My wife was out with her sister and nieces shopping for a wedding dress, my son was at work, and I couldn’t bear the thought of watching the Eagles game (good call as it turned out).
So I went to my home away from home, the local Barnes & Noble.
I didn’t have any specific book in mind, but given the fact that I’ve been thinking a lot about injustice in the U.S. and the ovarian lottery, along with the fact that it was Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week at Villanova, I drifted towards the Sociology section.
Once there I noticed several books by Jonathan Kozol. I’ve heard of Kozol before, but I haven’t read any of his books. Given how many books he’s written, I thought he must have something to say, and so I picked Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation. Written in 1995, here’s a brief description of the book:
Amazing Grace is Jonathan Kozol’s classic book on life and death in the South Bronx—the poorest urban neighborhood of the United States. He brings us into overcrowded schools, dysfunctional hospitals, and rat-infested homes where families have been ravaged by depression and anxiety, drug-related violence, and the spread of AIDS. But he also introduces us to devoted and unselfish teachers, dedicated ministers, and—at the heart and center of the book—courageous and delightful children. The children we come to meet through the friendships they have formed with Jonathan defy the stereotypes of urban youth too frequently presented by the media. Tender, generous, and often religiously devout, they speak with eloquence and honesty about the poverty and racial isolation that have wounded but not hardened them. Amidst all of the despair, it is the very young whose luminous capacity for love and transcendent sense of faith in human decency give reason for hope.
I got about halfway through the book, and so far it has been mostly depressing.
It was depressing to read about how such poverty can exist in the U.S., and how difficult it is for people in such environments to just survive, let alone thrive. The number of deaths that occurred in such a relatively short time period was staggering, and the deaths were from a variety of causes such as killings, AIDS, and accidents. The lack of effective medical care and job opportunities were also problems for the residents of the South Bronx. It was quite disheartening to read about the seemingly callous attitude of those in positions to do something about these issues. It seems as if many people can’t recognize that this type of poverty exists figuratively, and potentially literally, right in your backyard.
I know the description of the book notes that the children featured offer a reason for hope, but I didn’t get that impression yet from reading the first half of the book. So far, I have a sense that many of the children, while certainly kind and gentle, also seem to have accepted that being surrounded by poverty and danger is the life they were meant to live.
I am looking forward to a more optimistic perspective in the second half of the book.
Side note to B&N customers: When you are finished reading a magazine or book, please just don’t let it sit there for an employee to take care of. You took it out, you should put it away.