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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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Pharaoh was much different from Lafayette. He had more of a child’s innocence than most kids in the projects he still liked to chase rainbow with the hopes of a pot of gold at the end. Often times he had a hard time dealing with his environment which lead to him stuttering to the point of not being able to speak at all. Or he would escape into a daydream for long periods of time and usually were hard to wake him from when someone called for him. Lajoe always tried to protect him from the stress of reality in the projects. Eventually, the deaths and arrest of friends started to take his innocence away. This is first noticed when Pharaoh acknowledges his father’s drinking habits.
The truth is all the children in the projects grow up fast. They are subjected to life changing or life threatening decisions everyday of their lives. I have never been to a ghetto; I have never talked to anyone in the ghetto at great lengths. On occasions the news would tell of the horrible drug dealers that killed one another over who is allowed to sell on which corner. The stories in the news never tell how or why a kid may end up in that predicament. After reading this book I do not know if I would make all the right decisions. If one gang were threatening you it would be easy to join the opposing gang for protection. If the family was unsure where their next meal was coming from it would be hard to resist the temptation of selling drugs or other criminal activity to make a quick buck.
Kotlowitz seemed to look forward to helping the boys continuing their education. He helped get both the boys into a private school. Pharaoh seemed to prosper in the private school but Lafayette did not last long there. This book was written in away that stirred emotion in a person.
This book gave the ghetto a name and a face. Those kids do not want to be poor, they do not want to live in the ghetto and they do not want to grow as quick as they have too. Unfortunately, the children never see a way out of the ghetto. The children in this book only had an opportunity to see a hand full of employed men, which mainly consisted of police officers and a few teachers. Public housing was built in a way that increased segregation by location and economic status. When the bureaucrats chose to have high-rise public housing they chose a location that already had a high minority low-income population. The politicians do not want to change the high-rise system because they would lose constituents. The current system does not allow for growth or diversity in the community; the children need to see the possibilities of getting out of the ghetto become a reality.
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