Amazing Grace


Amazing Grace, written 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, learning 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