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From Subject
"petrita salazar" <plsalaz@ilstu.edu> THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE BY ALEX KOTLOWITZ (SALAZAR)
"ashaki daneen baker" <adbaker@ilstu.edu> THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE Kolowitz (Baker)
"Bina M. Patel" <bmpatel@ilstu.edu> Book Review of Alex Kotlowitz
"Kristin Goff" <KGOFF@suntan.vid.ilstu.edu> Kotlowitz final review
Jacqlyn Larson <jalarso@ILSTU.EDU> There are no children here (LARSON)
Molly Sutter <mlsutte@ILSTU.EDU> Review: There Are No Children Here
shelly spencer <sjspenc@ILSTU.EDU> Final Copy/There are No Children Here
Paul Herrick Peterson <phpeter@MAIL.ILSTU.EDU>  There are no Children Here
Eddie Okelley <eokell@ILSTU.EDU> Re review response to Peterson

Date: Thu, 4 May 1995 17:32:53 -0500 
From: "petrita salazar" <plsalaz@ilstu.edu> 


Reviewed by Petrita Salazar
Illinois State University
May 4, 1995

The West side of Chicago, Harlem, Watts, Roxbury, and Detroit. What do all of these areas have in common? These areas, along with many others have become mine fields for the explosive issues of race, values, and community responsibility, led by the plight of the urban underclass. Issues such as vilent crime, social separation, welfare dependence, drug wars, and unemployment all play a major role in the plight of Amercian inner-city life. Alex Kotlowitz's book: THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE, confronts America's devastated urban life; a most painful issue in America. Kotlowitz traces the lives of two black boys; 10 year old LaFayette, and 7 year old Pharoah, as they struggle to beat the odds growing up in one of Chicago's worst housing projects. Their family includes a welfare dependent mother, an alcholic-drug using father, an older sister, an older brother, and younger triplets. Kotlowoitz describes the horrors of an ill-maintained housing project completely taken over by gangs, where murders and shootings are an everyday thing. Kotlowitz does a fine job at portraying ghetto life; those who are outside the American dream. He succeeds at putting a face on th people trapped inside the housing projects with virtually no hope of escape. One can truly feel a sense of great loss for the family, and a great deal of hope for the two young boys. You can truly feel yourself hoping that things will work out for them, and you can really feel like you know these young men on a personal basis. Kotlowotz spent a great deal of time with the boys so he could portray the world from the eyes of a child growing up in the ghetto, and he does an amazing job.

All through their lives Pharoah and LaFayette are surrounded by violence and poverty. Their neighborhood had no banks, no public libraries no movie theatres, no skating rinks or bowling allies. Drug abuse was so rampant that the drug lords literally kept shop in an abondoned building in the progjects, and shooting was everywhere. Also, there were no drug rehabilitation programs or centers to help combat the problem. Police feared going into the ghetto out of a fear for their own safety. The book follows Pharoah and LaFayette over a two year period in which they struggle with school, attempt to resist the lure of gangs, mourn the death of close friends, and still find the courage to search for a quiet inner peace, that most people take for granted. Kotlowitz protrays what life is like at the bottom, and the little hope there is for the poor which makes it virtually impossible for the young lives in the ghetto to grow up. Also at the same time Kotlowitz wants the reader to know that not all hope is lost, but something must be done before it virtually becomes a "nihilistic" society with no hope and no values.

The mother was portrayed as a woman who lacked self-esteem, and was not prepared to enter the job market. She had no skills, and was completely dependant on welfare. She also liked to gamble, and sometimes actually won. The biggest and most pervasive problem of the young children's lives was the dominance of the gangs at Henry Horner Homes. The gangs were dedicated to violence, and children were compelled to join for their own safety. The gangs in the Homes were of a "retreatist" sort, in that they focused mainly on drugs, and their gang related activities, and would use whatever force necessary to keep their activities afloat. Drugs were a part of the boys every day life, and brutal drugs wars surrounded their apartment. With the gangs so close to home, the children had a constant fear of death. The violence never let up. The children lost many friends to either drugs or the gangs. When they lost a friend, they felt sorrow for a while, but reality would set in, and they knew that it was an every day part of their life. It was these feelings that made the Rivers children hesitant to get close to anyone. If they did not get close, they would not feel the loss as much. It made them feel that there was no way out, and death was their unyeilding fate. Their feelings of loss also caused them to have a tremendous distrust in the police. In a way they looked to the police for guidance, but at the same time did not trust them.

Residents of the homes felt stuck in the middle between the durg gangs and the police. The cops came and went, but the gang members were there 24 hours a day. Few residents would call 911 for fear tht the gangs would discovered that they snitched. The older children had gotten into trouble with the police, and the oldest boy had served time. The oldest girl worked on and off as a prostitiute when she needed the money. The family was almost relieved when the oldest boy; Terence was sentence to prison because he was deeply involved with the gangs, and prison would at least keep him off the street, and hopefully save his life.

Kotlowitz wants people to know how devastating life is in the ghetto. With that sentiment in mind he quotes a presidential commission as saying; The sheer scale of such projects...is stulifying to the human spirit. Administration is heavy handed. The child caught in such a social environment is living almost in a concentration camp from which he has little chance of escape (p259) These poor living conditions do not go unnoticed, however little is done to improve their conditions. A person in authority really has to care to turn things around. Then when a person of authority finally did care, the money was not there to provide the services necessary. Vincent Lane was appointed the new chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority. He decided to reclaim the buildings. With the help of 60 Chicago policemen, officials went from building to building looking for drugs and weapons. The problem was the Lane was only one person, and could not change the projects overnight, but he gave the people a reason to hope.

You cannot even imagine how emotional of an impact this book has on one's emotions. You cannot help but feel you want to help the boys out, and yet, not enough people seem to care when there are so many others in the same position as Pharoah and LaFayette. What is really interesting about the book is that the author himself couldn't help but become personally involved with the two boys. He bailed one out of jail, and ends up setting up a trust fund for the two boys from the proceeds of the book. Now at last, the two boys have a reason to hope. --
Petrita Salazar

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Date: Fri, 12 May 1995 13:19:39 -0600 (CST) 
From: "ashaki daneen baker" <adbaker@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review of THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE Kolowitz (Baker) 

Review of Alex Kotlowitz
(Doubleday 1991)
Ashaki Baker
Illinois State University
May 11, 1995

What happens to dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
-Langston Hughes

For majority of african American children that live in the
inner-city ghettoes the idea of having dreams seem just that a
dream. Dreams that will not become realities because of the
poverty stricken neighborhoods and violent lifestyle cycles of
their parents. Alex Kotlowitz's THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE: THE
reader aware of the plagues most inner-city children and youth in
American ghettoes.

When one thinks of poverty often the mental picture that
comes to mind is of single parent welfare, dependent, women and
unemployed, drug-addicted, alcoholic lackadaisical men. The
children are often forgotten. The impact of poverty, the
destruction of crime and stigmatization of the violence on the
children is more devastating and irreversible than the
miseducation and illiteracy that most often companies poverty.
The implication is not the poverty can not be overcome but that
the cycles of teenage pregnancy, welfare dependency, and dropping
out of high school continues and are hard to break. The badges
of poverty are just as addictive and capitiving as any disease
such as alcohol or drugs.

The song made popular by Whitney Houston THE GREATEST LOVE
says I believe the children are our future, teach them well and
let them lead the way. Show them the beauty they posses inside.
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier. Let the children's
laughter reminds how we used be... The children are our future,
yet one of every five children in poverty an estimated twelve
million children. The war on poverty and the contract on
(against) America should be considered a war on the children, a
war different strategy should be used to eradicate poverty.
Poverty will not be eradicate until the division of wealth in
this country has also been more evenly distributed.

Often when one thinks of child or childhood they relate
playing, and a worry free environment. For the children that
thought with innocence, carefree days of frolicking and playing,
and a worry free environment. For the children that reside in
inner-city ghettoes this typical picture of childhood does not
exist. The title of Alex Kotlowitz's book, THERE ARE NO
CHILDREN HERE, describes this concept perfectly. Kotlowitz
follows the lives and experiences of two inter-city children in
this riveting and thought provocating book. The author befriends
and helps these children cope with everything from avoiding drugs
and gang-banging to how to study and succeed in school.
Kotlowitz approached the subject of writing a book with the
mother of the children in hopes of informing and enlightening
people to the tragedy of living and overcoming poverty and
violence. The mother made the following statement in regards to
the children "But you know, there are no Children here. They've
seen to much to be children." The children in inner-cities are
not allowed to be children because of the violence and intensity
of the activities of the streets. The familiar sounds of the
ghettoes, projects, and other housing complexes stigmatizes and
haunts its residents. The Shooting, the screaming, Babies
crying, children shrieking are examples of the sounds these
children hear constantly. These children constantly live in fear
of death, violence, being becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol,
gangs, and other dangers. Most of these children are more often
challenged by the streets and survive by being street smart
rather than learning from books or school. Kotlowitz reflects on
the idea that because of the experiences of these children it is
hard to keep in mind that they are just children.

Many grow up in neighborhoods that are similar to
Lafeyette and Pharoah's. By the time they enter
adolescence, they have contended with more terror
than most of us confront in a lifetime. They have
had to make choices that most experienced and
educated adults would find difficult. They have
lived with fear and witnessed death. Some of
them have lashed out. They have joined gangs,
sold drugs, and in some cases inflicted pain on
others. But they have also played baseball, and
gone on dates and shot marbles and kept diaries.
For, despite all they have seen and done, they
are-- and we must constantly remind ourselves of
this still children." p xi

Life for most middle class American children is one that
has been sheltered from violence, crime, drugs, alcohol: on the
contrary a safe and secure environment. One where the biggest
worry is if "Suzy will come to my party" or "what will I wear to
my party." For the children of inner-city ghettoes life is not
so simple, as explained to through the eyes of Pharoah and
Lafeyette Rivers. They receive early on an added education on
the tragedies of life. The concept of death is just as real to
them as eating, sleeping and breathing. Children are
continuously being punished for the mistakes of their parents and
for being born in the wrong family of socio-economic status.
Well contrary to popular belief the only people who suffer
because of the continual cuts to welfare, education and health
care programs are the children. There is a saying you can choose
your friends but you can not choose your family. Inner-city
children are being punished because of an accident of birth.
The basic ideas portrayed in the book is how some kids can
overcome the odds through education and how they need role
models. Pharoah is a very sweet and relatively innocent child,
a condition that is rare for a child born and raised in the
projects and streets of the inner-city. These children's
innocence has been stolen, they have been damaged because of the
violence and danger of the neighborhood. Pharoah is lucky
because he has both qualities needed to succeed he has a role
model, a desire to learn, and the will to resist the lucrative
activities of the streets. Pharaoah's big brother looks out for
his well being. Pharoah has a problem stuttering because of all
the violence and turmoil he has seen. The stuttering does not
prevent him from trying his best at learning and school. One of
Pharaoh's most rewarding times was in the sixth grade when he was
asked to give a speech at the awards program. The speech gives
an idea of his determination to succeed despite the odds and his
innocence and compassion.

Try, Try, Try, Try, that's what special effort
means. and when you put your best foot forward,
it really isn't hard as it seems. Success comes
to those who when given the chance to do their
best and work very hard to advance. The special
effort award is what they've earned. Though it
can't begin to match the things they've learned.
p 254

Kotlowitz explains how the children of ghettoes face daily
violence and danger and how school or education is not always a
priority. The fact that Pharoah at the age of ten dreams of
graduating high school and going to college so they can leave the
projects. Pharaoh's dream is a very admirable goal. The problem
that remains is how attainable is that goal in a neighborhood
riddled with violence and death.

Kotlowitz provides insight into the thoughts, fears,
feeling, ambitions, and hopes of many inner-city children and
residents. The hope of most of these is to live in a house with
yard, not to be dependent on the government for assistance, and
not to live constantly in fear for their lives. Majority of the
residents in the projects would like to live in better

The second concept is that one must have role models.
Pharoah's older brother and his friends look out for him. All
the boys know how important it is to have a role model, without
them these boys are doomed to lives of violence and crime. More
often than not there is no father or father figure to help guide
these boys into manhood, so these young men receive the guidance
from the gangs. Fortunately the boys in Kotlowitz's book, have a
role model. Pharoah's older brother Lafeyette explained the
difficulty of resisting the lucrative activities of the street

"You grow up 'round it." Lafeyette told a friend.
"there are a lot of people in the projects who
say they're not gonna do drugs, that they're not
gonna drop out, that they won't be on the streets.
But they're doing it now. Never say never." He
paused "but I say never." My brothers ain't set
no good example for me, but I'll set a good
example for them." p 29

This shows the older boys commitment to the safety of his younger
brother and sisters.

These two youth have made a friend and have some hope but
not all inner-city youth are that lucky. Even though Kotlowitz
provides moral and some financial support they still are
confronted an a daily basis with the temptation, and lucrative
vices of the streets. The characteristics these children have to
sustain them are there determination to succeed, parental
support and guidance and reluctance to give up hope and quit.
Determination is the most important characteristic these
children possesses. THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE expresses the
horror of poverty as seen through the most precious victims the
CHILDREN. Even our most conservative lawmakers would agree that
the children are our future. The only question that makes one
ponder is "Why then do these lawmakers make policies that
contribute to the downfall and destruction of programs designed
to help the children?" Welfare, health care, and education are
just as important to the children's future as tax cuts and
balanced budgets. Kotlowitz's THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE gives
insight into what life is like for children living in inner-city
ghettoes.l These children need some hope and should be protected
from violence and destruction of the gangs in their
neighborhoods. Kotlowitz's book also point out that the war on
poverty and drugs has been unsuccessful and has endangered the
children even more. The children of poverty can not succeed
unless we provide them with the tools and resources to do so.

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Date: Tue, 4 Feb 1997 08:37:09 -0600 
From: "Bina M. Patel" <bmpatel@acadcomp.cmp.ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Book Review of Alex Kotlowitz 

authored by: Alex Kotlowitz
reviewed by: Bina Patel
Illinois State University

The barriers of color, as well as prejudice and fear show through in this story of two young boys growing up in inner city Chicago. Confined to the project housing the brothers and their family are well aware of their "caste" in society. The story follows the events of the Rivers family living in the Henry Horner Homes(near the United Center in Chicago). Over the course of about three years, the author describes the day to day experiences of the family, focusing on the two boys. Pharoah and Lafeyette Rivers are surrounded by what seems to be a prison of doom and despair. Faced with the unrelenting reality of ghetto living, the two boys always seem to hold on to a spark of hope. Their environment is somewhat standard for project housing. Something in apartment is always broken(the faucet in the bathtub could not be turned off; the constant sound of running water slowly draining soon blended into the background), the small space that they did have was over crowed by family members that floated through with their own children and friends.

The safest playground was the hallway, the spacious playground was missing parts of playground equipment, and was always blanketed with the threats of gangs, drugs, and gun play. When the children who opted to go to the playground, they did not fall on pavement, but rather blacktop paved with broken glass. Nearby was the United Center-a beacon for kids who looked for a way out of the projects. Hoping for a glimpse of team members, the kids entertainment did not come from going to see the game, but rather from waiting to see the Bulls.

The story chronicles the family's lives, the ups and many downs. The author gives the reader vivid details of their lives, which grants the reader access into feelings of hopelessness, frustration, and fear that the family deals with. However, boys provide the conduit for examining these feelings. A glimmer of hope shines through the dark realities of inner city childhood. The two brothers are like ying and yang when it comes to this. Pharoah's personality provides a pleasant yet heart breaking twist to the story. He is full of optimism, and eternally innocent. For example, Pharoah chases after a rainbow looking for some sort of treasure. Running as fast as his skinny legs will take him, he hopes to reach the end before it fades in the hopes that he will find a pot of gold(which he says he will use to move out of the projects). Crushed when his older brother won't help him chase down the rainbow, and even more deflated when the rainbow disappears, Pharoah's actions contrast the "adult" personality of Lafeyette(the older brother), and even contrasts the norms for many kids growing up in the projects. Repeatedly, children in this story are too far entwined into the dark side of their lives to ever catch a glimpse of a rainbow, much less bother to chase something. It is interesting how Pharoah seeks to challenge the unknown in this way. many kids, not knowing if the rainbow's end will hold a pot of gold or not, would not bother to chase it. It seems as though only those things that promise an end are begun by children in this environment. On the other hand, his innocence pulls at heart strings. He consistently runs from reality. When one of his brothers was arrested, and his mother, LaJoe, tried to explain the situation to him, his response was "I'm just too young to understand how life really is." Sweet at first, but examining his behavior through out the book, Pharoah overextends his naiveness to the point that it is a form of denial it seems. Granted, kids must be kids, but Pharoah's dream like world proved to be dangerous. He has stood up in the middle of a gang gun fight, lost track of time, and he is slowly falling behind in learning street smarts. Whether he likes it or not(which we see he does not), Pharoah has to contend with reality rather than just closing his eyes to it.

Lafeyette displays the other side to this innocence. He acts the adult at the young age of 12. Close to his mother, Lafeyette helps her care for the other children, take care of the home, and shares the burdens of their struggles. He worries over the bills and the children as much as his mother does. He is determined to set a good example for his younger siblings(there are 4 of them), although he mentions that his older brothers did little to help him. On the streets, he is careful to dodge the numerous traps of gang affiliations and dug involvement. Lafeyette's sensibility and determination are concrete characteristics of him, but not necessarily his peers. He has gotten in trouble, but through it all, hope of getting out of the projects is clear. Among the most striking aspect of Lafeyette is his keen awareness of the barriers he faces. At a young age he recognized the challenges he faced just staying alive into his early 20's. At one point in the story, he tells his mother that he is tired and "Anytime I go outside, I ain't guaranteed to come back." His frustration at not being able to get out of the system, broken heart after facing numerous deaths of his friends, and the stress of being so firmly planted in reality, with little time to escape into childhood, severely wore down Lafeyette.

The boys and their families do their best to make the home life "normal". Yet the question remains, how are these people where they are to begin with. The system of welfare and housing is a never ending nightmare. Kotlowitz illustrates this by also looking at national, state, and local politics. For example, he cites the Reagan administrations's cuts in federal funding for urban development, Mayor R. Daley's lack of consistency in addressing and alleviating problems in the project homes, and the hicago Housing Authority(CHA) bureaucratic sloppiness. At every level, we can see disregard to help the situation, and in the story we see the effects. For example, LaJoe's stove worked only temperamentally. At times the oven would not work for weeks. Many times, the apartment would smell of death and decay. The CHA, after years of complaints, finally investigated the Henry Horner Homes. What they found was far beyond angering and frustrating. The report revealed that about 2000 appliances were found in the basement of the H.H. Homes, some of them new, but were looted for parts or rusting away in the flooded basement. The inspection crew(wearing radiation suits) found dead animals, among the very least of the repulsing things found. For over 15 years, the CHA failed to maintain its buildings, obviously to the irect expense of tenants, but also to taxpayers.

The book's title "THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE", remarkably represents the predicament individuals are in. Pharoah is a child to the extreme, but not truly living the life of what a normal kid might, nor does Lafeyette enjoy childhood. Among every person in the projects, the traits and values childhood is thought to encompass are missing. Pharoah comes closest, but at a cost that could end his life. Also, the opening poem-"A DREAM DEFERRED" by Langston Hughes sums up the questions we ask in our minds about what is to become of these "children". Not allowing the chance to breathe, one will obviously suffocate. The poem asks if the dream "fester[s] like a sore...crusts and sugars over... Or does it explode?" Trying to understand the situation project housing creates for individuals, one can only wonder what is to become of the dreams of moving up in the world, graduating from school, and at the basic level-being alive to see these days. Questions of economic oppression, racism, and progressive development are raised by this book. The story clearly creates a picture f project living, but also expresses the deep rooted need people there feel of progress, to be treated as humans rather than the untouchables, and even more, reflects the neglect of man looking out for man. Relationships between authority and subordinate, black and white, family to friend are noted, and serve as a vital part to understanding the complexity of life in the under class.

Kotlowitz is sympathetic to those tangled up in the bureaucracy of the CHA and welfare. His choice of subjects to define the environment is wonderful. The reader is left with a feeling of frusrtration, but not without hope for progress. Society in the industrialized United States is suffering, and it is books like these that provide a look into a part of life many might never know about. We can only hope that the spark of hope in these two boys develops into the fire society needs to burn down the barriers of economic and color prejudice.

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Date: Fri, 7 Feb 1997 08:11:54 -0600 
From: "Kristin Goff" <KGOFF@suntan.vid.ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Kotlowitz final review 

A review of "There are no Children Here" by Alex Kotlowitz.

(by Kristin Goff, Illinois State University)

"If I grow up, I'd like to be a bus driver." If -- not when. Sentiments like this echoe hauntingly through the pages of Wall Street Journal reporter Alex Kotlowitz's account of his two-year documentation of the lives of two brothers, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers.

The boys are afforded little happiness and too much grief, trying to survive from day to day in their appartment at the crime-ridden Henry Horner Homes housing project on the outskirts of Chicago. When Kotlowitz approached the boys' mother, LaJoe, about writing the book about her children, she agreed with him, but felt the need to set him straight. "But you know, there are no chlidren here. They've seen too much to be children," LaJoe told Kotlowitz.

Lajoe moved to Horner when she was a young girl with her family of thirteen. The family had been living in a flat above a church that lacked adequate heating and frequently rang of organ music from the church below. Hearing of the newly finshed public housing projects for financially disadvantaged families, LaJoe's parents packed up the family and moved to one of the new buildings. When the family first arrived in their new home, they could not believe their eyes. It looked like a palace. Outside there were yellow flowers and lamp posts. The exterior of the building was made of sturdy, dark-red brick. Inside, the walls were a pristine white, with shiney linoleum floors. A new range and refrigerator awaited in the kitchen. It seemed like a dream to them -- until it all came crashing down.

One of Lajoe's sisters was found strangled in the family's bathtub. Then, upon hearing the news of his sisters death, one of Lajoe's brothers had a heart attack and died. LaJoe's parents packed up soon after this. But, LaJoe decided to stay, moving to an apartment not far from the one where she grew up. She said she could not imagine that things could get any better than they were, and she surely could not predict the sharp decline in quality of living that would follow in the next fifteen years.

Fifteen years later the apartments were overheated to swealtering proportions in the winter. LaJoe's oven rarely worked. The bathtub would not shut off and constantly gushed scalding hot water. One of the toilets emitted an unbearable stench, as did the kitchen sink later. The children routinely shletered themselves from gang gunfire.

Fifteen years of neglect by the Chicago Housing Authority was to blame for the state of disrepair in Horner. An employee for CHA toured Horner, finding incomprehensible signs of neglect and mismanagement in the basements of the housing projects. Over 2,000 never-been-used ranges and refrigerators, some still in cartons, were found rusting away in pools of water. Dead animals, piles of human and animal excrement, used female sanitation devices and puddles of urine in the basement accounted for the stench in LaJoe's apartment, one floor above the mess. The CHA employee sent out memos alerting others in the office about the situation at Horner. But, due to the lack of funding and willingness to cover up mismanagement, the situation remained stagnant for another two years. The situation finally changed when a new head was appointed to the CHA. Even then, the changes were made slowly.

The boys also grew up with a distinct amount of respect for the gangs and drug dealers. After all, the drug dealers were good to the children -- occassionally buying them meals, new shoes and coats. Lafeyette and Phaoroah were no different. Although, they tried to stay as far away from this as they could.

At the start of the book, Lafayette is seen as a protective patriarchal figure in the family, always watching over his mother and his youngest siblings. His life experience forced him to form a tough outer shell against the world. He saw a man die for the first time when he was ten. Throughout the book LaJoe insists the youngest children will be different than her oldest children, who had become prostitutes criminals. Lajoe insisted that would not happen with Lafeyette and Pharoah. But, in his early teen years, despite trying very hard to stay out of trouble, trouble somehow found Lafeyette. It seemed like no matter what he did, Lafeyette was destined to be like his older siblings. In one of the more emotional segments of the book, Lafeyette falls to his knees and cries to his mother, "I'm tired."

Pharoah, on the other hand, seems to be comic relief in the book. Even though he is experiencing everything his older brother is experiencing, he never lets himself get down. He gives LaJoe hope. He was the first child in the family to bring home certificates of recognition from school. He participated in school spelling bees, placing well. He was invited to seminars designed to help disadvantaged, high potential students in school. He has dreams and aspirations -- he sees a future for himself.

The children savor each moment of each wonderful experience they are afforded. During a birthday party his mother scraped and saved to be able to throw, Pharoah was so overcome with happiness that he could barely speak -- he could only grin.

Through the years, the children watch many of their friends die. The only thing LaJoe can think about is getting her children away from Horner alive. When she was young Horner was her ideal, but at the end of the book she wishes she had been wise enough to leave when she could. Every time she tries to leave, something else comes along and shoves her right back down.

There is no neat and tidy ending here. The family remains in poverty, though they do manage to send the boys to private school.

Why do they stay? They stay because Horner is all they know. If someone has the option of either saving money to be able to move out of their home or to buy their children shoes they desperately need, which option would they choose? Also, when something is all a person knows or is used to, the become desensitized and conditions do not seem as bad as they really are.

There is no easy solution for this family. An easy solution would be to simply leave. But, if leaving were such a simple option they would have left long ago. Taking her young children into account, it does not seem like LaJoe could do anything to pull herself out of her financial straits without running into difficulties paying for child care. She could start by discussing the possibility of suing her husband for child support with someone.

As for the analysis of the book itself, although the author aims toward providing a chronicle of two years in the lives of the two brothers, he actually ends up writing more about their mother. He discusses LaJoe's parents, how they met and married and why they moved to Horner. He depicts LaJoe as an extremely kind-hearted yet tough woman who will do anything to help not only her own family, but all the neighborhood children as well. LaJoe feeds and cares for many of the neighborhood children. For this, she is rare and special in an environment of mothers who are prostitues and drug addicts. She sticks by her children when most mothers would be ashamed and disown them. I finished this book feeling a great deal of respect and admiration for LaJoe and everytihg she went through.

Kristin Goff
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Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2000 19:39:06 -0600
From: Jamie Cecil <kailey@WINCO.NET>

THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE, by Alex Kotlowitz Reviewed by Jamie Cecil

Does your home have a lock on your door, a telephone and working appliances and plumbing? Do you dodge bullets in your sleep, have 13 people living in one apartment or wash your dishes in the bath tub because the kitchen sink hasn’t worked for months? Do you wash your clothes in the bath tub because the laundry room is too dangerous to do your washing? Do you live in an environment with no role models, where the gangs control everything and you can’t trust anyone? You may think these are strange questions for people who live in America in the late 20th century, but some people’s answers to these questions may be very different from yours. Those people are the one’s living in the “other America”. Alex Kotlowitz tells us “the story of two boys growing up in the other America” in his book There Are No Children Here.

The “other America” Kotlowitz describes in his book is the public housing complex at Henry Horner Homes in Chicago. By following the lives of two boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, we are exposed to the misfortunes, turmoil and death that their lives are filled with.

Lafeyette and Pharoah are faced with many hardships in their day to day activities. Their apartment, the once beautiful complex, now has broken appliances, poor plumbing, horrible security and from the basement come smells that one housing manager described as “foul odors” that “no equipment presently in use by staff could be used to withstand the odor beyond a minute” (p. 240). The boys wake up every morning in this horrible public housing that would most likely be condemned if it was located in any decent neighborhood. Lafeyette and Pharoah get ready for school, usually putting on clothes which have been washed the night before in the bath tub, and then leave for school. Pharoah, who loves school, is always in a hurry to get there, leaving the apartment before anyone else. School is the one place for Pharoah to stand out and get away from the neighborhood for a while. He even attended a summer school program that was supported by the University of Illinois. Lafeyette, on the other hand, isn’t into school very much; which explains why he has such a large number of tardies. Both boys are always careful as they walk through the streets to school to be alert for gunfire, they don’t want to die young like so many friends of theirs.

Once they arrive at Henry Suder Elementary, Lafeyette, Pharoah and their fellow students receive an unequal education compared to those children attending private or white schools. Most of the children at Suder are behind for their age, according to state testing. The fact that there are too many children in one classroom is a major problem. The budget for the school is not large enough to provide the adequate number of teachers to give each child the help they need. It is difficult to find individuals who want to teach at a facility where their desk and window are separated by a column to shield them against stray bullets or where they will be mugged going to their vehicles at the end of the day.

Education is the only hope and way out of the projects for the children and their chances are being taken away due to the violence in the neighborhood and the lack of funding. At Crane High School, a local school, “about half the entering freshmen never makes it through the senior year” (p. 128).
This lack of education will just keep them in the terrible environment of the projects and sooner or later most of them will start selling drugs, joining gangs or stealing.

The lack of role models, especially male role models, is an issue the boys face everyday. It is “estimated 85% of the households at Horner are headed by women” (p.65). The children in this neighborhood hardly ever see men taking responsibility for their actions. Most of the men are in gangs or in jail. The only other males they come into contact with are most likely police officers, which is usually not a good confrontation. “As early as 1968, the Kerner Commission, appointed by President Johnson to explore the problems facing the nation’s inner cities, characterized the relationship between the armed authorities and the black community nationwide as “explosive”” (p. 162). It is clear that this “explosive” relationship makes it difficult for young people to trust police officers and almost impossible to think of them as role models.

Lafeyette and Pharoah looked at their cousin Dawn, who was the first in their generation to finish high school, as their role model. They were so proud of her and wanted to get a diploma just like her. The excitement wore off when Dawn never moved out of the projects and got a steady job.

Another person the boys looked up to was Craig, at least until he was killed by a police officer who mistook him for a gang member. Craig was going to be a radio broadcaster and he always told the kids to finish school. He was of the few men in the neighborhood who was trying to make something of himself legally. He was a good role model for the children, but as in many cases, he didn’t get a chance to finish growing up and get out of the projects before he was killed.

Gangs, drugs and violence have consumed the streets of Horner Homes. It is no longer a happy place with fresh paint on the walls. Instead it is a dirty, unhappy place where the children grow up so fast, that is if they’re not killed. The children in the projects see more death and crime at the age of six than the average person sees in a lifetime.

Most of us can not imagine living in the America that Kotlowitz describes in his ethnography, but through him we see the issues that are prevalent in the low-income areas. He shows that some of the population try to get out of the poverty they live in through education and staying out of trouble, while others just accept it and in some cases make it worse through violence and gangs. Unlike the author of Slim’s Table, Mitchel Dunieier, he doesn’t use one incident to stereotype the whole community. For instance, Kotlowitz told the audience about drug addicted mothers who abandoned their children, but also showed throughout the book how hard LaJoe, Lafeyette and Pharoah’s mother, tried to provide a good life for her children. I think he proved that this neighborhood, like any other, is filled with good and bad people.
I, personally, think this is a more accurate overview of a low-income neighborhood than some authors provide in their studies.

I don’t think Kotlowitz offers any actual solutions, but throughout the book it is apparent that many parts of the system don’t work for many of the people of Horner Homes. The lack of resources which these people are provided (poor education, inadequate housing, lack of employment options, rehabilitation centers) can provide some answers but mostly it is due to the choices an individual makes and what is accepted within this community.

These problems are deep-rooted within the community and involve many outside sources. Kotlowitz is aware of this and I think he knows that there are no quick solutions for the residents of Horner Homes. He sees that educating children in private school may help children eventually get out of the projects. He provides this opportunity for Pharoah and Lafeyette, by paying for them to attend private school. Kotlowitz realizes that this doesn’t take away all of the troubles the boys are faced with in their day to day lives, but it’s a start to the life they one day hope to have.

Date: Mon, 21 Feb 2000 20:39:38 -0600
From: Jacqlyn Larson <jalarso@ILSTU.EDU>
Subject: There are no children here(LARSON)

the story of two boys growning in the other America by Jacqlyn Larson

Henry Horner Homes, an inner-city housing project, is the setting in which the story of two boys growing up in America’s inner-city occurs. The story tracks the River’s family, particularly the two middle boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah, focusing on the strife-ridden times of drugs, death, gangs, and poverty. The author describes how devastating life in the inner city is for a family, but mainly for the children.

Public housing complexes were seen as pleasurable places. When the boys’ mother, LaJoe, first moved to Horner she was thirteen. The homes had white, freshly painted walls, new linoleum floors, closets you could hide in, and brand new appliances. The children went to dances in the basement, belonged to the girl scouts, and played outside on the playground surrounded by freshly planted grass. This harmonious sight all came to an abrupt end. The housing authority did not have the money or interest to put into the projects. They did not have much concern for low-income families and, therefore, the projects were neglected. The smell in the apartments became so bad that people thought dead fetuses were being flushed down the toilets. The appliances in the apartments hardly ever worked, so cooking was limited. After an inspection of the basement, over 2000 new and used appliances were found covered with rats, animal carcasses and excrements. The dead animals, paraphernalia, and female undergarments explained the smell lingering throughout the apartments.

Inner-city life is filled with glimmers of hope. The children had hopes of leaving the dreadful streets of the ghetto and moving into an innovative and improved place. There are times when Lafayette states, through words and actions, that he would rather be dead than continue living in the prevailing conditions. In one instance, there was shooting outside the window and instead of crawling into the hallway as usual, he simply sat and watched television as if nothing were occurring. Numerous times throughout the story Pharoah prays to God but at the same time questioned if he truly exists. Even through his questioning he still prayed to bless his fish, heal his mother’s fingers which had been slashed, and for the family to move from the projects. He hoped that God would take his family somewhere better than the existing circumstance.

Alex Kotlowitz does a tremendous job portraying the effect that living in governmental housing has on poverty-stricken people. He focuses on children that are in this predicament in his book, THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE. When most think of childhood, they think of memories and friends playing in pleasant, non-stressful environments. Children in the ghetto do not have many memories of playing or friends; their friends are acquaintances. Most of their memories are filled with falling on the ground, hoping a stray bullet will not hit them. By the time these children become teenagers, they have seen more apprehension than most will see in a lifetime. Most inner-city children do not have the luxury of having a father at home. Lafeyette begins to act like an adult father figure at the age of twelve. He deals with adult issues such as taking care of his home, the younger children in his family and, at times, even his mother. Though Pharoah and Lafeyette have many of the same experiences, Pharoah does not let himself get upset and be affected like his brother.

Conversely, Pharoah likes to shield himself from growing up as fast as his older brothers had. Rather than dealing with all the adult issues, he would chase a rainbow with the hope that his scrawny legs will reach it before it faded away. He is more concerned with winning the spelling bee and graduating high school than with facing the reality of the death and gangs that limited him. Pharoah is not naïve to the issues that surround him, but is in denial that the prevailing situation will not be different.

The concept of eating and sleeping is just as normal to the children as the concept of death. The children attend funeral after funeral with the question, “Am I next?” running through the back of their minds. They attended their friend Craig’s funeral, after he was shot by a police officer who thought he was someone else. This was a hard reality in the inner city. The conflict between the gangs and the police was a constant battle. The gangs were more prevalent than the police in the ghetto. The gang members were always there when the police came and went. The residents did not call the police for fear the gangs would find out that they were the informers, and in turn would hurt them for snitching.

Another issue that the residence had with the police was that they did not trust them. The gangs were extremely prevalent throughout the children’s’ lives. The children saw that they had money and protection, which in their present situation looked very appealing. Most police turned their heads away from the gangs because, in most instances, the gangs would not bother the police if they would not bother them. The problem with gangs can not be abolished when police are turning their heads from the issue.

An idea that goes beyond THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE, is the fact that the urban white American has tried to escape the problems of the ghetto. Just as in Anderson’s book, STREETWISE, the middle class does not want the black underclass presiding in their neighborhood. The debate over vouchers is a pressing issue due to the fact that if inner-city families move into suburban middle-class neighborhoods their “baggage” will come with them.
They propose that the families will bring their habits and tendencies with them exposing the middle-class children, causing a domino effect upon society.

The inner-city problems start with the bureaucracy and the neglect that it has for the devastation that presides. The bureaucracy is not the only source to blame. Most of the families that reside there have dysfunctional values and therefore are not going to be able to leave the dreadful housing projects. The majority of residences in public housing do not graduate high school, get jobs or are without a child before they even become adults.
The children in poverty-struck situations need education. They do attend school on a regular basis, but the schools are lacking the material and support to adequately educate the children. The concept of having a child before graduating from high school is all too common. Values for getting a job and getting out of the ghetto before getting pregnant need to be provided. These residents are not going to be able to escape the threshold of the ghetto if they keep having children, who need to be looked after, and therefore do not have the opportunity to attain a job. Clinics should be set up in the ghetto areas, due to lack of transportation, where there are counselors and free preventive pregnancy methods. The children also need reliable role models. Many of the children do not have father figures that are present and their mothers are getting pregnant, commonly, with a different father for each child.

Kotlowitz does an excellent job portraying how demoralizing life in the ghetto really is. Through showing what the children of the book go through, Kotlowitz remains very neutral. He bestows the thoughts, fears, and hopes of inner-city children that normally are not exposed to those who do not live in these circumstances. Lafayette and Pharoah are only two of the thousands of children suffering in these disturbing conditions. The Chicago Housing Authority did go in and clean up the buildings, but without accessible money there is not that much that can be done. The children born into poverty can not overcome the situation, unless they are provided with the means and opportunities to do so.

Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2000 15:17:39 -0600
From: Molly Sutter <mlsutte@ILSTU.EDU>
Subject: Review: There Are No Children Here

Review: The Are No Children Here
Reviewed by Molly Sutter

To most living in the Henry Horner Homes, life often seems to be more of a curse than a gift. The people of this public housing project only experience the briefest moments of joy before the reality of their lives comes rushing back to them. This book chronicles the lives of two boys, Lafeyette, 10, and Pharoah, 7, from the summer of 1985 to the fall of 1989. Though the boys are young, author Alex Kotlowitz adeptly conveys that these children are not children at all. They have not been allowed to live the carefree lives that most of us living outside of the projects did. Instead, very early on they became aware of their hardships and had to learn to deal with them. In their short lives, they have been to more funerals than weddings and this has simultaneously crushed their spirits and hardened them.
The environment in which these boys live is one of violence, drugs and poverty. Their housing is less than optimal, as the bathtub faucet cannot be shut off, the oven and kitchen sink are broken, and the plumbing is often out of order. Gang activity rules these Chicago housing projects. This book gives a keen insight to someone on the outside on how intense the violence there is.

Bullets riddle through the night, and frequently into the apartments. Facing each new day with the fear that your life could be taken away in a second, by one of many acts of gang violence, leaves the residents feeling hopelessly insecure. Throughout the book, Lafeyette and Pharoah voice a strong desire to get out of the projects. However, a solution as to how this might be accomplished is never discussed. The family is dependent on welfare, so there is no extra money to be saved for alternative residence. For the time being, Lafeyette and Pharoah make a conscious decision to lay low and keep away form gangs and drugs so they do not become a part of the life that keeps them down.

Lafeyette and Pharoah make insightful comments about how people get sucked into gang-life. They, like many other children and adults, are caught in the middle of despising gang activity, but still understanding the reasons people are involved in it. There are not many examples of tangible incentives to stay out, but to join means that you will have power, protection and money.

Even though gang mentality is crooked to those of us on the outside, it is necessary to those inside. When you are the cause of the violence and destruction around you, you are no longer afraid of it. Most teens at the crossroads of staying in school or becoming part of a gang have lost their lust for life. To them, just being a part of something bigger that oneself gives one a purpose for life.

The actual account of living on welfare also helps to make this book enlightening to those interested in the welfare program in the US. The family in this book is strikingly poor. After rent is paid and food is bought to last the entire month, there is little if any money left over to buy extras like toothpaste or shoes. It is glaringly apparent that this family is not taking advantage of the system, but barely making due. Without the welfare check, the family would be without food and living on the street. It is not feasible for the boys’ mother, LaJoe, to get a job because she has so many children to take care of and has very limited job skills. In addition to Lafeyette and Pharoah, the boys’ mother has five other children. Her oldest daughter is addicted to drugs and LaJoe raises her two children, her other son is in and out of jail, and she has a set of triplets under the age of five. In these projects, even if LaJoe did have the opportunity to get a job, there are very few opportunities for employment. The stores in the neighborhood are mom and pop owned and there is no need for outside employment. Without transportation, it is impossible to get out of the neighborhood to find employment elsewhere.

Most importantly, as in this case, there are no programs in place for childcare while the person on welfare tries to get a job.

Pharoah, the younger of the two boys, has a more hopeful attitude and a brighter outlook for his future. At times, he is able to let himself feel free of his hardships and allow himself to be a child. He understands the importance of school and prides himself on his good attendance record and status as one of the best spellers in his class. While he is a sensitive kid with a stuttering problem (intensified during periods of high violence), school becomes his safe haven and source of strength and confidence. I felt the pride he felt for himself when he achieved second place in the school spelling bee and again when he was accepted into an academic summer school program on the U of I campus. I feel his dreams to graduate high school and go on to college are noble. In this environment, children start out on much less than equal playing field when compared to kids from another area outside of the inner city. He does not have a strong example in his life to show him the rewards and dignity that come with hard work, but he manages to do it for himself. The only real role model he has to emulate is his cousin Dawn who graduates from Crane, the toughest high school in the city, (after having given birth to four children).

Though Kotlowitz does not interject his own opinion as to what may be a solution to life in the projects, he does make arrangements that Pharoah and Lafeyette will attend a private school across town. As I did, he seems to come to the conclusion that the most helpful benefit for these children (and all youth in the ghetto) is to show them a better life through education. Because of a serious lack in funding for educational resources and a good staff (that will endure the conditions of the inner city schools) kids are not aptly shown what opportunities await them outside of the projects.

Near the end of the book, Lafeyette is beginning to get sucked into the ghetto thug life. He is entering his teen years and becoming more and more numb to life. As a younger child, he had a drive to stay levelheaded and fend off the ways of his environment. He didn’t even want to have friends, because they might try to steer him in a dangerous direction. He instead had only “acquaintances.” At the funeral of an “acquaintance,” a boy of his own age, Lafeyette didn’t cry, but took the pain and confusion on as an everyday part of his life.

In addition to a lack of school resources, role models are few and far between in the projects. Lafeyette especially seems as though he would derive many benefits from a positive male role model. Although the children are lucky to have such a devoted mother, they would most definitely benefit from the supervision and guidance of a father figure. Though the boys' father is also the father of all seven children, he plays a very small role in their lives.

He had a good job with the city for several years, but like so many men in the neighborhood, he fell victim to heroine and alcohol. The children do not have much respect for him because he has left their mother dependent on welfare. They do not seem to look up to him or love him at all, but do see him as yet another reason to stay away from drugs. 

Lafeyette assumes a very grown up, father-like role. He feels responsibility for his mother and younger siblings. He obviously craves routine and structure in his life. He finds solace in chores such as cleaning and making sure the others do theirs. He outwardly shows disdain for his older siblings whom have gotten involved with drugs or jail or that bring their children/ boyfriends/ girlfriends into his mother’s home, so that she can take care of them.

Lafeyette experiences moments of pure joy in the few instances of community togetherness in his life. He enjoys these at Boys Club events or the spontaneous dance parties dee-jayed by his older friend, high-school graduate, Craig. Lafeyette seems to find a positive influence in this older boy and attaches himself to him. Craig would set up his equipment outside on nice days and all neighbors, young and old, would come out to dance and let loose. Lafeyette is devastated later when Craig, wrongfully identified by police officers as a weapon-toting gang member, is shot and killed. He internalizes his pain and outwardly shows confusion about the importance (if any) of life, school, friendship, and responsibility.

With the death of Craig, his vision seems to blur across the line of right and wrong. He had looked up to Craig, and now his example was gone. He becomes emotionless and all sense of his childhood is gone. His need for a strong support system, and role models, starts to drive him into detrimental behavior. He gets involved with a pre-teen starter gang, known as the 4 Corner Hustlers, and is accused of breaking into a truck.

Alex Kotlowitz does a tremendous job of letting the reader into life in the Chicago projects. After reading this book, I know that these young children are lovable, smart, and funny and have too many unfair factors working against them. With this account, I have gained new insight that there are thousands of other children across the country just like them, living in the same environment. He gives an objective account of these boys’ lives and always leaves out his own personal thoughts and commentary. Even after caring enough about these boys to follow their lives for four years, he still does not have solution to make everything better for them. He does think that giving them the opportunity for a better education is the first step, however, and I think that this is the most important. With the attention that Kotlowitz gave to Lafayette's friend Craig, I think that he also saw what a difference a positive male influence would make on the boys.

Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2000 23:40:33 -0600
From: shelly spencer <sjspenc@ILSTU.EDU>
Subject: There are No Children Here

Book Review of THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HER Author: Alex Kotlowitz
Review by: Shelly Spencer

At a young age Lajoe, her parents and other siblings were the first family to move into the newly built Henry Horner Homes, a public housing high-rise project, on Chicago’s south side. Lajoe recalls how clean and spacious their apartment was then. As the years passed the city became less and less able to allocate funds to keep up with the repairs the buildings needed and the city seemed not to care. The projects became ran down, dank and to condense to support a large family. Lajoe became pregnant at the young age of fourteen and was unable finish her high school education.

Eventually, she married Paul Rivers, the father of her child and had they had six more children. Lajoe’s husband Paul was estranged from the more often than not and rarely offered any support for their children. This story is centered on the lives of the two middle children, Lafayette and Pharaoh, in the family.

The older of the two boys, Lafayette, takes on the role of co-parent and support system for his mother by worrying about his younger siblings’ well being, who their friends are and to if they ducking bullets properly in the hallway. He has four younger siblings a brother a few years young than he is and a set of triples. He especially kept a watchful eye on his brother Pharaoh who was weaker and easily intimidated. At one point in the story Lajoe realized that because of her husband absence and lack close adult relationships she had placed an enormous amount of responsibility on Lafayette’s shoulders. Lajoe said, “The things I should be telling Paul about I was talking to Lafie, I put him in a bad place. But I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Lafie, became a twelve year old man that day.”(101) Lafayette had lost his childhood somewhere in the projects. He lived in constant fear for his life and the lives of those he cared about. He tried to stay out of trouble and to avoid dealing with the gangs. But when you come from the projects it was hard to stay out of trouble. There were many occasions when the police wrongly accused Lafayette and his older brother, Terrence. As Lafayette got older found it harder to avoid the older boys and not get caught up in the fast crowd. Avoiding the gangs was impossible for anyone. Even if you did not par take in gang activities you still have to worry what they thought you might have over heard. And of course when the rival gangs were not in a truce you always had to worry about stray bullets killing you or someone close to you.

Pharaoh was much different from Lafayette. He had more of a child’s innocence than most kids in the projects he still liked to chase rainbow with the hopes of a pot of gold at the end. Often times he had a hard time dealing with his environment which lead to him stuttering to the point of not being able to speak at all. Or he would escape into a daydream for long periods of time and usually were hard to wake him from when someone called for him. Lajoe always tried to protect him from the stress of reality in the projects. Eventually, the deaths and arrest of friends started to take his innocence away. This is first noticed when Pharaoh acknowledges his father’s drinking habits.

The truth is all the children in the projects grow up fast. They are subjected to life changing or life threatening decisions everyday of their lives. I have never been to a ghetto; I have never talked to anyone in the ghetto at great lengths. On occasions the news would tell of the horrible drug dealers that killed one another over who is allowed to sell on which corner. The stories in the news never tell how or why a kid may end up in that predicament. After reading this book I do not know if I would make all the right decisions. If one gang were threatening you it would be easy to join the opposing gang for protection. If the family was unsure where their next meal was coming from it would be hard to resist the temptation of selling drugs or other criminal activity to make a quick buck.

Kotlowitz seemed to look forward to helping the boys continuing their education. He helped get both the boys into a private school. Pharaoh seemed to prosper in the private school but Lafayette did not last long there. This book was written in away that stirred emotion in a person.

This book gave the ghetto a name and a face. Those kids do not want to be poor, they do not want to live in the ghetto and they do not want to grow as quick as they have too. Unfortunately, the children never see a way out of the ghetto. The children in this book only had an opportunity to see a hand full of employed men, which mainly consisted of police officers and a few teachers. Public housing was built in a way that increased segregation by location and economic status. When the bureaucrats chose to have high-rise public housing they chose a location that already had a high minority low-income population. The politicians do not want to change the high-rise system because they would lose constituents. The current system does not allow for growth or diversity in the community; the children need to see the possibilities of getting out of the ghetto become a reality.

Date Mon, 28 Feb 2000 223707 -0600

From Paul Herrick Peterson <phpeter@MAIL.ILSTU.EDU>

Subject There are no Children Here

There are No Children Here By Alex Kotlowitz

Book Review By Paul H Peterson, POS 334

Being privileged is something that I didn’t understand until I read There are No Children Here, by Alex Kotlowitz. The truth is that I knew I had it better than others, but the absolute difference was not truly recognized until I met the boys Lafayette, and Pharaoh. These boys were presented to me by Kotlowitz, via his book, and the evident pain and sorrow that these young men went through on a daily basis was more than most privileged people experience in an entire lifetime. That is what being privileged is.

When I started reading this book, I thought that is was going to be another poor me story about some poor black kids who got a raw deal. That was my ignorant, privileged life rearing its head. When I forged ahead, and read the book, I did so in seek of a grade, not a new perspective. I got to the fifth page, and I felt guilty. The guilt again was a selfish one, for I had been fooled to believe that the poor were poor because they were lazy. I was forced to believe that I had discussed and argued issues of poverty for the last 10 years, only to find that I was arguing in ignorance. These children were poor by birth, just the same as I was privileged by birth. By accident of birth, these children would endure more pain and suffering than I could imagine. The feeling made me shutter with disbelief that people actually lived like this, in America. So I read on further, only discover more terrifying stories of death, abuse, filth, sorrow, poverty, and addiction.

Lafayette and Pharaoh are two of the seven kids birthed by LaJoe Rivers in Chicago Illinois. They all currently reside at the Henry Horner Homes that rests nestled away from the city amist another poverty stricken neighborhood. When LaJoe first moved to the Homes in the sixties, they were a grand place to live. The grass was green, the flowers were all around, and the hallways seemed to go on forever. Their family was the first to move into the homes, and at that time, they were proud of that. Here they were, in a nice, affordable place where they could raise their children in a descent environment, around other people. As more families moved in, they relied on each other, and would gather in the court yard to talk and enjoy each others company. The times sure changed though. The Chicago Housing Authority started neglecting the Homes. Grass would go months without mowing, the appliances would deteriorate without replacement, and the plumbing was left to self destruct. When the CHA didn’t control the Homes, and the police wouldn’t enforce the laws, crime soon ran free to torture the inhabitants of the once grand Henry Horner Homes. The people of Henry Horner, especially the good people, longed for a place that they could sit up at night on a porch without fear. They had a dream of a place without the violence, but many of the people here became so conditioned to think that this is the way it was supposed to be, that a thought of getting out was a fleeting one. Pharaoh, the youngest of the two boys, was a daydreamer in the beginning of the book. The child had his head in the clouds, and often times dreamt of a place that offered safety, and a piece of the "American Dream". The progression in the boy was evident from the summer of 1987, the beginning of the book, and September of 1989, the end of the book. Towards the end, Young, but no longer innocent Pharaoh, asked his mother if all black people were poor. This young child, so conditioned by his environment, had believed that all black people were poor. Where were the role models? Where was the boys father?

Paul Rivers, the husband of LaJoe Rivers and the father of all of her children, was around every now and then. He was a crack addict, and an alcoholic. He did find work every once and a while, but it never lasted long due to his addictions, and bad attitude. LaJoe still said that she was glad that her kids knew who their father was, since it was a rarity that other children had any knowledge of their real father. Since they had little in-house role models the young men of the neighborhood gathered their male roles from the prominent gang heads, and drug dealers that would take them in, or sponsor them. The drug dealers had money, cars, respect, and a place in society. Those characteristics are not much different than those of the role models in the middle class neighborhoods, with the difference being how it was all achieved. Pharaoh and Lafayette were different though. They tried hard to stay away from crime, drugs, gangs, and other forces that would keep them from their common goal, which was to get out.


Getting out to Pharaoh and Lafayette meant graduating from High School and moving out to the suburbs. They looked at it not so much as succeeding, but surviving. To get out of the Homes, meant that they had to survive adolescence, and then High School, and the boys tried desperately to stay on the proper path. They had met friends that would steer to the dark side, but they knew that it wasn’t for them. They also knew though that even if they stayed the path of survivors, and High School graduates, they could get shot at any moment by a stray bullet, or cross fire. This lack of security and certainty is something that can not be understood unless one lives it.

This book leaves these boys at the crossed road of their young lives. When the book ended, September of 1989, the boys were 12 and 15. At this age, the choices, and the pressures to get involved with drugs and gangs are so prevalent and forceful, that many give in just because they think that is the only way to go. Pharaoh and Lafayette, are going to have to stay clear of the pervasive pressures of gangs, and drugs if they plan on accomplishing their dreams, dreams of survival. That survival to them though will mean more than nearly anything I will do in my life. For them to surpass their friends, battle the lifestyle, conquer the schools, and beat the streets, is an accomplishment not only in academics, but in life. I remember how much my High School Graduation Ceremony meant to me, and that is why I didn’t go. I cared so little about graduating that the ceremony meant nothing. That is a luxury that is not bestowed on everyone, and especially not these young men. I have a great respect for these kids, for they have battled unimaginable adversity, and will hopefully overcome all of the hell that was forced upon them in their youth. I hope I am half as strong at 70 as they were at nine and twelve.

Date Mon, 21 Feb 2000 164209 -0600

From Eddie Okelley <eokell@ILSTU.EDU>

Subject Re review response

Sender The Race and Ethnicity Book Review Discussion List

Nice Job! I was unaware of this book, but I do know people even some students that are here at ISU who live in projects in Chicago and the author did an outstanding job at providing an open honest look at the projects in the 21st Century. I was surprised at how well of a job Alex Kotlowitz-described the life of growing up in the ghetto.

P.S. Tell Prof. Klass-Eddie said hi. Keep it up.