Coleton’s KKT




By Coleton

When I first heard about the Kentucky’s Kitchen Table assignment, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it. I thought that it was a neat concept, but my family is very conservative, and they also do not truly take the time to truly hear what each person has to say so serious conversations can often be frustrating. I still knew I had to do it and as the time to do it came closer I stopped dreading it so much and just wanted to get the dinner part over with. I had planned my Kentucky’s Kitchen Table for spring break where my whole family, as well as another family from my hometown, Mt. Juliet TN, would be in a house together. Unfortunately, we never sat down for a meal at the house like we had planned at the beginning of the week because we were at Universal Studios from open to close almost every day, so we never had a meal altogether that wasn’t at a restaurant. Luckily, I was going to visit my friend’s family with him a week later in Union Kentucky, which is right by Cincinnati, and they offered to help me out with my project and host my Kentucky’s Kitchen Table at their house.

On the day that we were going to have dinner together, I woke up and looked out the window and saw a blanket of snow covering the ground. It was so beautiful. It had been awhile since I had seen some real snow on the ground. I love how the snow reflected the sunlight into the windows and filled the whole house with a radiating energy that would put anyone in a good mood. On the menu for dinner were buffalo chicken tacos, a recipe found on Pinterest that his mother Beverly had been wanting to try. The smell of buffalo chicken soon filled the house and it got me excited for the meal that we were going to share.

Once dinner was finished cooking we all went to the kitchen and made our plates and claimed our spot around the table. As I sat down I thought about one of the requirements for the Kentucky’s Kitchen Table assignment: that we were required to have a diverse group of people at our meal. I started thinking that this was not good because I am the only one sitting here with a different last name, so where is the diversity in that? But then as we started talking I would soon realize that there can be diversity even in a family unit.

Taylor is a single mom and a college nursing student that works as a waitress at Skyline Chili. Taylor’s three-year-old daughter Audrey also joined us for dinner, she didn’t say much about the topics, but she gave the dinner a certain breath of fresh air with some comedic relief. Zach is nineteen, a pre-vet student, and is gay. Emma is a high school freshman. Beverly and Jamos, the mother and father of the family, work at the VA in town. I learned my first lesson of the night from this very moment. Just because two people are from the same family, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those two people will have the same life experience. Sure, they grew up with the same parents and in the same physical home, but your life experiences are molded by the people you surround yourself with and what characteristics you possess.

The first question I asked everyone was the only required question of the night: Other than voting and paying taxes, what does it mean to be a citizen. After I asked the question, everyone just sat in silence staring at me until. I thought that the dinner was going to be like pulling out teeth to get people to answer my questions, but then Beverly asked what I meant by the question. Once I cleared up the question, Zach answered that other than paying taxes and voting you need to be active in your community and help others. When we all inquired about what he meant about that he explained that being a citizen is like being productive to your community and not allowing others to go unnoticed, and he then admitted to not really being a citizen according to his definition. He explained that he is not active in his community and does not always reach out to help other people. Everyone around the table nodded their heads and voiced their agreement to what Zach had said, but no one else really spoke up soon after. I found this answer intriguing because we all had this idea of citizenship as being active in our community, and we all would call ourselves citizens, yet none of us thought that we really were active in our community.

In order to carry that idea over, I inquired about their relationships with their neighbors. Beverly said that when the kids were young they would all play outside together and they would be friendly with their neighbors. They said it wasn’t odd to say hello and have a small conversation or ask to borrow some milk, but they would not talk about serious topics or share meals together. Zach jumped in and said that they still have one neighbor that they talk to occasionally but other than the wave as you are driving by, they don’t really talk to their neighbors. I did not find this to be especially groundbreaking. I mean, my family has experienced the same thing as all of my family grew up and no longer played outside with the neighborhood kids.

Soon after we had talked about this I asked what they thought the best thing about the world is today. Emma jumped in with how connected everyone is in my class on social media and things of that nature, and Jamos added how being that connected can also sometimes be a bad thing due to bullies and the ongoing competition to be that much better and to get one more like or follower than your enemy. Beverly also said that she believes that how understanding everyone one is today. Everyone agreed with this statement and added that people are not judged as much for personal life choices made. I found this, along with the previous discussion, very interesting. That we as a society have become more open-minded and understanding of the people we live around, yet somehow, we have become less interactive with each other. I tried to ask what everyone thought about that and no one had an answer, but they understood what I was talking about. I found this to be one of the most interesting moments in our meal as we began to really think about how we, as a society, have become so kind with one another, yet we don’t talk as much in person. I think that this can connect with the empathy readings that describe how today’s generation is not fit to make moral decisions and we just do “what feels right.” We do not want to be subjected to judgment from any of our peers, so in turn, we don’t feel as if we should subject other to the same type of judgment we fear ourselves. Along with this, I think that we do not talk in person as much because it is just more convenient for us, in this fast-paced world, for us to connect with friends online. Upon further thinking I was able to conclude that people being more understanding and people not communicating as often in person are correlated, meaning they happen at the same time, but are not causal.

Moving forward in the conversation we all talked about politicians and some of the suggestions that we all had for people running for office. Beverly started with the politicians really listening to the people and doing things that benefit everyone and not just their campaign or their well-being in the political world. Zach also reiterated her claim by saying that there are too many politicians that would just do and say whatever they have to in order to be elected or to not lose support from the general public. I think that this would benefit the world greatly because even though the government and policies won’t fix all of the world’s problems, they can be a crucial stepping stone to get the public involved in these types of situations.

In closing, despite my initial reservations about the Kentucky’s Kitchen Table project, I thoroughly enjoyed what I was able to glean from the conversation I had with their family. Such as that diversity exists in the typical family unit, as well as the realization that we are becoming more understanding in a less in-person-connected world. I think that the world will change as soon as people start having more discussions like this because people can learn that there are other people that share their opinion with them. So, they can initiate change in their communities because all it takes is a small change to lead to something more.


Union Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Sam

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in my home in Union, Kentucky. The names of the people who participated in the dinner, not including myself, are Vince, Elizabeth, Janice, and Manda.
Vince, my father, is 53 years old and a father of three. He spent his early childhood in Southern California, but went to high school in Northern Kentucky so his step-father could pursue a job opportunity. After graduating high school, he immediately went into construction and has been in construction sales ever since. He was raised Catholic.
Elizabeth, my step-mother, is 42 years old. She grew up in Gallatin, Tennessee. She later left Gallatin for Bowling Green as she attended WKU. She obtained a degree in education and was a high school business teacher for a few years before deciding teaching was not her passion. After some time in real estate, she then settled on a career in Human Resources. Roughly eight years ago, through mutual friends, she met my father. She is Methodist but mainly identifies as Christian.
Janice, my grandmother, is 76 years old and a mother of four. She grew up in rural Indiana and, pursuing a job opportunity and family, eventually moved to Southern California. At the time, she was a secretary for a phone company. This is where she met her husband, who would later move her and her four kids to Northern Kentucky. Once in Northern Kentucky, she got a job at a local news station while working on a degree in education. She would go on to spend many years teaching middle schoolers. She is Catholic.
Manda, my grandmother’s friend, is 70 years old. I invited her to dinner because I do not know her very well, and I believed she could add a unique and diverse perspective to the conversation. She is a mother but did not specify how many kids she has. She grew up in Peoria, Illinois in a progressive household. Her mother was a member of the media, so Manda, naturally, pursued a career in broadcasting. She moved to Northern Kentucky after hearing of a job opening at a local news station. This is where her career in the media took off, and where she met my grandmother. She did not mention her religious affiliation.
The first question I asked at dinner was, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” The responses I got were very intriguing. Vince and Elizabeth both agreed that citizenship was ultimately the individual’s responsibility of cultivating a better community. They believe a good citizen is active in the community and helps their neighbors when need be. Manda furthered this idea by pointing out how citizenry is an active effort that looks to better society, and effective citizenship that betters our nation, and eventually the world, cannot be achieved until it is practiced in our homes. She emphasized how the home is a microcosm for the world and the birthplace of proper citizenry. The interesting thing I noticed from this discussion was the consensus that moral obligation is a necessary component of being a citizen. Everyone participating in the conversation believed that it is their responsibility to look after their neighbors. It is the “right” thing to do. “Why is this the right thing to do?” I asked. Vince, Elizabeth, and Janice mentioned their faith. Manda noted how she would want others to look out for her, so she looks out for them. This is citizenship to them.
I then asked the question, “How do you think your job relates to your role as a citizen?” The responses I received were similar to the first question. Vince mentioned how he enjoys the constant interaction he has with people in construction sales. He looks forward to seeing clients and hearing about their lives. He mainly just wants to use his job as an outlet to reach others and help them with whatever he can. Janice said her years as a middle school teacher where propelled by a desire to shape young minds and hopefully prepare them for being an active member of their community. She was on the ground level of citizen training. Elizabeth said her job in human resources gives her a firsthand account of the issues fellow citizens are facing and how they are responding to them. She views her position as an opportunity to guide those struggling and steer them towards greater production in the workplace and community. Again, the theme of moral obligation was prevalent. They all think it is their responsibility, as contributing members of society, to help those in need so that they can contribute, perpetuating the cycle of neighbor helping neighbor and societal improvement.
The conversation then got a little lighter as I asked, “Did you ever have meals around the table with your family growing up? Did you enjoy it?” Manda noted she was a raised in a traditional household that emphasized family unity through dinner. It was an expectation to eat dinner together because this was the time for true cohesion. Janice and Elizabeth reiterated this, stating they were both raised in traditional families and enjoyed the time they spent with the family at dinner. Vince, however, said family dinners were not a priority of his childhood due to both his parents constantly working. He said that the lack of family dinners, and the effect this had on his development, cemented the importance of the ceremonial event for family building, urging him to implement it into his children’s lives. This demonstrated to me how important our home life is in shaping us into the individuals and citizens we are.
My next question was, “What kind of person do you want to be?” It took few minutes for them to think of their responses. Elizabeth was first to chime in. She said she wanted to be a better mother and Christian. She admitted to not adamantly practicing her faith and that she needs to. Vince and Janice both desired to be more informed in our information-abundant society. They both stressed how critical it is to discern what is correct information from the incorrect and that they would like to be more skilled at this. Manda, interestingly, mentioned a desire to be more empathetic. She stated empathy was key to promoting social change, and, through empathizing, we can become more informed, and morally well-rounded, citizens. Everyone hit on the desire to become either better moral executioners or more informed with the goal of it furthering moral execution. It is interesting how this theme of morality seems to be the foundation for citizenship and improving as individuals within society.
I then asked, “What advice would you give people running for office in our country?” Vince responded first, noting that someone running for office needs to take into consideration the views of all his/her constituents, and a noticeable effort towards creating a unified nation is key. Manda pointed out how most politicians tend to campaign in the areas containing those funding their campaign. According to Manda, politicians will never take into consideration the views of all their constituents as long as a select few campaign donors are influencing policy platforms and campaigning. This snowballed into the topic of structural flaws in our government, and how these flaws could potentially be fixed. However, everyone at dinner spoke of this governmental reformation as a hopeless and nearly-impossible cause. This forced me to consider how any kind of societal change can occur when the people charged with inciting said change believe its hopeless.
Another question I asked that sparked interesting dialogue was, “Is there anything you can think to do that might make things better for you or your neighbors where you live?” Janice said a significant, but small, change she has made that has created an increasingly-positive neighborhood environment is simply making herself available to her neighbors. She has started a dialogue with other members of the neighborhood and informed them that if they ever need anything, or just want to hang out, she is here for them. She said it has created a friendlier, dependent neighborhood that willingly interacts. Elizabeth mentioned that she also believes an open, honest dialogue with the neighbors will create a safer and smarter community. Similar iterations of community conversation came from Vince and Manda. It is interesting and sensical that simply talking is what can lead to more efficiently operating communities.
My final question was, “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” This question got somewhat heated as some had differing opinions on prominent social issues. Vince immediately gave his social issue: NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. He believes that the national anthem precedes all social statements and change, affirming everyone should stand for the flag first and then discuss social injustices. In short, the national anthem comes first, and then discussion is had. Manda, being the individual I do not know very well, responded to this with respectful, yet defensive, disagreement. She firmly stated the national anthem means different things to different cultures, and kneeling for the flag is the epitome of being American. It is an individual’s right. If these demonstrations are not done, according to her, no social change can occur. This then led to the conversation of whether kneeling NFL players are kneeling for a cause, or just kneeling with the intent of following their teammates stance. The debate ultimately ended with the recognition we can never truly know someone else’s motives. Elizabeth and Janice did not have much to say as this was discussed. I found it interesting how two people can look at the same situation and have radically varying perspectives. It made sense considering Manda’s liberal and Vince’s conservative background. The main takeaway was that this “debate” over when it is appropriate to protest remained a civilized discussion. It did not escalate into an argument due to both parties’ recognition of the importance of empathy.
One of the main things I learned was how important morals are considered to be in citizenship. Everyone at the table defined citizenship as a moral obligation to care for our neighbors and, thus, further society. Another takeaway was that healthy discussion was key to actually achieving a greater, more representative society. They recognized the need for empathy in order to have healthy discussions, and a community without dialogue is divisive. Finally, there is a sense of hopelessness clouding people’s desire to change their societies. Unfortunately, some believe we are trapped in our current society and view change as dauntingly impossible.
Honestly, I was surprised by how similar everything discussed was to our class. We talked about the role of empathy, how morality factors into our lives, and the presence of wicked problems. The central idea that was most prevalent was definitely the importance of deliberation. The chapter we read, “How We Talk Matters” discusses how the discrepancy between what is happening and what should be happening (like the bridge metaphor we discussed in class) can truly be overcome when a healthy dialogue is created. By listening to and understanding each other’s ideas, we can venture towards compromise and social change. Everyone around my table viewed deliberation as the first step towards understanding, and even practiced this when debating when it is appropriate to protest.