Be My Neighbor event
Lee University students discussed what it means to be a good neighbor during an event Friday night at the Dixon Center.
"Be My Neighbor: Student Perspectives on Discrimination and Social Issues" was a "Help Me Be Sensitive" event hosted by the Student Leadership Council and the Diversity Council.
Dr. Arlie Tagayuna, associate professor of sociology, served as moderator. He said "Help Me Be Sensitive" is an annual event and a way to raise consciousness about diversity on campus. "Be My Neighbor" capped the university's Martin Luther King Jr. Week events.
Tagayuna said as a social scientist it is a conundrum for him to understand why people "are mean" to each other. He shared the message of Luke 10:25-29, the parable of the Good Samaritan:
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”
And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
With that question lingering, Lee students Brianne Kennard, Franco Crosby and Watheq Zboun, and graduates Areti Hernandez and Tolu Sofeso shared their perspectives on what it means to be a neighbor.
Kennard said her definition of neighbor is "a person who helps another, especially in times of trouble" and "a friend we can all trust and count on."
She shared a difficult time her family went through when she was in high school and how good neighbors helped by offering support and kindness.
Hernandez, who graduated in December 2017, discussed being a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient: She was born in Mexico and brought to the United States as a young child.
"I never felt like I belonged anywhere," Hernandez said.
But as a high school student she met foreign exchange students and learned helping them taught her she could help others.
She said "being there for people and actually hearing them" is her way to be a neighbor.
Hernandez said DACA is "not going well," but she is hopeful for the future.
"There's going to be good things for us … I'm not going to give up," she said.
Sofeso, a December 2017 graduate pursuing her master's degree in marriage and family therapy, presented a spoken word piece titled "Angry Black Woman" that touched on feeling anger at selfishness, how people are judged by their color, appearance, relationships and other topics. The piece ended with Sofeso saying, "I am an angry black woman and I am your neighbor."
Crosby is studying theology and international business at Lee University. He discussed the Freedom Riders who helped bring desegregation during the Civil Rights Movement.
"We must be bold and courageous for our neighbor," Crosby said, adding it is up to us to stand up for those marginalized in society.
Crosby said he has attended DACA vigils in Knoxville and Nashville to stand with those immigrants brought to the U.S. as children – referred to as Dreamers – and facing uncertainty about their futures in this country.
"I stand unapologetically with my neighbors – the Dreamers," he said. "Let's be bold, let's be compassionate and, Lee University, let's be on the right side of history. This is not a political issue. It is a human issue. It is a Christian issue. It is a neighbor issue."
Zboun (pronounced Zah-boon) introduced himself as a Palestinian from Bethlehem and admitted when he came here he was afraid to tell people here he is a Muslim from Palestine. He learned about Lee University from one of his teachers, a Lee alumnus, when he attended the Jerusalem School of Bethlehem.
"I come from a place where neighbors grow up to hate each other," he said, adding, "There are 1 1/2 billion Muslims around the world and not all of them are bad."
Speaking as a photo slide show was projected on a screen behind him, Zboun showed images of how the world views Palestinians – violence and death – along with images of how he sees his homeland – freedom, hope and children who deserve a better future.
Zboun said Americans don't understand how privileged they are to speak about what they believe is wrong. In his homeland, young people – even children – are arrested and met with violence for protesting anything they believe is wrong.
Discussing how he grew up in a refugee camp, Zboun said he saw protests and violence and, grew up as a Palestinian. "I know what it means to be discriminated against" when you tell people who you are.
"One day we will be treated equally," Zboun said before ending his presentation. "Thank you guys, and let's pray for peace."
Following a moment of silence "in solidarity and reflection," the audience was invited to engage in discussion with their neighbors about what they had just heard and talk about how they could be good neighbors.
Afterward, Tagayuna served as moderator for a discussion with panelists Crosby, Micaela Lucas, Megan Stockdale and Nándi Newton.
Newton, a Lee University senior communications major, said her concept of being a good neighbor is to be considerate: To be careful not to cause harm or inconvenience to another; to be thoughtful.
Crosby said he struggled with alcohol addiction and has been sober for three years. Once he became sober, he began to ask God how to think about people other than himself and was drawn to DACA and advocating for the people affected by it.
"Thinking about your neighbor is a negation of one’s self," he said.
Stockdale, a junior anthropology major at Lee University, said she believes being a neighbor means going outside your comfort zone and being a true neighbor is showing love and genuine acts of kindness.
Lucas, a senior at Lee University, said she first thought of a neighbor as someone you know and how, as a child, you are taught not to talk to people you don't know.
"Our neighbors can sometimes be literally someone we don't know," she said, adding faith calls for us to go beyond our comfort level.
Lucas added it is important to be a listener when a neighbor is in need, and to be present and make time to listen.
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