When I decided to take the time (and trust me it takes more time than I care to admit) to invest in the Blog concept I did it out of a desire to tell the rest of the Kent story. To talk about the good things going on in Kent that rarely get traction in headlines or even sound off. The local news outlets have a radar lock on all things negative but we thought there was an audience that wanted a source of good news. From that premise Kent360 was born and it has become our GNN – the good news network. Every once in a while I get tempted to weigh in on a troubling story but I am quickly chastised by some of the more diligent readers to fight mission creep and stay on task. So rather than focus on things that ocassionally test the connective tissue of our community, like certain after hour parties, I’m delighted to share an update on the remarkable success of the Kent Community Dinner that binds us all together.
Two years ago the Kent Community Dinner was featured in the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a great example of what makes Kent such a unique place and each month they continue to build on a universal theme of shared humanity, and brother/sister-hood rediscovered through the act of coming together to break bread. What fires burn down, food rebuilds. It’s an act of nourishing the mind, body and soul.
If you ever wanted to understand what Kent is all about, you need to drop in on the next community dinner. It’s likely the most eclectic mix of diners you’d ever find voluntarily coming together to share food, tell stories and engage in community building. Everyone’s welcome, all you need is a dish to pass, a curious mind, and an open heart.
Here’s a sample of what you’ll find on the menu:
April 2009 Dinner at Islamic Community Center Report
This report is very tardy due to illness in my family, not because the last Dinner was anything less than incredible. Boy Scout Troops 253 and 259 assisted with the Dinner along with the Key Club from Roosevelt High School, Sigma Nu Fraternity from KSU, youths from the Islamic Community Center, and many fine men and women from Kent and the Islamic Community Center. The work involved providing everything from filling out name tags, serving drinks, arranging flowers, washing tablecloths and clearing and washing over 300 plates with ease! Yes, 300! We had 35 eight-person tables filled, in addition to 30 or more volunteers standing throughout the evening.
Rudy Bachna (President of the Kent Dudince Sister Cities organization representing them) together with Dr. Bob Stevenson (one of our All Together Now, Inc. board members, and vice president of the Sister Cities organization) and Sameera Khan (head of women’s services at the Mosque) led the bread breaking ceremony. Hakeem Najeeolla gave the blessing and a brief talk on Islam, and Helena Esparza led our singing grace. Everyone brought a dish to share, and the women at the Mosque quietly and generously brought out many extra restaurant-size buffet containers of delicious chicken and flavorful rice, placing them on the buffet tables without a word or expectation of thanks. (I imagine the cost was covered by the Center). Fresh flowers from Kent Floral graced the colorful cloth-covered tables as did large, fragrant arrangements at the entry and display tables.
The building itself has a dignity and grandeur reflecting the members’ respect for and love of their religion. The entryway is two or three stories high. Kent’s Muslim community along with the greater Akron Muslim community welcomed the town of Kent’s people with open arms. Attendees were greeted by Muslim children holding the doors open. And a contingent of our Boy Scouts and leaders (equipped with a cooler for safe-keeping) stood at the door, asking politely if guests were careful to avoid pork or alcohol in their dishes to share. (If not, dishes were saved for them there, our idea.) Ms Sameera Khan and I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to put ourselves in the others shoes and do our very best to try to think of everything to help our respective communities have the chance to meld, for one evening, into a cohesive whole.
The good will was palpable and, as the evening wore on, the smiles all around got broader. Muslim men were making eye contact with me and smiling big, saying again and again how glad they were to have us. Of course it was we the people of Kent who were most fortunate to be welcomed into the spiritual home of our Muslim neighbors. Since some of the people at the Mosque prefer to sit with members of their own sex, we had volunteers who were out asking groups of Kent folks if they wouldn’t like to form a half a table of just men or women, to be able to take full advantage of the opportunity to talk with our Muslim neighbors. (rather than just sit in the same room.) Many liked the idea (that’s why we were there after all) and appreciated the guidance and encouragement to help them step out of the pattern of sitting with their partners. Some attendees from the Kent faith community were Melissa Carvil Zeimer, minister of the Kent Unitarian Universalist Church; Julie Fisher, representing Christ Episcopal Church; and Korey Laurey, youth pastor at Grace Baptist Church. University leaders were there also, including retired director of the Speech Communication Dept. Dr Ray Heisey, two members from President Lester Lefton’s Commission for Inclusion (plus myself, a member of same), Dr. Rick Fienburg and Kenneth Burhanna attended with their families. Kent city council member Tracy Wallach attended as well.
It was a wonderfully conscious affair, filled with good will and a clear awareness that we were both very glad to have the chance to be together with mutual respect to get to know each other and thus better understand each other. And we were setting an example for our larger communities. We were All Together Now!
See you May 16 for our next Dinner.