April 17, 2024

LETTER: A day to come together

Kathryn Thorne Ralston


I’m the oldest daughter in a family of six children. I’ve always considered myself as having an “oldest child” personality. My parents both went to high school in Stillwater, Oklahoma, married during undergraduate school, and then attended Purdue university together for graduate programs.

After considering many opportunities, my parents decided upon settling themselves in the Kansas City area and raised us kids there. Dad was in management at a large K.C. based company and my mom chose to focus on running our home and family and working part time as an exercise instructor. Their choices worked well for us as a family. It also meant that we lived on a tight budget. We always had what we needed, and even most of what we wanted. All six kids were involved in music, sports, foreign language, church and other activities. We were expected to work at home and in jobs during the summers and were expected to pay for things ourselves if they were above the basic needs, and of course save for college. I remember paying my mom $10 for a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans that I was dying to have which were priced $10 over what the average pair would cost. Things like this were common and for the most part, even as a kid, I saw the value in pitching in when I wanted something extra.

I truly value the many lessons taught and modeled by my parents. All six of us kids hold them in awe as work to build our families, raise children and now grandchildren. While we lived without abundance materially, in one way, we were possibly the richest family in town. We were rich in acceptance and love. I was surrounded by parents who embraced and championed equality. I was taught not to fear what was different. As a parent myself, I realize what an intentional effort that really was. My parents didn’t go about loudly preaching these things but instead modeled the behavior they expected to see from us. I’ve never once heard either of my parents use a racial or ethnic slur, and I cannot imagine it happening in their home. Instead I enjoyed listening as they spoke with fondness about their many Jewish friends from graduate school with whom they learned to love Latkes for example.

Growing up without grandparents around, I was told tales and read letters of my grandparents work in India, Pakistan and Nepal and their love of the people, the culture and the land. Earlier than most, I learned about the conflict in Israel between the Jewish and Palestinian people as my grandfather had friends in both groups. I was raised to work to see life and issues through the perspectives of others, giving room to those perspectives in my decision making. In adulthood, this has perhaps been the richest blessing I hold. And man, do I try to deliberately model this for my own children.

January 15 was a day set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I learned to revere him and other civil rights champions from my parents when I was a child. I developed this reverence of him and others as I’ve grown into adulthood. I wish our community more fully embraced this day as a day to come together and acknowledge civil rights, human rights. and how we can serve others, lift ourselves, and create a community where all feel seen, heard, and included. Marking the day is important. But even more important is how we live every day of the year. I am grateful that I can sit here and reflect on so many people in my life who model this for me. Onward.