Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol

65 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

Amazing Grace should probably be required reading for everyone. It is required reading in some of the sociology classes at JCJC. That’s why we picked it for our book club this year. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. I knew it was about children living in poverty, and I wasn’t sure how much of that I could handle. I’m still not sure, but I’m glad I read the book. It is an important book with an important message.

We tend to blame the poor for being poor. We blame them for falling victim to the social woes that run rampant in poverty-stricken areas. We expect them to pull themselves out of their own bad circumstances. We look at them and say things like “Get a job.”

We do all of those things without having any idea what it really means to be poor in America. We have no idea how complex the problems are or how difficult they are to overcome. As the book points out, we find a few samples of people who’ve behaved heroically, and we use those as examples in blaming everyone else for not being heroes. We expect more of the poor than we expect of ourselves. We aren’t heroes, but if they aren’t heroes we think they deserve their own fate.

To me, the main message of the book is that among the poor there are so many factors hammering away at any possibility of hope for the future that overcoming poverty is not something anyone could ever be expected to accomplish alone. This might be a country of opportunity (or at least it was prior to the economic crash), but opportunity is not equal for everyone. Kids who grow up hungry don’t have the same opportunities to learn that other kids have. Kids who grow up under constant threat of violence don’t have the same opportunities that other kids have. Kids who grow up with parents who have given up or parents who are sick or parents who constantly struggle just to keep a place to live don’t have the same opportunities.

In these poorest of poor neighborhoods, there are still moments of grace, and you will see that if you read the book, but there are so many burdens. These should be burdens felt by and addressed by us all, but most of society prefers to turn a blind eye, to think that these are someone else’s problems.

Warning — you cannot read this book without feeling guilty about how much you have not done to help the poor. I challenge you to face your own guilt. I challenge you to read this book and really think about what poverty means to the children growing up in America’s worst neighborhoods. I challenge us all to think of something we can do.