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The Role Of African Americans In The

Civil War Essay, Research Paper

Jonathan Kozol’s Amazing Grace is a book about the trials

and tribulations of everyday life for a

group of children who live in the poorest congressional

district of the United States, the South Bronx. Their lives

may seem extraordinary to us, but to them, they are just as

normal as everyone else. What is normal? For the children

of the South Bronx, living with the pollution, the sickness, the

drugs, and the violence is the only way of life many of them

have ever known.

In this book, the children speak openly and honestly about

feeling ‘abandoned’, ‘hidden’ or ‘forgotten’ by our nation, one

that is blind to their problems. Studying the people

themselves would only get us so far in understanding what

their community is really like and why they feel this way.

Jonathan Kozol really got to know the people individually.

We can take his knowledge and stories to try for a better

understanding of the environment in which they live. By

doing this, we can explore the many reasons why the people

have problems, what some levels of intervention could be,

and possibly find some

solutions to making the South Bronx a healthier and safer

place for these children and others to live.

Problem Identification

The environment in which we study these people can only

be defined by first taking a look at possible reasons why the

people have problems. Some of the problems discussed in

Amazing Grace have festered throughout the United States

for some time now. The high numbers of drug users in the

community, the high amounts of gang-related violence, and

the numerous cases of people who have contracted the

AIDS virus are just some of the problems that have arisen in

this ghetto. There are many differences between this

community and others in the United States, one of which is

that the government has grouped these people all together

and made a ghetto of the lowest income families. This has

ostracized them from the rest of the nation. It has given

them many abandonment issues to deal with, while also

telling them they are not worthy of living among the wealthier


Environmental factors are involved in the problems arising in

the South Bronx. Pollution, for

example, could be the biggest source of the high number of

children in the community who have asthma.

Asthma is a condition in which one has trouble breathing.

Without clean air, breathing for an asthmatic is almost

impossible. A waste burner in the middle of the South

Bronx causes a lot of pollution and makes the air the people

breath, below safe levels of cleanliness. Another

environmental factor that affects the resident’s healths has to

do with how most of the buildings in these neighborhoods

are run down and infested with rats. Many of the buildings

have no working elevators. This causes people to have to

walk several flights of stairs each time they want to leave

their apartments. This is very time consuming and tiresome.

Then, when they find that there is so much violence and

drugs in the street, that it is not safe to be out there anyway,

they usually end up staying in their apartments for most of

their free time.

The cultural differences between these people and others of

higher income communities is also a

reason why they may have problems. Racism is very

obvious to the people of the South Bronx, especially

when they go outside of their district. If a woman from this

area goes to a hospital outside of her

district, a hospital that is more than likely wealthier and

cleaner, she is usually turned away and told to go to a

hospital in her own district. Others, who are admitted into

these hospitals, are put on a special floor, mainly for the

lower income or Medicaid patients. (Amazing Grace, p.


Another way the government discriminates against them is

how they are housed. Most of the

residents are living in government housing where the

government pays their rent. When the government

helped the people to get off the streets and out of homeless

shelters and then put them into low cost

housing, they put all of the residents in the same area. This

created their ghetto and kept them

segregated from the rest of the world.

Level of Intervention

If we look at these people through an exosystem, or “a

setting in which a person does not participate but in which

significant decisions are made affecting the person or others

who interact directly with the person,” we would ask the

questions “are decisions made with the interests of the

person and the family in mind?” (Social Work and Social

Welfare, p.79) Did the government really think of the

people of the South Bronx when they grouped all of the

sick, troublesome, and low income families

together in the same community? What kind of opportunity

structure can people have when the government puts them

into never ending situations such as giving them only enough

money to get by, but not enough to get out of poverty?

Some people say that it is not the government’s responsibility

to get people out of poverty, but then whose fault is it that

they got there in the first place? No one asks to be poor, no

one asks to be homeless. Cultural differences are an excuse

some use for treating people of different backgrounds

differently. But can the government also participate in this

obvious form of racism? Our nation has tried for many

many years now to stop racism and prejudices, but the

problem is still prevalent in communities all over the world.

We could also look at the people and their problems using

a macrosystem, or the “‘blueprints’ for

defining and organizing the institutional life of the society,”

(Social Work and Social Welfare, p.79) to

decide if some groups are valued at the expense of others

and do these groups experience oppression? As

we have seen, the people of the South Bronx feel

abandoned, this is a type of oppression. They are

pushed away from the rest of society, where the only place

they can turn is to this community that is

filled with crime, violence, disease, and poverty. The

residents have shared assumptions about what the

government wants and expects from them. The

government’s attitude towards these people is such that the

residents feel devalued and not worthy of being seen or

heard. Without much hope of financial stability, many have

turned to selling and/or using drugs. Selling drugs is seen as

an easy way of making some money, and using drugs keeps

a person on a high so they do not have to face reality. This

just continues the cycle of problems they face since selling

drugs to others keeps those others high, and staying on a

drug induced high only prolongs the problems.

Discussion and Recommendations

Because of all the trials and tribulations they go through, you

would think that everyone in this

community would lose hope. This is not true for many of the

children that Jonathan Kozol talked to and

became friends with on his many journeys into their

neighborhood. The children speak of their problems

with great maturity. Many of these children are far older

than their years on Earth, for they have felt

true abandonment by our nation. Many of the issues they

have had to deal with are not ones which we

think of as children’s issues. AIDS, for example, is not

something that many think of as an issue that

children talk about or even think about. For the children of

the South Bronx though, it is a major

issue. With “one-fourth of the child-bearing women in the

neighborhoods where these children live

testing positive for HIV,” (Amazing Grace, inside cover)

pediatric AIDS takes a high toll. The numbers

of children who have had one or both parents die of AIDS

in the South Bronx and surrounding areas is the highest

among the nation. If the government keeps sending the low

income and troublesome families into these neighborhoods,

“it is likely that entire blocks will soon be home to mourning

orphans, many of whom will follow their own parents to an

early grave.” (Amazing Grace,

p. 194)

The government’s placement of a waste burner in the South

Bronx is another prime example and a

reason why the children feel like they are being “thrown

away.” Many residents believe that the waste burner is to

blame for their health problems. Many children in the

community are only able to breathe

with the use of a breathing machine because their asthma has

gotten so bad.(Amazing Grace, p. 170) Why

then would the city decide to put one there? Did the city

have the residents in mind when they built the

waste burner in this community? The residents do not have

much of a say in city, state or governmental

issues. Positions in government are held by wealthier and

more powerful people who more then likely have no first

hand knowledge of life in a low income ghetto. How can we

change this?

To change a whole community involves much more then

direct practice with individuals. Counseling

people on an individual basis gives individual responses.

The problems of the South Bronx are not with the individuals

themselves, but rather community organizational problems.

Changing the social policy of the community is of utter

importance in making it a better place to live. The norms for

the people in

these neighborhoods have gotten to be that of violence and

drugs. These are not healthy norms. To

change them, the communities could use more education on

social issues in the schools and communities to

help the people learn to live healthier lifestyles, to get the

word out that violence and disruptance are

not all right, and to help the people obtain some community

unity. Getting some of the well known

community members involved in politics is another way they

could get their voices heard and let the

government know their needs and desires. Support groups

held for people with AIDS, for people who have lost loved

ones, and also for people who just need a place to talk


their emotions and get their frustrations out, would help the

community as a whole and get more people

involved in the healing process of that community. If the

people in the South Bronx would act as a

community bound together to help themselves and each

other, there would be less tolerance for deviant

behavior among it’s members. Then the ones who act

defiantly could be out-numbered, and the good

citizens of the South Bronx could reclaim their homes and

their lives.

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