Like a Good Neighbor

If you had visited the Graves Manor housing project in Memphis, Tennessee, a few years ago, you would have seen kids fighting, selling drugs, or roaming the neighborhood in gangs. But today you would see the same kids quietly doing homework, acting out skits, or heading out on a field trip. What transformed this neighborhood was a committed Neighborhood Watch organization. You may know Neighborhood Watch as a group that organizes in the suburbs, with citizens taking turns patrolling the streets to keep criminals out. But in crime-ridden places like Graves Manor, Neighborhood Watch has started innovative programs to reach kids before they turn to crime. The Memphis Area Neighborhood Watch has been running a special Violence Reduction Program for children between the ages of 5 and 17. They provide tutoring and a quiet place for homework. They bring in a local theater group to teach the kids to write and act out skits. They organize a Saturday school to teach leadership skills. And for special occasions they organize cultural programs and field trips. Parents love it. Not only do they see their children's behavior improve, but the programs also bring parents together and create a sense of community. The program is so successful that it was showcased by the National Crime Prevention Council. What the residents of Grave Manor discovered is something we all need to learn: that preventing crime is not someone else's job. It's not something we can slough off onto the government or the police or the social-service agencies. Preventing crime is your job and mine. If you have any doubts, listen to the experts—to criminals themselves. In a recent survey Prison Fellowship asked prison inmates what could have prevented their crimes. One inmate wrote back: "My main job was breaking and entering into houses and offices . . . I noticed that none of my victims lived in a crime watch district." Criminals do take notice when people care about their neighborhood, when they look out for one another. Taking care of your neighbors isn't exactly a new idea. Two thousand years ago Jesus told a parable about a Samaritan who saw a man lying beside the road, beaten by criminals, desperately ill. And the Samaritan didn't turn aside; he stepped in to help. The Memphis Neighborhood Watch saw not one man but an entire housing complex reeling from the effects of drugs and violence. And they didn't turn aside. They responded as neighbors. Prison Fellowship's new guide to crime prevention, Staying Safe, lists several ways you and I can become neighbors to those around us. Let's prove the criminals right when they tell us neighborhood programs do make a difference. The people of Graves Manor did not wait for the government to act; they acted on their own to breathe new life into a crime-ridden housing project. You and I should follow their example. We can take the offensive in fighting crime—not by buying guns and becoming vigilantes . . . but simply by following Jesus' command to be good neighbors. Part two of a seven-part series based on the book Staying Safe by Beth Spring.


Chuck Colson


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