Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace

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Amazing Grace

 

As part of the summer reading assignment this year, I read the book Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol.  In this documentary-style book, he told about the horrible yet completely realistic conditions of the most poor, rundown neighborhoods and districts in New York City.  Kozol wrote the book for the purpose of telling the stories of the children who lived in these parts of the city.  He dedicated his work to those children and it was his goal to inform readers that slums were in fact in existence and the children who resided there did not deserve to live in such a poverty-stricken area.  The question "Why should their childhood be different from others across the country?" arose often and needs to be examined by all.

            In some ways the stories, accounts and tales of these inner city children were shocking.  I was aware that slums existed, but knew nothing of how they functioned, what living conditions were really like, or how the people there managed to live.  But in no way was I aware that such conditions existed in America, the so called "Land of Opportunity."  It seems it was just the opposite in these ghettos.  There was very little, if any for the people living here.  No chance whatsoever of employment outside the ghetto, or being accepted outside it.  It was their home, they were not supposed to leave it, and when they did they were eyed with hate by other people who did not want to be in their presence.

            I was also mortified by the extremely high amounts of child deaths in this particular ghetto.  It seemed terrible that so many young children were getting killed, whether it be an accidental death in an elevator shaft, and mistaken shootings, or because of the extremely unhealthy conditions they were living in and the poor treatments that were available at area hospitals.  I cannot even imagine myself in those conditions or anyone for the matter.

            The stories of people’s bravery in the face of so much adversity affected me the most.  I am amazed by the people who live in these terrible conditions day after day year after year yet still have the drive to go on and encourage others that things will be better and that one day everything will be all right.

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  I greatly admire the people like Mrs. Washington who raised a boy on her own, with no husband, taught him to live morally in such a place where it was so much easier to live the other way, and then opened her life to Kozol and told him everything about the ghetto.  She lived with extreme determination, and often sacrificed her well being for the sake of others.  She was a real role model for all those living in the ghetto.

            There was not a clear cut solution presented in the book, nor is there just one way to solve these problems.  It seemed like things were still working against pulling the ghetto out of its poverty.  The new mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, had just cut more funding for AIDS programs, an epidemic which ran rampart in the ghetto, and for welfare, which so many people living there counted on for their mere existence.  One solution is to instead increase funding, helping those who live there get jobs, straighten out their lives, but after living there for so long, it would almost be virtually impossible, almost the same as a prisoner who has spent fifty years in prison trying to become part of the outside world.  Another solution is to talk to these people, learn about them, let them get through to you, and to help them in anyway possible, but this too is hard to do.  There is no definitive approach to solving the many problems of poverty, but we should be constantly working towards that goal.

            After reading this book, I do feel some type of responsibility, as I think everyone who reads this book does.  I think that these conditions can not be allowed to continue, and these people living in the ghettos are humans like everyone else and it is completely wrong to segregate or discriminate them.  They should not be treated inferior.  But as much as I would like to do something, it seems hard.  I would be scared to be honest to travel into these neighborhoods and talk to people there.  Sending a check to a charity might help, but in a way that is just giving them a piece of paper once a year and pushing the whole situation out of ones mind.  Something more personal has to be done to alleviate the suffering.  But no matter what it is, these stories and tales of pain and suffering cannot continue, we as moral people need to decide how we can help.
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