Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Kozol, is about the author’s interviews with, and thoughts about, some of the poorest people who live in the poorest sections of New York. The facts stated in Amazing Grace startled me with the prevalence and desperation of the poverty situation in areas like the South Bronx and Mott Haven. These are areas where there are hundreds of thousands of people living in broken, crowded, and rundown apartment buildings, “That,’ says Kozol, “most people would not even kennel their dogs in.’ (pg. 51) I have been to areas near my home that I thought were poverty stricken, but they pale in comparison to some of the situations that I read about in Amazing Grace.
On the very first page I was surprised by the fact that, “In 1991, the median household income of the area, according to the New York Times, was 7, 600 dollars.’ (pg. 1) I was amazed that a family of three or four could sustain themselves on such a small income (I make more than that and could not even come close to supporting myself), then, as I read about the conditions that they live in I realized how they did it. Without luxury! The number of buildings that are rat infested, have faulty wiring, bad elevator doors, and broken staircases are incredible. If you were to put animals in “housing’ like that you would have all kinds of rights activists on your back for being inhumane, yet we house people there. Why? Because they are poor and not white is the only reason I can think of. After the people are put into the “housing’ in those neighborhoods, they are even further broken down by the poor services given to them.
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For instance, hospitals (who have employees with cards saying not to take them in an emergency to the hospital where they work) and schools that are so small and have so many students that they have to hold classes in the hallways and bathrooms. They are furthermore burdened by a Police force that when called for a burglary, shows up three hours later saying, “The truth is, when your call came in three hours ago, a number of us heard it but we all knew the address and no one wanted to respond because nobody wants to come here to this building. Everyone is scared.’ I was shocked that someone in that profession would say that so easily, as if it were expected behavior. One question the book poses is “How does a nation deal with those whom it has cursed.’ A start would be to cut some of the funding that is used to help foreign Country’s until we help our own. Use that money to create jobs, after school programs and more drug rehab centers, clean up the hospitals and build better schools so that these people at least have a fighting chance to better their lives and contribute positively to society. The list of things that are horribly wrong in these neighborhoods is virtually endless and the interviews in Amazing Grace only touch the surface of them.
As members of the working, middle, and upper class, we need to change the way the poor are seen. As long as the poor remain repressed and regarded as inferiors, we can not make a change for the better and we will continue to have the same problems we have now, only they will escalate even further, as they have been doing for longer than I can remember.