This article although it is heartbreaking, can really teach a lot of people something. After reading Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol, I found myself thinking about my own life experiences and even my own thoughts about homelessness and living in unprivileged areas. I know that many people in the world stereotype these people upon first glance, and that is why I really enjoyed this article. Kozol goes into this neighborhood and takes the time to talk to these people, just as they are. He treats them as equals and talks to them as human beings, which is what should happen anyway, but we all know that it does not, and I'm afraid it never will.At the end of this post I have attached some photos of Mott Haven today, to bring the picture that the story paints to life.
"I try to get him to speak about "important" persons as the schools tend to define them. 'Have you read about George Washington?' 'I don't even know the man' he says" (Kozol 9).
The fact that this little boy - who is growing up in New York- does not know who George Washington is, would definitely shock some people. I think this is because many people refuse to see what is going on in the world around them. Why would this boy Cliffie, who is growing up in Mott Haven, New York know about George Washington? He is growing up in a world where it isn't even safe for him to go outside at night, where he can walk down the street and find dirty needles on just about every single corner, and where the majority of the people that he knows and loves have either died of or are suffering and dying of AIDS. Children who grow up in places like this do not focus on people like George Washington, or any of the Founding Fathers for that matter, and although Cliffie does not know who George Washington is, he still proves to be a very bright little boy. He is a product of his environment, and when he is showing Kozol around the neighborhood, it shows. He knows which streets to walk on and which streets to steer clear of, he knows the ins and outs of the neighborhood, and he has seen things that many of us will never see in our lifetime. He may not know who some people are, people that we have spent years and years learning about and admiring, but he knows how to survive every single day, and that is a skill that many of us will never have to acquire.
"Since the time that I met Mrs. Washington,
I have spent hundreds of hours talking with her in her
kitchen. I have yet to figure out what she has done that was
irrational" (Kozol 22).
This quote really speaks to me because Kozol is challenging the beliefs of so many people. As he previously mentioned, many people believe that if "poor people behaved rationally, they would seldom be poor for long in the first place" (Kozol 21). He then describes what he has learned about Mrs. Alice Washington, and he comes to the conclusion that he does not believe that she has made any irrational decisions. This just proves how the world stereotypes people. No one ever thinks that a poor person just fell on hard times, that they somehow lost their job and lost their income. The first thing that so many people, my former self included, would say when they saw a homeless person or someone living in a bad neighborhood, is that they must be a drunk or a drug addict. That they are living this way due to the fact that they spend their money on drugs and alcohol. No one really stops to think that maybe, something happened to them. Many people believe that those who experience hard times, do so because that is what they choose to do. Mrs. Alice Washington, who, before she came to live in Mott Haven, went to college, had a job, and was married. Did she choose to contract the AIDS virus from her husband who was unfaithful? Did she choose to be in an abusive relationship? We all know the answer to these questions, so why do we treat all of these people who are living in these types of neighborhoods the same way. It makes me think back to the old saying "never judge a book by its cover". Meaning that before you know the whole story behind something or someone, you really should not make a rash judgement on them. I really think that is the message that Kozol is trying to send.
"I believe that we were put here for a purpose, but
these people in the streets can't see a purpose. There's a
whole world out there if you know it's there, if you can see it. But they're in a cage. They cannot see." (Kozol 24).
This just solidifies my previous point. People don't see clearly into the lives of the people who live on the streets. People think that all of these people are the same, but here David Washington makes it clear that he sees life beyond his in the South Bronx. He knows that he was put on Earth for a purpose, and can see the whole world at his hands. He knows that many of the people that he lives with cannot see past the hand that they have been dealt, whether it be their own fault or not. These people feel trapped, and because they are not given equal opportunity, their entrapment becomes real. Not everybody who lives on the streets is a drug user, alcoholic, gang member, or prostitute. But isn't that the picture that society paints? David has said that he knows many of the people in his neighborhood do not like him because he refuses to buy drugs and take part in those types of activities. They feel this hatred toward him because they feel trapped inside of this lifestyle, because society has made it so they feel that they can never get out. They are stereotyped by everyone around them, even people like us, who have never met them or seen the way they live. We all have a picture painted in our minds of them, and yet we have never exchanged a single word with them. I think that is the saddest thing of all.
The link above is a little page with some brief history about Mott Haven.