Walking in the Ghetto

When I was young, probably about 12 or 13 years old, I would do volunteer work in the “First Ward” neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina. I always felt awkward and so completely out of place. As a white girl with fairly nice clean clothes, I couldn’t help but wish I didn’t stand out so much in a way that accentuated the advantages I had versus the severe disadvantages that the residents of First Ward had. Racial and educational inequality is rampant and increasing in America. The photo of Lloyd’s kitchen in “Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago” page 190, of two children sprawled on a filthy disgusting kitchen floor is a haunting memory from the time of helping my mother as she visited Charlotte’s version of the projects. I can’t imagine what it would be like today, after another ten years of disintegration and destitution. Our America is not one and the same with “their” America.

For my racial inequalities essay, I focused on racial segregation of residential areas, and for the educational inequalities essay, the disadvantages to students in schools with high poverty concentrations. Our America tells the story of two boys who are living (if they indeed are still alive) this very life. While their principal stated (in 1993) that she believed that only 5 or 6% of the students would “fall down” and not make it, or drop out. (Our America, pg. 41) Three short years later she dropped the success rate to 50%. However in 1996 only 11 of 40 kids were able to score high enough in reading and math to move on to high school. (Our America, pg. 170) That’s a mere 27.5%!

LeAlan’s finding correlates with what was stated in Amy’s essay “…two independent studies show a high correlation between racially and socio-economically segregated schools and very low graduation rates. Various graduation rates were estimated in many of these states to be lower than 50% for Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans. In fact, all across the south the graduation rate for Black males averaged only 47.4% and 50.9% for Latinos. These statistics are quite far from the 80-90% graduation rates for whites and Asians in these same states. The site also speaks of the poverty levels in these areas stating that, ‘the problems that these schools face are likely to become more severe, because Blacks in all Southern states have faced increasing segregation since 1990 and 9/10 of highly segregated Black or Latino schools experience concentrated poverty.'”

Reading about LeAlan’s moving on to college, while Lloyd remained behind continuing to pursue his elusive high school diploma (Our America, pg. 197) recalled to my mind Christina’s essay “A 1999 report from the U.S. Department of Education showed that 27.5% of Whites had obtained bachelor’s degrees or more, but only 12.2% of Blacks had reached that level. Blacks, moreover, tend to take longer to receive their high school certification, increasing their overall disadvantage,” as quoted by Gamoran.” Really this nails the point in that it was a rare privilege for someone as talented and intelligent as LeAlan to be able to attend college, and Lloyd fell into the distinct disadvantage of being one to “take longer to receive their high school certification”. At twenty years old Janell, LeAlan’s sister, was finally getting her GED (Our America, pg. 183). There is such an undeniable connection between race and poverty and educational inequality.

The second connection I found resonating through out the book was the role of a parent in the success of a child. References to this were found through out the book. Tyrone’s father said of his son (who was involved in Eric Morse’s tragic death) “He’s very smart – ’cause I kept him in the house… I would tutor him for three or four hours. …I feel that when a father and his child are separated, the child has the tendency to take the wrong route in life.” (Our America, pg. 128) Regarding Johnny, the other little boy involved “Johnny’s mom, unfortunately, was one of the people that got hooked on something that was uncontrollable. She would always say that she couldn’t do anything with him, but it’s hard to do anything with a child when they see these types of things going on. Expecting the kids to grow up themselves doesn’t do it. You can’t tell them: “This is right and that’s wrong” when they constantly see you doing wrong.” (Our America, p.121) A young girl, Tymeka who was a resident in the building and friend to both children, said “Johnny was in trouble with the law because he didn’t have the right guidance to scold him and tell him “No is no!” “Right is right!” “Wrong is wrong!” His father was incarcerated and he had a drug-abusive mother…” (Our America, pg. 111)

Lastly, I see now how programs such as the Boys & Girls Club, and SMART Girls in playing a role in the success of children. Several times it was mentioned how children just weren’t safe playing outside. “They named a basketball hoop in Darrow Homes for him [Eric]. What good is it? Who’s playing on it? Is anybody playing basketball over there? No. Why? ‘Cause they can’t. It’s too dangerous. It’s ridiculous.” (Our America, pg. 165) “My kids don’t have a chance to play. I don’t let them go out. I got to keep them in the house, and that’s detrimental for young people.” (Our America, pg. 95) “See, my children stay in. They do not go outside – we have activities in our house that keep them occupied.” (Our America, pg. 97) Talk about disadvantages “No supervised playgrounds, no activities. You don’t have any of the things that kids should have in order to be children and grow up to be healthy adults… Also, there are no role models: fathers, brothers, sisters that get up and go to work every day and who are doing positive things. We don’t have Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Little League – almost anything. So when you don’t have alternatives, I don’t know why society would be surprised at what happens in public housing today.” (Our America, pg. 105 & 106) These programs provide safe places for children to develop and experience things outside their home, but also provide much needed roles models.

This story just moves you to pour your energy, time and money into trying to help the residents, the children, of Ida B. Wells. However taking a broader look leaves you with the realization this was just a portrait of only the bleakest neighborhood in America, and many other stories are waiting to be told from sea to shining sea. A large scale revitalization and re-education process needs to take place to change the trajectory of America’s underprivileged. If the collapse of the family was able to destroy the Roman Empire, then it is imperative that we act quickly to ensure the success of our nation through the involved and successful parenting, engagement and education of our children regardless of race or economic status.

Jones, LeAlan and L. Newman. Our America. New York: Scribner. 1997.

Mclean, Amy. Racial Inequality Essay. Posted online July 5, 2005 10:00 PM

Le, Christina. Educational Inequalities Essay. Posted online July 10, 2005 10:24 PM


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