Over and over I have seen it proved true that neighbors are the best resources for one another.
One morning a few months back I was walking up to a coffee shop when I saw two folks looking around, talking about options, sounding confused, and looking worried. I peered down to see a little girl standing behind one of the animated women. This scared little girl, no more than three years old, was looking around with big, watery eyes, shifting from foot to foot; the ground was cold, and she wasn’t wearing any shoes.
With my hand on the door, I hesitated to enter the café. I overheard them talking about calling the police to help find the little girl's mom. Curious, I turned back around. I wanted to offer my help. Within minutes, a few community members, store owners, and parents were all working to help solve the mystery of the lost child.
The two store owners’ solution was to call the police and have them handle it. For the millennial and me, our solution was to ask around—to find out if anyone saw anything and go and check the surrounding stores. The other woman present was also a mother, and her solution was to buy the little girl some water and a snack from the café, keep her warm in her car, and wait with her while we figured out what to do. Another gentleman got in his car and volunteered to drive around the surrounding blocks and start asking folks on the streets if they knew anything.
Together we were caring, attentive, and actively searching.
Within minutes the police showed up. The officer was nice. He noticed that there was a small crew of folks working to find this little girl's mom and home. When he tried to engage with her, the little girl immediately stopped eating and crawled onto the stranger's lap who was sitting in the car with her. She hugged her tight and refused to let go. Clearly, she was scared. I appreciated that the officer didn’t push the issue of extracting the girl and taking over the situation. He continued to follow the lead of the community members organizing to solve the problem; he was there to support us when we needed it.
Soon, more folks were paying attention to the situation. People were coming out of their apartments and more questions were being asked. Puzzle pieces were coming together. Someone recognized the little girl from the apartments behind the brush and brick wall at the far end of the parking lot. So that’s where we headed. The other mother had to leave, so I picked up the little girl (who still wasn’t talking so we never knew her name). My friend Divine started walking across the parking lot toward the brush. And there we saw a gap in the wall with broken branches around it. We were walking that way with the officer behind us when he got the call: a missing child had been reported from the apartment building we were approaching. We now knew which building to enter.
As we neared the apartment, some uncles came outside. They were grateful we found the little girl. We asked where her mom was. (I was not letting go of this sweet little girl until I saw her mother with my own eyes.) The mother came rushing out of the apartment door and for the first time, this little girl wanted to be let down. She ran crying to her mama and they both fell to the floor hugging and crying and squeezing each other. The family gathered around. The officer called off support because the community had handled the issue. Divine and I looked at each other and hugged. We, too, were overwhelmed with emotion.
I will always, always, always advocate for strong communities that are well connected. I believe in the collective well-being of every human present. And when we work together, our humanity stays front and center and peaceful solutions can be found.