a minimum of fifteen hours of service a semester for my sorority at Western Kentucky University.
After overall agreeing that an important aspect of citizenship is serving and bettering the community, we got a little side-tracked. Jeanne shared the struggles and excitements of moving Kid’s Stop to a different location. After many congratulating and encouraging words from the other guests, I directed our conversation towards politics in America by asking, “What is the most impactful decision the Trump Administration has made since being in office?” My father was the first to respond by saying he believed the recent bombings on Syria have been the most important and impactful decision made thus far. My mother and Jeanne quickly added nods and words of approval while Frankie shook her head expressing her disapproval. My father elaborated on his first statement by arguing that president Trump was decisive and has reminded the world of America’s military power. Jeanne agreed and mentioned that this decision was a “nice alternative to the Obama Administration who always said they would do something about gas bombs and never did.” Jennifer chimed in by saying that the people, especially the children, living in Syria need someone as strong as America fighting to stop the torture and killings, and Trump has shown that America will fight for them. Frankie disagrees; however, she understands why the decision was made. She fears another Cold War, or worse, more terrorist attack on American soil as a result of these bombings. Although afraid of the possible outcomes, she agrees that something needed to be done to help save the people Syria.
After feeling like we had discussed enough about the dreaded topic of politics, I decided to brighten up our conversation a bit by asking, “what kind of person do you want to be?” I was reluctant to ask this question because my parents and our guests are not young adults. But after some thought, I realized this question is not, “what kind of person do you want to be when you grow up,” but “what kind of person do you want to be each and every day?” I felt like Frankie had read my mind and knew my initial concern with my question because she quickly answered by saying, “I am 77 years old and I work each day to be the person who God wants and who I want to be. It is a life-learning process.” She went on to explain that she wants to be someone who her grandchildren look up to every single day. Someone who helps others and is empathetic of others’ situations. “With every encounter I have with someone, I try to keep in mind that this person has different experiences than me; therefore, has different feelings and opinions that I must appreciate even if I don’t agree.”
This made me think of one of the central questions of our course: “How do we live well together?” I think Frankie’s response to what kind of person she wants to be is one of many ways to answer this question. I brought this question up to my guests, telling them that it is one of the centralizing questions of this course, and my father’s response was interesting. He said that he had never thought of solutions to that question before and mentioned that the way Frankie tries to encounter people is a good start to people living together well.
I thought this was a good closing point for what I wanted to know for my Kentucky Kitchen Table project so I did not ask any more questions and allowed our new friends to genuinely mingle with my parent’s and me. Learning what we did about Jeanne and Frankie created the foundation for a strong friendship in which we all plan to keep.

Kentucky Kitchen Table – Michaela

By Michaela

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.

Diversity Forms a Community

By Melanie

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On March 11, I hosted a Kentucky Kitchen Table in my hometown of Radcliff, Kentucky. My family was an immense help in inviting friends of theirs to this dinner who contributed to the diversity and discussions we had.

There were seven people who attended this dinner. First was Drew, who lives in Fort Knox, KY but is from Virginia. He is a sophomore in high school who will be attending the Gatton Academy in the fall, planning to study engineering or music. Next is Morgan, who lives in Elizabethtown, KY and has family roots from Panama and New Zealand. She is a sophomore and is thinking of studying music as well. Then there’s Heather, who lives in Elizabethtown and grew up on a small farm in Russellville, KY. She is a high school Spanish teacher. Then there’s Mike, who lives and was born in Elizabethtown, KY, and is a factory worker. Next is Maria, my wonderful mother who graciously prepared the dinner. Growing up with Italian roots, traditions and family time became a necessity at home. My mom wanted to cook an authentic Italian meal and show her culture and diversity to the dinner. This allowed me to learn more about her, my culture, and my ethnicity as well. She lives in Radcliff, KY, but was born in Brooklyn, NY and works as a para-educator in an elementary school. Next is my oldest sister Stephanie who also lives in Radcliff and was born in Brooklyn. She is a third-grade teacher in an elementary school. Lastly, there’s myself. I live in Radcliff but am from Brooklyn as well. I am a freshman studying music education, and I plan to obtain my master’s degree in music therapy.

The dinner went much smoothly than I imagined. Although I didn’t know the other members of the table, everyone was comfortable with each other and were impressed with the grandiose display of food that my mom prepared. This led to my asking of the first question, “did you ever have meals around the table with your family or neighbors growing up, and did you enjoy it?” The answer from everyone was unanimous as we talked about our experiences and appreciation for eating dinner daily around a table because we could relax and talk about our days with our loved ones. My mom elaborated on this question by referencing her childhood. She grew up in a primarily Italian Catholic community, so she could learn about other people’s cultures and backgrounds. She mentioned her father and how he was heavily involved in the soccer club in Brooklyn, so she learned about his friends and their backgrounds as well. Mike, who is also Italian, explained a personal story as well. This allows us to communicate better with each other and our neighbors, which is a central idea of my Honors 251 course.

The next question I asked was: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Everyone had insightful answers, but the main points that stood out to me from the dinner were needing a sense of community and working together to better the world we live in. Stephanie briefly discussed patriotism, freedom, and having a sense of community and order, which are all necessary in a stable society. Heather elaborated by expressing our need to love fellow-men and participating in fellow affairs with intelligence and heart, which are extremely essential in working together today. Morgan mentioned needing to be an active member in the community, helping to make the environment a better place and provide equal rights for all, and striving to better the world around us. I continued the discussion while referencing climate change readings we have discussed in class and how that is one of the many wicked problems that are alive. A large topic that stemmed from this question was the necessity of communication to solve problems. From this, I referenced Keith Melville’s “How We Talk Matters” and how important it is to listen to one another, especially towards the opposing side of an argument, so we can respect and learn from each other. Talking effectively is equal to communication, and communication is a necessity in being able to work together to solve problems, which is one of the central questions of our HON 251 class. It is better to talk maturely and listen to other people’s opinions rather than just yell and disregard one’s outlook on a topic. This allows conflicts to be resolved rationally and promote action.

While discussing citizenship, we talked about President Trump’s recent actions of cutting funding for arts and humanities programs and the passing of a new law for charter schools. Heather, Stephanie, and my mom, all working with children in schools for a living, were strongly affected by this issue. This led to my asking of what social issue is closest to everyone’s heart and why. Everyone has a different social issue that affected them personally, but most people at my dinner were highly concerned with the newly passed charter school law and anything regarding education. They all fear that it will put many educators out of work and children out of a good education. Talking about social issues led to talking about other problematic topics that occur in our world today. I elaborated and told them about other wicked problems we have discussed in class, as social issues are types of and examples of the wickedness that we see daily.

The last topic of the night ended our discussion with a lighter tone. I asked, “What do you think are the best things about our world today?” Everyone, myself included, spoke highly of the forward steps we are taking and the efforts people are making for the equality of all people and for everyone to live in a fair world. Drew elaborates by explaining that this is his favorite thing to see in the world because it shows that we, as a group of people, are slowly learning to respect everyone, regardless of beliefs and appearances. We are thankful to be living in a free nation that has rights, choices, diversity, and different ways to be educated about different people and lifestyles. Drew also appreciates that we are constantly thinking outside of the box and are full of ideas that will lead to change. This will change and shape the upcoming society and generations for years to come as we find ourselves and our values. We are slowly reinventing the world, and it shows that it will lead to a better society, but this will only be successful if we work together and communicate.

I have learned a lot by participating in this project. I drew the conclusion that although people come from different backgrounds, we are more alike than we think. We as members of a democracy have differing opinions, but we have common cares for our neighbors and the world. Having discussions about these types of topics allow us to work well together and familiarize ourselves with different groups and types of people. I learned about my own culture and heritage, in addition to different cultures and walks of life by talking to different people. This has made me a better individual personally and as a member of society. Talking to other people proves that there are plenty of good people in this world, and if we want to make a change, we need to act and work together to deliberate effectively. Hosting this dinner forced me to make connections between my HON 251 course and real-life situations. I saw all three central questions we focused on in the class come to life when talking with everyone. I was hesitant going into this dinner, but I am happy with the outcome of my discussion and how much I have learned in this course that will be useful in the future.