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image from goodreads.com

I have read this book two times.  The first time I only made it through the first thirty pages; because, I found myself so shocked and deeply saddened by Kotlowitz’s descriptions of the life experiences of two small boys, Lafayette and Pharoah Rivers, growing up in the Henry Horner Homes projects in Chicago, that I could not or did not want to continue reading.  About a year later, the text was assigned in my Multicultural Education course, and I found myself reading it again and giving a presentation on its contents.  This time I found myself considering the author’s intentions, and regretting my previous decision to ‘close my heart and mind’ to the suffering and injustices in this country that too many Americans are willing to ignore.

The sad truth is that what most Americans know about life in the projects is very superficial.  Reflecting on what I knew before I read this book a few terms came to mind: segregated, poor, welfare.  In the preface to There Are No Children Here: the Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, Kotlowitz explains that the text began as a, “text for friend’s photo essay on children in poverty for Chicago Tribune” (ix).  It became a book changed my conceptions, along with those of millions of others, about life in America’s projects.

Kotlowitz, visits the Rivers family and documents their day-to-day activities over the course of a few years as they struggle through what the average American would find literally unimaginable.  The author uses events and people to show readers a range of social, political, emotional, and cultural issues.  Any single event that occurs daily in the lives of the people in the text from stabbings, shootings, muggings, prison sentences, drug addictions, etc., would be enough to traumatize any person for a life time; but, the people in the text are forced to attempt to survive every excruciating moment knowing something just as horrific will happen again the next day. The author uses his authority as an educated outsider who is able to provide an inside perspective to tell the stories of the silenced.

Since society has chosen to close its eyes to the problems of the people living in the projects, Kotlowitz  uses his white privilege to tell an untold story.  The New York Public Library named There Are No Children Here to its list of the 150 Most Important Books of the Century under the Protest and Progress category along with other monumental works such as, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois, and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  All of these texts share a place on the list because of there importance in raising awareness about severe social injustices in this country.  However, Kotlowitz’s work is unique in because he broke the confines of class and race as an author to impose change.

While many might argue that little has been accomplished to change the overall expanse between minority and majority in America since Kotlowitz entered the projects, the first step to implementing change is awareness.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

For more information:

Film (1993)

Kotlowitz’s other books:

The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, A Death, and America’s Dilemma

Films: Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters