Hey, Cleveland: You’re the best neighbors

A kind stranger knocked on my door to tell me my neighbor was disoriented and needed help. I walked next door and discovered the sweet older woman (who is normally impeccably dressed) wasn’t fully clothed while doing yard work.

After talking with her, I found out she was home alone. When she went inside to get dressed, a car pulled up, and the driver said she had seen my neighbor wandering and called the police. Not long thereafter, the police arrived, and I informed the officer of the situation.

The next day, my neighbor brought me flowers from the flawless garden she tends to almost daily. A week later, I found African Violets on my doorstep with a note that says, “Thank you for being a wonderful neighbor.”

I don’t feel like the hero in this scenario since the two unknown women were the first to make me aware of what was going on. But I’m glad I could be the familiar face to speak with my neighbor, who told me “I hope we become great friends” when we moved in last August.

Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, I played with neighborhood children, and my parents knew some of our street’s families. But I’ve never experienced such strong community spirit as when my husband, daughter and I moved to Northeast Ohio.

Not more than two weeks after we moved in, my neighborhood hosted a block party. I always thought block parties were something my parents’ generation participated in – not a common practice in the 21st century. Cuyahoga County natives tell me it’s still a popular activity in the area.

Our street was blocked off for the event, where we all brought potluck dishes to share. The organizers had plenty of toys, bubbles and a toddler picnic table for my then 14-month-old and other children to enjoy. The fire department showed up with a shiny red engine for the kids to climb in. We met neighbors in various walks of life and exchanged numbers. I haven’t heard the details yet for another August party, but I hear this happens annually. This was all a strange but wonderful new experience for me.

Angela’s daughter and husband at their neighborhood’s block party last summer

In our seven years of marriage, my husband and I have moved six times in three countries. Not since my undergrad days have I felt a true sense of community. While I don’t regret the experiences I’ve had, there is an achy loneliness and sense of constant loss that develops with a life on the move. That’s why when we moved to Northeast Ohio, we decided to become first-time homeowners and place roots here.

While I’m not completely there yet, I see great potential for having a strong community connection in our new home. One hopeful sign came this week when a new local friend thought to call and ask if I wanted her watermelon and grapes before her family goes out of town. Becoming a go-to friend is a good indicator that my roots in Cleveland are growing.

One way we can all go beyond our backyards is by joining or hosting one of the Cleveland Foundation’s Common Ground tables on July 30. Participants are encouraged to join tables that are in a neighborhood you’ve never been before this day. The event’s website says it’s to “bring Cuyahoga County residents together on one day this summer to meet, share a meal, connect and discuss what we can do together to create a more equitable and resilient Greater Cleveland – our shared home, our common ground.”

WISH Cleveland and the City of Euclid will host a Common Ground table called “Let’s Talk about Race” from 4 to 6 p.m. July 30 at The Green House in Euclid. The evening will include a viewing of the film UNDEREXPOSED, which is based on Cleveland teens’ experiences and the local nonprofit Shooting Without Bullets.

While my neighborhood finds ways to come together, I know not everyone has this opportunity. And there is plenty of segregation by race and socioeconomic backgrounds in Northeast Ohio. That’s why events like Common Ground are an important step in breaking down what divides us from others.

Reaching out to the unfamiliar is just as important to a strong community as connecting with the familiar. I hope to be like those two unknown women who showed up when a stranger was in need.

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