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  • Thrive Detroit

Becoming a City of Neighbors

Van Gogh's the Good Samaritan

We’ve heard many people talk about the good ole days when neighbors knew each other and looked out for each other. Some of us grew up during a time when children were watched by adults in the neighborhood and women borrowed and exchanged recipes while they chatted across the backyard fence.

What would the world—more specifically—Detroit look like if enough of us became neighbors to others to tip the balance toward a hopeful future?

In order to reach that tipping point toward a future of hope, those who have experienced neighborliness must become a neighbor to others. I was recently reminded of this by a person who is and has been a neighbor to numerous individuals. Although she is now stably housed and employed, years ago she found herself without a home, without a job, and living in a shelter. Despite her own situation she found it necessary to volunteer her time, share her knowledge, and provide encouragement to others in the same situation. She was being a neighbor as she was receiving neighborliness.

As a result of that conversation I’m implementing a new strategy as I raise the remaining funds for my Detroit 4 Detroit Citizen Philanthropy project [ ]. The new strategy will include actually MEETING my neighbors—the women residing Peggy’s Place—and MODELING neighborliness in hopes that it will spread to them and others.

Like the main character in the story of The Good Samaritan, a neighbor is one who sees a need and who, out of mercy and compassion, uses their own resources of time, energy, and treasure to meet it.

The story of The Good Samaritan ends with Jesus asking the lawyer; “which of these three persons was a neighbor to him?” (the man who had been beaten, robbed, and left on the road for dead). The lawyer answered; “the one who showed him mercy” (the Samaritan). Jesus tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise”; in other words go and BE a neighbor.

Being a neighbor is what identifies who is your neighbor. And it’s seeing and seizing the opportunity to act out or do mercy that makes you one.

Keeping the neighborhood clean, checking on the elderly, turning on the porch lights or simply saying hello are ways to exercise neighborliness. Most of us live in houses and apartments that make up neighborhoods but being a neighbor has less to do with buildings and more to do with opportunity. Communities grow and thrive from strong cohesive neighborhoods and it can happen block by block in Detroit.

On any given day, each of us is in a unique position to be a neighbor to a person who needs one. The numerous non-profits in the city such as COTS, also provide opportunities to be a neighbor directly or indirectly through various programs and initiatives that could really use your time, energy, and treasure.

In the words of the late Hubert Humphrey: “When strangers start acting like neighbors… communities are reinvigorated.” Detroit can be that city, but it must start on the most basic level between the citizens who live here, learning to respect each other again.

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