Intergenerational collaboration on screen with ‘Neighbor Ladies’

by Kiersten Tate
Posted 6/13/24

On April 28, 20 years after the release of the documentary short film Neighbor Ladies, a screening was held. Its themes remain relevant.

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Intergenerational collaboration on screen with ‘Neighbor Ladies’


On Sunday, April 28, 20 years after the release of the documentary short film Neighbor Ladies, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Mt. Airy, East Mt. Airy Neighbors (EMAN) and the Mt. Airy Neighborhood Diversity Initiative (MANDI) hosted a screening.

Although LeAnn Erickson's moving story about nine neighbor ladies coming together as a catalyst for community spans the mid-1960s to early 2000s, even 20 years after the documentary's release, its themes remain relevant. How could they not? While the documentary chronicles the experiences of nine long-time Mt. Airy residents, struggling against redlining and striving to cultivate a diverse, inclusive community, it is also, in many ways, a record of the history of the inception of EMAN. While the group has changed over the past couple of decades, the still-thriving nonprofit's aim remains to make East Mt. Airy "a better place to live, work, and play."

Following the film's screening, Linda Bell, president and CEO of East Mount Airy Neighbors (EMAN) and MANDI member, and Pat DeBrady, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Mt. Airy, who was also instrumental in the creation of EMAN, participated in an impassioned panel discussion hosted by Unitarian Universalist Church member Craig Stevens.

Clad in black and perched on a chair reminiscent of a throne, DeBrady opened the discussion by speaking about how she is the oldest member of UUC and how the activities of church members and Mt. Airy residents have long played an instrumental role in creating diverse, inclusive and engaged communities. Meanwhile, Bell brought an energy as vibrant as her outfit.

The discussion is available to re-watch on Boxcast (simply search for "Mt. Airy Past, Present and Future: 'Neighbor Ladies' Showing"). You can watch the film, listen to the speakers and hear the community Q&A. There's even another screening of a short film by MANDI, which sheds light on the collaborations between EMAN and WMAN and highlights the modern struggles of affordable housing and gentrification in our communities.

The April conversation went beyond a film review and is continuing to have ripple effects throughout Mt. Airy, which was Stevens' hope in putting the event together. "I was hoping mostly that congregation members who weren't plugged into those (neighborhood) groups would become aware of them (and) maybe get involved somehow," Stevens said as he recounted how, after moving to Mt. Airy in 2021 and meeting Linda Bell, "a light bulb went on about building a relationship with events."

There's no denying that ongoing events and community conversations are core to addressing current challenges, such as the rise in renting and the differing communication styles and interests of generations.

According to Bell, younger working professionals who rent are more interested in keeping to themselves than older people who own their homes. She believes that the lack of socializing affects the safety of Mt. Airy and other parts of the city, which is one of many reasons she's passionate about engaging young people and creating affordable housing options for the next generation.

Realtor Anam Owili-Eger often worries about houses selling for unaffordable prices after people's deaths and newcomers to the community not knowing how to sustain and upkeep homes that go back generations. He believes that the film can act as a reminder to strive against class-based homogeneity.

"I feel that it's important for me to continue in the work that they did," he said, referring to the women featured in the documentary, "so it doesn't go back to a late 1950s situation, where the neighborhood wasn't as diverse."

Fern Culhane, a former moderator, or top officer of the Board of Trustees, for the UU congregation, who resides in Germantown, reminisced about the legacy of EMAN members who attended the church.

"We've lost a number of our elders, so it was poignant to see that commitment to trying to be supportive of our community, to learn what the community needs are and how they can be agents for caring and supporting people with what they need."

In many ways, the community is seeking modern-day neighbors, of all backgrounds and genders, to come together and engage around pressing issues, whether they be related to economics, race or other elements that impact community cohesion. EMAN, MANDI and the UUC are seeking the next generation of engaged residents who will work to maintain diversity. While they're aware that this generation's engagement may look different, it has the capacity to be just as impactful as the work of nine women who cared enough to get involved, and whose impact is still making a difference, 20 years later.

To learn more about the Mt. Airy Diversity Initiative, and how you can get involved, email