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The Curse of Life in There Are No Children Here

There Are No Children Here – The Curse of Life

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.

Barriers of Color, Prejudice and Fear in There Are No Children Here

Barriers of Color, Prejudice and Fear in There Are No Children Here

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 dow…

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…re 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 frustration, 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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