Amazing Grace Essay, Research Paper
Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol.
At first glance, it seems that the author is going to take us on yet another journalistic ride through the land of the poor. Similar to the ones you read about, or hear in the news. However, this is not the case; the real underlying theme is what is society doing about the plight of the poor? Kozol uses the views of children to emphasize that these reports on living conditions are not being obtained by ?disgruntled? adults, but from innocent children whose only misfortune was being born to this particular area.
The author takes us from the seventh richest congressional district in the nation (being E 59th Street in New York City) to the poorest in the nation. A mere eighteen-minute ride by subway to the South Bronx, to a little place called Mott Haven; where the median family income for the 48000 residents is only $7,600. An area known for crack-cocaine and heroin; prostitution; poor hospital care, where one-quarter of new mothers tested in obstetric wards are HIV positive; and the police say is the deadliest precinct in the city.
Kozol writes about the trials and tribulations of everyday ?normal? life for the children and people who live here. Normal for them however is quite different than it is for most of us. Living with drug dealers, pollution, poor hospital care and an abominable education system not to mention the social system of the city, is the ?norm? for these children. In his interviews with the children of this squalid neighborhood, we find that the children speak honestly and freely about their feelings. Forgotten, hidden, abandoned, are just some of the words that come to mind. One boy named ?Malcolm X? wears his hair in a style referred to as ?25 years to life?. His sister asks ?Like in prison..? This is how you want to wear your hair?? His reply ?You don?t have to be in jail to be in prison?. This is just one of many examples given to show the reader the effects that this environment has upon youths.
As we read further, we find that there are multitudes of problems inherent within the South Bronx. One of the only ways of determining where these problems stem from is by looking at the possible reasons as to why they exist. Drugs, violence, AIDS infections, are not new, however this community differs from others in the United States. One of the main differences is that the City has grouped all of these people together and created a ?ghetto? of the lowest income families. Albeit the government helped get these people off the streets and out of homeless shelters and provided them with rent-free housing, they then decided to put them all together in one location. The City has effectively segregated them from the rest of the population and is telling them that they are not worthy of living with the rest of the population.
Another factor involved is air pollution. With an incinerator located right in the middle of the South Bronx, it is no wonder why so many children have asthma. ?According to a zip code breakdown of New York shown ? by Dr. Robert Massad ? asthma statewide in New York is 1.8 per 1000 people. In New York City, it is 2.5 per 1000, but in Mott Haven the rate rises to 6.0? (p. 171). To compound matters of health, the buildings that house these people are both rat infested and in such need of repair that they are borderline condemned. Most of the elevators do not work thus forcing its inhabitants to utilize the stairs which is very time consuming and energy draining; especially for the elderly. Once these people go outside, they are met with an extraordinary amount of drugs and violence and find it much safer to just stay inside their homes.
Cultural differences between these people and those of higher income communities add to the list of reasons as well. Racism is blatantly obvious to the people of the South Bronx, particularly when they leave their district. If someone from this neighborhood goes to a hospital in one of the wealthier districts, they are usually treated in such a way that they don?t feel welcome. One nurse who has been working in the South Bronx for five years tells Kozol, ?As bad as Lincoln or Bronx-Lebanon may be, at least receptionists don?t call a woman of color by her first name. And some of the nurses and housekeepers talk to you! If a woman?s black, Hispanic, and on welfare, maybe a drug user, or has HIV, she knows she isn?t welcome in a first-class hospital. This is not perception. It?s a fact. If they wouldn?t want you as a neighbor, why do you think they?d want you in the next bed?? (p. 175-176) And for those few that actually do get admitted to a facility in the higher income districts, they are placed on ?special? floors dedicated to Medicaid patients. ?On the fifth floor of Mount Sinai Medical Center, a distinguished private hospital, according to the paper, 17 newborn babies are placed in a row in front of a window in the obstetric ward. All are white. One flight down, in the fourth-floor nursery, are 14 other babies- ?all black or Latino.? The fifth floor, supposedly reserved for private patients, offers ?private and semiprivate rooms with bathrooms.? On the fourth floor, black and Hispanic women are assigned, four each, to ?overcrowded rooms? with ?peeling paint? and ?showers in the hallways.? ? Patients on the fifth floor are given classes in nutrition, exercise, breast-feeding, and infant care, which, says a nurse, are not provided to the patients on the fourth floor. On the fifth floor a nurse is instructed not to document the fact of alcohol abuse in making out a patient?s record. On the fourth floor, in contrast, ?nurses?note for the records a mother?s drug or alcohol abuse? and notify welfare officials if a mother uses drugs.? (p. 177)
Education is also in a severe predicament in this area. With major overcrowding, students find themselves trying to learn while jammed into spaces not intended as classrooms, such as stair landings, gymnasiums, bathrooms and even coat closets. These large class sizes make it difficult for students to concentrate on their work and often result in increased disciplinary problems. Teachers therefore find that their effectiveness as a teacher diminishes exponentially as they spend more time trying to maintain order in an overcrowded classroom. Another hindrance to the students? educational process is the physical conditions of these schools and the insufficient supply of proper materials. Most of the students are using outdated textbooks and do not have access to the kinds of materials or equipment that would enhance the learning experience and/or create the opportunity to explore subjects such as science. As for the physical attributes, these school buildings are in horrible condition with ?barrels?filling up with rain in several rooms? Green fungus molds… growing in the corners of the room in which the guidance counselor met kids who were depressed.? (p. 151-152)
Qualified teachers are also in dire need. ??students seldom see a certified teacher but are instructed, for the most part, by ?provisionals,? or permanent subs? (p. 155) while the more experienced teachers are choosing to work in schools located in better neighborhoods that receive better funding.
You would think that with all these negative influences surrounding this community that everyone would lose hope. Fortunately this is not true for many of the children that Kozol both talked to and befriended during his numerous journeys into their neighborhood. The children speak of their problems with a great deal of maturity. Many of them seem far older than their age, for they have felt true abandonment by our city. Many of the issues they have had to deal with are not ones in which we would think of as children?s issues. AIDS for example, is not something that we think children would talk about or even think about. However for the children of the South Bronx, AIDS is a major issue. With one-quarter of the pregnant women in this neighborhood testing positive for AIDS, pediatric AIDS takes a high toll. The numbers of children who have had one or both parents die of AIDS in the South Bronx and surrounding areas is the highest among the nation. ??if the city continues with its present policy of channeling its sickest and most troublesome families, often addicted and quite frequently infected, into housing in this area, it is likely that entire blocks will soon be home to mourning orphans, many of whom will follow their own parents to an early grave.? (p. 194)
The city?s decision to place a waste burner in the middle of the neighborhood only contributes to the residents? view that they are being ?thrown away?. Many of the residents believe that the incinerator is to blame for their health problems. Considering that it burns ?red-bag? products from 14 hospitals (amputated limbs, syringes, fetal tissue, etc.), it would be a tough claim for the City to disprove. Many of the children in this community are only able to breathe with the use of inhalers because their asthma has gotten so bad, presumably from the incinerators? fumes. This brings some questions to the reader?s mind such as, why would the city place an incinerator in this area? Did the city planning board even consider the residents of the area? What did the residents have to say about this? Unfortunately we can only answer the last question with no doubt. The residents do not have much say in city or state political matters. Wealthier and more powerful people who most likely have no first hand knowledge of what life is like in these low-income ?ghetto? communities hold positions in the government. Is there a solution to this?
The solution is to change the whole community, no easy task, which involves more than just direct practice with individuals. Dealing with people on an individual basis gives only individual responses. The problems in the South Bronx are not with the individuals themselves, but rather with the organization of the community. The community must change its? social policy in order to make it a better place to live. The community?s norm is currently violence and drugs. In order to change this, the community must use more education targeted towards social issues in their schools and community to help people learn to live healthier lifestyles. They must make it known that drug dealing and violence are not ?all right?, and to help people obtain some sort of unity. The well known community members need to get involved in politics so that their voices can be heard and let the City know their communities needs/requirements. Creating support groups for people with AIDS, ex-addicts, people who have lost a family member, also for people who just need a place to talk and get their frustrations out would help the community as a whole. If the people of the South Bronx would act as a community bound together to help themselves and each other, there would be less tolerance for deviant behavior among its? members. The City must also be made more accountable for its? actions. Clean up and reconstruction of Times Square to Battery Park is a step in the right direction. However, painting a mural of ?? flowers, window shades and curtains and interiors of pretty-looking rooms?? (p. 31) on the walls of empty buildings in the Bronx, just to give the illusion that this area is a good neighborhood it is not.