In Kotlowitz’ There are No Children Here the reader is given an all-access account of the harsh life that comes to those who live in America’s inner-city ghettos and housing projects. The subjects of the book, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rogers began like every other child but were forced to deal with horrors from an early age. They are mired with violence, hopelessness, a strained family structure, poverty, and systemic indifference, all while striving to succeed enough to leave behind the housing projects of Henry Horner Homes in Chicago. Through personal accounts, interviews, and first-hand experience, There are No Children Here, talks openly about gangs, a distrust in authority, a lack of growth in the community, drug use, drug dealing, parental indifference, joblessness, poor leadership, and political corruption. Even with all this adversity, we are still given the impression that there is hope for the community and hope for the children. There are policies that can be enacted to fight these problems that, albeit expensive, would certainly be effective.
The single most pervasive problem facing the community is the culture of violence that surrounds all those living in the housing projects. The children are trained to duck and cover when they hear gun shots, adults are to huddle with the children away from the windows, young children are shot and killed in broad daylight, gangs fight and kill each other in plain view, and most of this goes unreported. This sort of situation is like a runaway train, and once it begins it is very difficult to stop. The main cause of this culture of violence, and the catalyst that allowed the problem to grow was the overall distrust in authority that many in the community experienced. This distrust lead to individuals banding together against oppressive authority, and these groups eventually became the gangs that now sell drugs and ravage the community. In order to put a halt to the violence, the gang structure must be attacked with vigor from the top down. This action, matched with public works, and public service projects should go a long way in regaining the communities trust in authority. This trust must be earned, and in order to do so the community leaders and local politicians along with the police, need to show residents that the authority figures are interested in making the community a better place, instead of just arresting people for no reason, as many believe occurs.
The violence within the community is only compounded and highlighted by the rampant poverty. The reader is told of a lack of jobs and job training, lack of job skills, widespread complacency amongst many citizens, unchecked and unaddressed drug use, and a system of welfare that offers families just enough money to survive but not enough to escape. Poverty is not a problem that can just be solved overnight, and throwing money at the situation will do little more than temporarily fix the situation. Widespread changes need to be made to the system in order to improve the lives of these citizens. First and foremost is education. This includes education at all levels, from elementary school to continuing education and job training. We need to start with the youngest children, teaching them the value of education and provide adults with the tools and skills that they need to learn a trade or succeed in their chosen field. Providing adults with the skills they need to learn a trade will allow them to get jobs anywhere, including locally, so that when the time comes for them to move out of the projects they can take their jobs with them. After school programs and job training will also keep the children and adults off of the streets, and thus away from the influence of gangs and drugs. To further combat drugs, rehabilitation programs should be set up within the job training so that people can kick drugs, learn coping skills, get a higher sense of self-worth all while learning skills that will help them in the long run. This will act as a decent deterrent to a life of gang activity, but more needs t be done in order to combat this problem. People join gangs because of the money that they can earn. Little is thought of the consequences beyond jail time. In order to cut down on gang activity, a greater police presence needs to be felt, along with more enforcement of the gang leaders, harsher penalties for violations, and mandatory minimum credits as opposed to minimum sentences. Gang members should be sentenced to job training. This system will not be easy to implement, and comes along with many hurdles but the overall positive effect it could have on the gang members and the community could be outstanding.
Indifference within the system of government, local, municipal, and federal, lead to major problems for members of the Henry Horner Homes. Local politicians are unconcerned, there is a complete lack of communication between the local administrators and the employees that care for the projects, there is a seemly complete lack of infrastructure, extreme budget shortages, poor organization, and corruption. In order to combat this systemic indifference and it’s causes, there needs to be much better oversight. This oversight must come from a third-party, and it must be strict and far-reaching. There can be no stagnation with a focus on continual improvement. Cooperation between leadership and employees is paramount, with open lines of communication being key to a successful turnaround. People within the community should have a greater hand in the improvement of the community. This will give people a greater sense of purpose, and also open the doors for many jobs within the housing projects. Harsh penalties should be instituted for leaders and residents that commit crimes and negative acts against the community. There should be much more accountability and responsibility held at all levels of the organization. Again, this is a scenario where a tremendous amount of money is needed to make immediate improvements, but by no means should the departments in question be overfunded. They should be adequately funded. There should be a total reorganization of the departments, with all fat trimmed to save as much money as possible.
By combining all of the previous mentioned measures, an additional problem can be solved and that is the disintegration of the family. Throughout the book the subjects are surrounded family, yes. However there is little by way of positive male role models. The one boy that Lafeyette really looks up, Craig, is killed by the ATF. By keeping the family structure solid through education, counseling for drugs and family issues, rehabilitation, and most importantly community involvement, we not only preserve the family but also the community. The violence situation will drastically improve, there will be less poverty, and those who run the system will take notice. The people in charge will take notice because there is likely an attitude that people who live in these circumstances are not worth the effort to be cared for, because they do not care for themselves. By reversing this perception, greater attention can be paid to the community and their dreams.
The overarching theme that the reader is met with throughout There are No Children Here is that of hopelessness. Certainly, the children have hope but we see even that fading by the end of the book. The community needs hope in order to survive and by taking the steps discussed here, I believe that this improvement can be achieved. It will definitely not be easy, by any means. Nor will it be inexpensive or short term. Changing an attitude or a way of life for so many thousands of people will be hard work, but will result in a complete and total turnaround for the community. The tools are present, so long as the money and staff are as well. The true test of the communities and cities will be their willingness to take the appropriate steps, and this fact goes for the communities, especially. There has got to be a desire for improvement, a desire change, and a desire for something more from life in order to achieve success.