How are YOU a Neighbor?

This story, co-written by Sister Beth Murphy and Mr. Leroy Jordan, first appeared in the February 10, 2019 issue of the Springfield State-Journal Register.

The Governing magazine report that discusses income disparity and segregation in Springfield was all the talk at a recent meeting of the Springfield Dominican Antiracism Team (SDART). What a discouraging message for people who’ve been working for systemic change for 15 years! How could it be true that the average African-American household in Springfield earns just 42% of the earnings of their white neighbors? How could Mr. Lincoln’s Hometown be among the top third of segregated cities in the nation?

These statistics were especially shocking for SDART members from Jackson, Miss. Their incredulity helped the us locals understand the magnitude of that report and increased our determination to address it. To that end, we were deputized by our SDART colleagues to view this challenge through the eyes of faith. Here are some ideas about how we—all people of faith within the circle of influence of these 600 words—might draw on “the better angels of our nature,” to work for positive change.

In an SJR interview about Governing magazine’s study, our friend Pastor Silas Johnson—a community trailblazer, and the engine behind a successful housing redevelopment project—told a reporter that the only thing that will truly break through racial segregation is more businesses on the east side.

Pastor Johnson gets it. It’s not rocket science.

Why should people of faith be concerned about such economic disparity? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus and his opponents asked different questions.

The religious leaders wanted a legalistic answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus wasn’t having it. His question? “Who behaved as neighbor to the man beset by robbers?”

Translation: We are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers, and our sisters and brothers—our neighbors—are everybody.

So here is a humble vision for what our beloved Springfield—and dare we say—Sangamon County—might look like in 2029 if we start now to see through Gospel-glasses the problems we face together.

  1. There is an abundance of faith-based cooperatives supporting our increasingly dense and walkable neighborhoods because in 2019 the faith leaders in this city, most especially the four mainline churches whose bishops reside here, issued the first of their annual joint-teaching statements on the moral imperative of spiritual and economic cooperation for the common good.
  2. Economic growth on the Eastside is fueled by revenue generated in its neighborhoods because back in 2019 the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Development took the radical step of creating and funding a task-force to support the growth of minority-owned businesses.
  3. The city thrives on citizen involvement because seniors who volunteer in schools and community centers receive a modest stipend (cash or some type of tax incentive) for their services.
  4. More of us shop locally for our needs rather than purchase items delivered by web-based behemoths that leach resources out of Springfield and keep salaries low.
  5. The railroad tracks are ties that bind rather than divide because all of us in Springfield—chastened by our shared memory of the divisions sown in this community by the trauma of 1908—are committed to conversation across race and faith-tradition.
  6. We are healthier than we’ve ever been because, with the help of our friends in the Medical District we’ve revolutionized the way we think about and access food. Every neighborhood has its own grocery co-op to provide residents with clean food, locally sourced—some of it grown on urban farms that also serve as training centers for our city’s teens.

Sound impossible? It doesn’t have to be. Are you ready to start?

Sister Beth Murphy & Leroy Jordan

Leroy Jordan is an educator, community leader, and longtime Springfield resident. Sister Beth Murphy, OP, is the communication director for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield. They are both members of the Springfield Dominican Sisters Antiracism Team.

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