By E. Duane Howard |

Howard is a former president of the Southeast Action Forum.

Has National Night Out gotten lost in its own night? National Night Out, now 36 or more years old, I fear has gotten lost in the darkness of neighborhoods with events held way to far from what the original intent was to have been.

In my online search, “What is the origin and purpose of National Night Out,” I found this statement: “Millions of neighbors take part in National Night Out across thousands of communities from all fifty states, U.S. territories and military bases worldwide on the first Tuesday in August (Texas and select areas celebrate on the first Tuesday in October). Neighborhoods host block parties, festivals, parades, cookouts and various other community events with safety demonstrations, seminars, youth events, visits from emergency personnel, exhibits and much, much more.”

I highlighted and put in bold print and underlined the “Neighborhoods host block parties,” for this is how I remember the original beginnings and purpose of N.N.O. (National Night Out).

I believe whole-heartedly in the purpose of this event, however, over the years I believe it has strayed far off the beaten path into a clouded dark night and lost its way and purpose.

You might say it fits the old saying, “its gotten too big for its britches.” How many of us know all the neighbors on your block, let alone on your street? People live in apartment buildings and don’t even know their next door neighbors.

N.N.O. has grown and moved from the “Block Parties,” to the neighborhood park or library, to a larger community center, to a large city park and now as the Southeast Action Forum has done, moved it out of the neighborhood all together with hosting it at Explore Park. How does anyone get to know who your neighbors are at such a huge event? How do the police and firefighters get to know and associate one person with a particular block or neighborhoods as was the point and purpose of N.N.O.?

I’ve never gone to a N.N.O. in Roanoke where I met a neighbor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these huge events are not fun for all and seeing all the police and firefighters. We’re feeding the neighborhood but I must raise the question: Are we accomplishing what the original intent and purpose of what N.N.O. was all about and meant to be?

I would call upon the Cities Neighborhood Services Office, the Roanoke Neighborhood Advocates to look at and explore what has happened and how we might get back to basics.

Let us go back and work towards block parties so that neighbors really can get to know each other so we stand a chance of working together to enhance our neighborhoods, starting with one block, can spread to one Street and eventually making a neighborhood safer and better to grow our neighborhoods into what we want them to be.

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