When Neighbors was growing up in rural North Carolina, her parents emphasized both education and service to others. Her father, whose parents were sharecroppers, became a teacher; her mother was a county home economist. Although they made better money than most of their neighbors, they refused to move to a wealthier area. They helped people study to pass the infamous "literacy tests" used to keep Southern blacks from voting. Neighbors, an only child and an excellent student, sat at the table with them and helped.
She attended Bryn Mawr, where, as a freshman, she met her future husband, Harold "Woody" Neighbors, a student at nearby Haverford. "My only boyfriend, and that was it," she says. "I've been blessed." They married when she was a senior, and she joined him in Ann Arbor, where he earned a doctorate in public health; he's now a professor at U-M. Neighbors graduated from the U-M dental school in 1986. Their son, Rashid, is an engineer in California. In a tragic development, two-and-a-half years ago, their other child, Kamillah, a grad student in public health at U-M, died suddenly, of a seizure. She was thirty-three. "Family, faith and friends, and all the things I love about my job" helped her cope, Neighbors says. The young students bring her particular pleasure. "You have an opportunity to teach them. That, to me, was what being a mother was all about."