Amazing Grace

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.

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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.

Category: Book Reports