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The history of Oakley 1 Reply

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History. Last reply by Sheilah Jastrzebski May 16.

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Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Award-winning novelist captures fleeting youthby Rob NeufeldAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad: HarperCollins, Aug. 9, 2016)            The amazing, unusual thing about Jacqueline Woodson’s new novel, “Another Brooklyn,” I realize as it sinks in, is that the initial mystery—that is, why the narrator can’t…See More
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A rare interview, a story about an acid plant

A worker’s view of tannery work in Rosmanby Rob Neufeld             Haskell Luker was 11 when the Flood of 1916 caused his dad, Americus Alfred Luker, to leave the farm where he worked and take a job with an acid (tannin) plant in Pisgah Forest.             “Daddy was going down there to make big…See More
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Interview with Chitra Divakaruni about Before We Visit the Goddess

A talk with Chitra about her benediction of a novelby Rob Neufeld             Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, one of our country’s most engaging and inventive novelists, first came to this region six years ago for Western Carolina University’s Spring Literary Festival.  That’s when I got to know her and began…See More
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Gary Carden's Outlander--about Kephart--at UNCA July 31--with author

Is Carden's Kephart play controversial?Gary Carden's play, "Outlander," receives a "staged reading" in the Reuter Center, UNC Asheville, 2 p.m., Sun., July 31.  Carden will be on hand to discuss the play with the audience.  It is a controversial play in that it has been criticized by the descendants of Horace Kephart who felt that the play "demeaned" Kephart.  "Ironically," Carden says, "my original purpose in writing the play was to 'redeem' Kephart. who has often been denounced by the…See More
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Bring Back the Game

BRING BACK THE GAME     Anna and I basically spent a month in Asheville, NC this summer. We returned to Georgia a few days ago, and while we were glad to get home, as we got out of the car, we were met with the suffocating heat that I still have not become acclimated to even though we have lived in Middle Georgia for over 30 years. Every plant in our backyard had dried up and only the belligerent squirrels had survived the summer’s inferno.      We had a great time in Asheville. We visited our…See More
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Amy Ammons Garza to Present Her Memoir at City Lights Bookstore

August 6, 2016 from 3pm to 4:30pm
Amy Garza will be presenting her new memoir, Appalachian Storyteller in a Feed Sack Dress, at City Lights Bookstore onSaturday, August 6th at 3 p.m. Follow Amy as she tells the story of her life as she lived it, each chapter being a story in itself. These are the compelling stories of a mountain girl who found the courage she needed in her life to listen and retell the stories of her family and heritage.  Amy Garza was born and raised in Western North Carolina, which leads her into her many…See More
Jul 16

Jonathan Kozol's Fire in the Ashes--25-year caring about poorest children

Poor children’s chief advocate reviews his career

by Rob Neufeld

(See voices about poverty in WNC)

 

            The season puts one in mind to read Jonathan Kozol’s new book, “Fire in the Ashes,” his review of 25 years caring and writing about homeless and poor children.

            Not only does this time of year bring to light the anniversary of the birth of a homeless child; it brings to theaters the movie version of “Les Miserables.”

            When the stage musical, “Les Miserables,” premiered in Broadway Theatre in Manhattan in 1987, Kozol was in the area, attending to the residents of the former Martinique Hotel on 31st Street.  The opposite of a miracle, the hotel had been transformed by the city into a nightmarish holding pen for welfare families, a place where guards extorted sex, drug dealers roosted, hunger gnawed, and safety and health went to hell.

            The high-rise was home to 1,400 children, many of whom walked to the theatre district to beg for alms.  The managers of Broadway Theatre had the police lead the children away.

            “People were paying a great deal of money to enjoy an entertainment fashioned from the misery of children from another era,” Jonathan Kozol notes.

 

Child care imperative

 

            There’s a third reason that Kozol’s book is timely.  We hear our president say, in Newtown, that “we bear responsibility for every child,” that caring for our children is our first job, and “if we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.”

            Kozol’s book reminds us that this mission goes beyond protection from guns.

            Kozol had first written about the residents of the Martinique in his award-winning 1988 book, “Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America.”  Its stories of heroic individuals crushed by impossible odds undercut blame-the-victim thinking.

            “Fire in the Ashes” provides an update to fates.  You end up grabbing on to the survivor stories to keep your spirit despite the carnage.

            In one of his eight portraits, Kozol tells about Ariella Patterson, who with her four boys had become homeless when her house had burned up after a boiler tank explosion.

            She applied for housing for the homeless, and went through a “deterrence system,” being put up in an Emergency Assistance Unit (EAU), sleeping on the floor, crowded with desperate people.  Imagine the Superdome after Katrina.

            “If they left an EAU before the city came to a decision,” Kozol writes, “this would indicate (to officials) that they were not ‘truly homeless’ and were not deserving of additional assistance.”

            After a period, Ariella got an apartment in the Martinque, where she heard a little girl had been raped going to throw away garbage in a bin on the stairway landing.

            Eventually, Ariella got a place in Mott Haven, a haven only for garbage-scavenging rats and child-recruiting drug lords.  The high mark for schools in the district was simply retention.

 

What do you do

 

            Ariella tried to combat the influences by taking her boys to museums, concerts, and restaurants. She got a job, but had no car, and came home late via public transportation. 

            Her oldest child, Silvio, 12, became a thief.  When he stole and cashed his mother’s paycheck, she put him in a group home.  He raged against that system without let-up, and pleaded to come home.  Finally, she let him, hoping he’d been chastened.

            He stole his mother’s pager and, when an older boy took it from him, he fought to get it back, and the boy slashed his face multiple times with a box cutter.  Silvio took it as a badge of honor; his hero was Scarface as played by Al Pacino.

            Silvio went train-surfing with his gang, riding atop the cars and playing chicken, for instance sitting up, facing backward as the train moved.  He ducked one bridge, but a second came up quickly, and a girder slammed him in the head and he was killed.  He was 14.

            Ariella felt powerless to counter the effects of slum childhoods.

            Armando, her second son, had been six when they’d become homeless.  He’d registered less of the Martinque’’s depravity.  But Silvio, “the Invincible,” had been his hero, and, though Ariella cut her work hours and came home earlier, she lost control of him.

            He turned 18, was arrested for selling drugs, and went to prison, where he became a heroin addict.  Ariella got him into rehab, but he started drinking.  One night, in a bar fight, a guy he insulted “stabbed him in the arm, cracked his skull, and cut off two of his right fingers.”

            He went back to heroin, and was in and out of prison.  During that time, he got married and had two kids.  On his last trip to prison, he was pulled away from his three-year-old daughter’s birthday party.  That changed him.

            He stayed home and cared for the children while his wife worked a full-time job, and he worked odd jobs.  Still, their income could not prevent their being evicted from rentals on two occasions.

            Ariella’s two youngest boys have fared better.   She got them into less violent and neglectful schools.  The older one is studying to mentor young people before they get into trouble.  The younger is a serious, quiet, and ambitious student.

            Ariella, with support from an Episcopal foundation, organizes an anti-gun and anti-violence campaign, and gives talks.

 

Belly of the beast

 

            I have taken the time to tell a whole story in this review to highlight the dramatic texture of Kozol’s book.

            His first portrait tells of a woman who accepted an invitation from a doctor in a Montana church community to move out there for a new life.  Despite the risk involved in such alienation, Vicky, the mom, thought it better than the killing fields of Mott Haven, to which she had also moved after a stay at the Martinique.

            The re-do was too late for her teenage son Eric.  The mean streets had sabotaged his spirit.

            One day, Vicky got a call from Eric, who sounded scared.  “Mummy, I don’t feel no good.  I need your help.”  She had him come home, and, unfortunately, he came with his delinquent friends.  They went into another room; and after a while, she heard a shot.  He’d killed himself with a shotgun to his head.

            The doctor continues to wonder if he might have gotten through to Eric somehow.  Vicky never recovered; she got sick with pancreatic cancer, moved in with her daughter, Lisette, and her husband near Myrtle Beach, and died there.  Lisette, a mother of four and a , student on the verge of becoming a paralegal in 2009, sees herself as the survivor.

 

The hero’s path

 

            There are many hero stories in “Fire in the Ashes”—agencies and volunteers (Kozol names the Education Action Fund); poor adults and children with amazingly strong and cheerful characters; and mentors, including Kozol, whose last chapter before the epilogue tells about Benjamin, a young man he made his godson.

            Charles Dickens would pale at creating a fiction as degrading as Benjamin’s childhood, and yet, Benjamin pulls through, thanks in large part to Martha Overall, the pastor at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx.  All of Benjamin’s anguish, Martha told Kozol, “intensified his wish to do as much good as he can within this world in the years that God allows us.”

            But the success stories are the rare exceptions, Kozol stresses.  Every child, he insists, should have the resources “now available to children of the poor only on the basis of a careful selectivity or by catching the attention of empathetic people.”

            When Kozol’s spirits flag, he is sometimes uplifted by his former Martinique connections, who keep in touch with him.  A woman named Pineapple reminded him of how he’d advised her about “picking battles that we have a chance to win…and not getting frozen up and flustered in your mind by things that are too big for you and me to change.”

 

BOOK

Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol (Crown hardcover, 2012, 364 pages, $27)

 

LEARN MORE

Visit Jonathan Kozol’s website at JonathanKozol.com.

 

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Wow!  What a powerful book!  Must read.

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