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There Are No Children Here – If I Grow Up

There Are No Children Here – If I Grow Up

“If I grow up, I’d like to be a bus driver.” If — not when. Sentiments like this echo hauntingly through the pages of 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 …

… middle of paper …

…sing 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 black mothers who are prostitutes 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.

The Politics of Poverty Exposed in There are No Children Here

The Politics of Poverty Exposed in There are No Children Here

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 them 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.

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