There Are No Children Here
Alex Kotlowitz was a freelance journalist. In 1985 a friend came to him and asked him to write a text for a photo essay he was doing on (children living in poverty) for a Chicago magazine. That is when he met the Rivers brothers, Lafeyette, age ten, and Pharoah age seven. He spent only a few hours with them interviewing for the photo essay. Lafeyette had an impact on Kotlowitz. When asked what he wanted to be, Lafeyette responded with "If I grow up, I'd like to be a bus driver." Meaning, at ten years old, he wasn't sure if he'd make it to adulthood. In 1988 Kotlowitz suggested to the boys' mother, LaJoe, the idea of writing a book about Pharoah, Lafeyette and the other children in the neighborhood. LaJoe liked the idea. However, she then said, "But you know, there are no children here. They've seen too much to be children."
Alex Kotlowitz entitled his book, There Are No Children Here. It is a story of two brothers growing up in a housing project of Chicago. By the author following the boys throughout their day to day lives, we, the readers, are also enveloped in the boys' surroundings. We learn about their everyday lives, from how they pick out their clothes, to how they wash them. We go to school with them and we play with them. Throughout the book, we are much like flies on the wall. We see and feel everything the boys' go through at Henry Horner Homes, the project where they live.
LaJoe moved into the Henry Horner Homes in 1956 with her mother and father. Back then it was a beautiful place. There was a green, grass baseball diamond, which was regularly mowed. For the children there was a playground with swings and jungle gyms. The bricks were smooth, the windows were shimmering, and the walls were freshly painted white. The adolescents joined boys and girls clubs, marching bands, and other constructive organizations.
Now things are different. The remnants of grass are dry brown patches, mostly dirt. Where there was once a playground, there is now a shooting. The bricks are now worn and tattered. The windows are either translucent or broken. And the walls are no longer white, rather a dull, yellowish color. Worst of all, instead of joining boys and girls clubs, the adolescents joined gangs.
At the Henry Horner Homes, it was the Conservative Vice Lords that reigned. Led by Jimmie Lee, the gang was in charge of the project. Lafeyette and Pharoah knew all about Jimmie Lee. They knew to keep their distance, but Lee was not solely a villain. To outsiders he was merely a criminal, involved in drug-traffic, home invasions of dope flats, and other crimes. To the residents of the project, Lee was respected out of more than just fear. He never let young teens join his gang. He...