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Alex Kotlowitz discusses his book "There Are No Children Here"

BROADCAST: Feb. 28, 1991 | DURATION: 00:53:18

Synopsis

Discussing the book "There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing up in the Other America" with author Alex Kotlowitz. Includes excerpt from WFMT doumentary, "Born to Live".

Transcript

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Studs Terkel Now and then you come across a book and you say, that's it. There's nothing more to be said, simply to read it. And I'm talking about a book called, the title is, "There Are No Children Here." And the subtitle, "The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America," and the author is Alex Kotlowitz. And Alex Kotlowitz is a journalist for "The Wall Street Journal's" Chicago office, and a few years ago did several pieces on a couple of kids, a couple of brothers, one 8, one 11, at the Henry Horner public housing project. And out of that series, his interest became the interests of the people in that project. And so he's not just a journalist reporting something detachedly, he became a friend, especially of these two boys--Pharoah Rivers, age 8, and his brother Lafeyette Rivers, aged 11, and their mother, LaJoe. And that's pretty much how it began, didn't it?

Alex Kotlowitz It is. I met them a few years ago and sort of became good friends with them, as you said, and was horrified by their stories. And also sort of horrified by the silence, that nobody seemed to be paying any attention.

Studs Terkel But you were thinking of a title. And, so, you now practically lived with the kids in there, you were there almost every day?

Alex Kotlowitz I was there almost every day for about a year.

Studs Terkel For about a year?

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel And this was, by the way, this knocks the hell out of the whole myth of "objective" journalism. We have to make one thing clear: Alex Kotlowitz and this is--was not an objective journalist.

Alex Kotlowitz No, no. I mean, I was, I mean, I make note of that in the book. But the kids are--and I have become very good friends.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about the title now--"There Are No Children Here." You were wondering--once, I remember you--we talked about it, what's a good title. And the mother, LaJoe Rivers, so, perhaps, describe it. She said?

Alex Kotlowitz Well, when I first approached her about doing the book back in, I think, 1988, I said to her, I said, "LaJoe, what do you think about the idea of my doing a book about your two sons, Lafeyette and Pharoah, and the other children in the neighborhood?" And she said to me, she said, "That sounds like a wonderful idea, Alex, but you know there are no children here. They've seen too much to be children." And, indeed, they have seen too much to be children.

Studs Terkel And the remarkable thing about it is survival of a certain kind of vision, an innocence of a child. Especially 8-year old Pharoah. We're talking about survival, aren't we?

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah, no, survival, and there's sort of the incredible resilience and tenacity of children. And the sadness of it is that these children, as they get older, they begin to lose that. And--but they hold onto it with such a tight grip. I mean, for Pharoah, for example, who when the book opens is eight or nine years old, he talks about how he's too, when things terrible happen in the neighborhood his response is, "I'm too young to understand. I'm too young to understand." And he didn't want to understand. And that was his way of keeping some distance from it, emotionally.

Studs Terkel But his brother, who cares for him, they both, now, takes care of him--Lafeyette.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Three years older, 11, is far from a child. In fact, perhaps describe the family.

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah--

Studs Terkel Well, first of all, now you've got to describe Henry Horner Homes.

Alex Kotlowitz Well, the Henry Horner Homes is a public housing complex. It was built in the mid-1950s and it's a stretch of eight blocks. And they're just concrete buildings and they were built on the cheap. They were built as a massive national housing program. And as you go into the buildings you can see how they were built on the cheap--the walls are made out of cinder block, the walls of the bedrooms are cinder block. The elevators are all--there's no door, no lobby--there's just a tunnel that runs through the building. So there's no buzzer system, no--anybody comes and goes as easily as the wind. And there's, the elevators are exposed to the elements, and these, and the elevators now, which often don't run, are made out of this steel; it's like going into a steel trap when you go into these elevators. And they're all high-rises. I mean, they just stack people on top of each other so it's just awfully crowded. And they've done very little work on these buildings since the 1950s. It's been--

Studs Terkel And you describe the 50s too, where she thinks back--the mother, LaJoe--thinks back how exciting it was at that moment.

Alex Kotlowitz Her family was the first family to move into their building. And she still remembers that day. She was, I believe, five years old at the time. And she talks of--and I've talked to her and her sisters, and they talked about how the bricks were red as licorice, and the windows were shimmery, and they were so excited that they'd moved into a f--they moved into a five-bedroom home, and it was spacious, and it was just, it was so quiet you could hear the birds singing on the day they moved in. And, of course, now, I mean, everything is drowned out by the sounds of children, and gunfire at night, and it's just--

Studs Terkel You said something just then, you said it so casually--children and gunfire.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. It's something that happens so regularly there that you--

Studs Terkel There is, in the midst of this violence, there is that, because there are drug wars, and the gangs, the Disciples and the Vice Lords. And if one kid walk with their, with the cap turned to the left in the wrong neighborhood, he's liable to get shot.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel It's, there is this--this is pervasive, isn't it?

Alex Kotlowitz No, quite, very pervasive. I mean, even the young children have to sort of make some decision early on as to what section of the neighborhood they're going to be able to go and not to go. Lafeyette and Pharoah, for example, won't cross over the Damen Avenue, which is sort of the dividing line between the two gangs. But just to describe the family very quickly--so, LaJoe's was the first family to move in there and now they live in a, they live on the first floor in a four-bedroom apartment. And it's LaJoe, who is now--she's now 38. And she's got Lafeyette and Pharoah, and she has a set of eight-year-old triplets--two girls and a boy. And she has, in addition to that, two older boys and an older girl. And one of the older boys is in prison for armed robbery.

Studs Terkel That's Terence.

Alex Kotlowitz Terence, right. And one of the boys is now married--

Studs Terkel 18? About that?

Alex Kotlowitz He was 18 in the book, yeah, when he--a very, sort of troubled kid and a very troubled child. And she's got--he has an older sister, LaShawn, who is a drug addict.

Studs Terkel And LaShawn also has her boyfriend, her boyfriend's brother, living, all living there.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. It's a very crowded apartment. There are anywhere from 11 to 14 people living at one time.

Studs Terkel And her husband, Paul, is in and out sometimes.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel He's been strung out on drugs.

Alex Kotlowitz And a very bright man. I mean, a very bright man.

Studs Terkel You met him. You met the mother. All living in this place. What is, what stands out about LaJoe, the mother, is her absolute generosity of spirit. She welcomes--by the homeless people wandering in and out, now and then, this is the most--here we are, at a public housing project, you know, horrendous shape, yet they take in the homeless [and people like that?].

Alex Kotlowitz I know. She has trouble turning away, turning people away. I mean, particularly her own relatives and children.

Studs Terkel What you do in the book, aside from getting inside the minds, the spirit of 8-year old Pharoah, 11-year old Lafeyette, and the others, too. Terence, we said, 18 when he was arrested for robbery. You also get into Terence's mind and we know what this kid was thinking of as he and the other guys were planning it or not planning it. And, to me, the book is just stunning. And this could be a turnaround of thoughts on the part of a great many people.

Alex Kotlowitz Well, I certainly hope so. And my reason for focusing on the children is that whatever you can say about the adults, it's the children who are innocent of what is and of what could be. And it's, I hope it's the only way to sort of break the silence.

Studs Terkel You talk about how the child adjusts to the violence and the shooting. Pharoah, or was it Lafeyette, the mother was warning when you--of course, they just were able to get out of the way. So, "He was afraid"--Lafeyette, who takes care of his kid brother. Lafeyette, has his own troubles at, but, I mean, he's in trouble from 13 on, about that. But old Pharoah, he likes school. And he daydreams.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. He does.

Studs Terkel And he follows rainbows! There's a great scene of following the rainbow. An act toward the very end. He sees that rainbow.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. He sees a rainbow and he just, Pharoah just wants to--he wants to chase it. He's heard from when he was a little kid that at the end of the rainbow there might be some gift for him there. And, so, he actually drags an older boy and they go running, chasing the rainbow, almost all the way down to Cook County Hospital, which is about a mile away.

Studs Terkel But Pharoah, this is about the shooting, almost, they got away from. "Lafeyette saw his little brother running and then taking cover behind the trees," this is an incredible scene, "and lost sight of him. 'Mama, lemme go get him,' Lafeyette begged. He was afraid that Pharaoh would run straight through the gunfire. Pharoah would later say he had learned to look both ways." And "'My mama told me when you hear shooting, first to walk because you don't know where the bullets are coming.'" And, so, here you have that casual acceptance.

Alex Kotlowitz Well, it's an acceptance on the one hand. They learn, the children learn, in a sense, how to deal with it. I mean, they learn how to protect themselves. But I don't think that they ever get used to it. There's no getting used to it.

Studs Terkel But he clutches on to childhood.

Alex Kotlowitz Yes.

Studs Terkel Spelling bee, the schools, he was bright in school, though daydreaming a lot. Lafeyette, troubles. But, the question of mortality; in many cases these kids, 11, 12, talk about their own mortality.

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah. I mean, life for them is not a given. And if, for them it's something that they really have to--I mean, something as fundamental as life is not given to them, and they have to strive for it. There's one scene at the end of a funeral where two boys, Lafeyette is talking with a friend, and one of them, and it's a funeral of a boy who was shot by another gang member and--

Studs Terkel This is Bird Leg? A kid named Bird Leg. Who

Alex Kotlowitz

Studs Terkel Right. Right. Bird Leg. Who loves animals.

Alex Kotlowitz Who loves animals, loves dogs. And Lafeyette just really admired Bird Leg. Bird Leg was a little older than he. And at the end of the, as they walk out of the funeral, Lafeyette says to a friend, he says, "You know, I don't want to," he says, "I don't want to die like that." And the other boy says to him, "I just want to die just plain out," meaning I want to die just of natural causes. And there's this constant fear that they're somehow going to get caught up in the crossfire between the gangs. Or that they may get caught up in drugs which is a slow kind of death.

Studs Terkel We can talk about the drugs, too, and the drug dealers, the kids, and how they become, and why they become and what it means to the community, too. There's one scene there that's a stunner; so much of the book is that. But about the matter of mortality--"Will I grow up?" Well, they say, "if I." So, Carla, Carla Palmore, 17-year old friend of Bird Leg's, who was killed, and she's going to make a eulogy, offer a eulogy for Bird Leg. Of course, the place is crowded, and "through her speech underlined the feeling among her peers that many of them like Bird Leg might not make it to adulthood. And during an impromptu sermon, Lafeyette, and James, and the others in the church"--James, a friend of Lafeyette, a cousin, I think.

Alex Kotlowitz Just a friend. A friend.

Studs Terkel "Had nodded in assent." And here's the part: Carla's saying, "Tomorrow is not promised for us. So let's take advantage of today. Some would take tomorrow for granted. Tomorrow's not promised for us." Now, when I heard that, I fell off my--when I read that in--page 49 of the book we're talking about, "There Are No Children Here," with the author Alex Kotlowitz. When I read that sequence I fell off the chair, because about 30 years ago Jimmy Unrath and I did a documentary for WFMT. And let's hear just a piece--a little child is tal--it was the West Side of Chicago, near the Jane Addams homes, there was trouble. There were some Black kids, and Latino kids, some Greek, and Italian kids. A little trouble, and I wandered about there--not as you did, so much knowing the kids. Mine was a kind of a haphazard, three-, four-day venture. And, so, they're skipping rope, and we hear a drum and bugle corps in the background suddenly coming in, and I'm talking to the various kids and then asking a rather silly, usual question. This is what we hear: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Child #1 I don't know. I just want to see what I'm--I want to see if I'm a grow up first. I mean, I might not live to be grown up.

Studs Terkel Why do you say that?

Child #1 Cause I don't know when my time will come.

Studs Terkel

Child #1 Huh? I don't know when I'm a die yet. I don't know what may happen. My life wasn't promised to me.

Child #2 Oh, come now.

Child #1 My life wasn't promised to me. And I never know if I could die overnight or nothing. So, today wasn't promised to me.

Child #2 It was.

Child #1 It what?

Studs Terkel What?

Child #2 In the Bible it was.

Child #1 It what!?!

Child #2 It was!

Child #1 It what!?!

Child #2 It was!

Studs Terkel And then they got into the argument--"It was promised!" "No, it wasn't!" "It was!" "It wasn't!"--as they're skipping rope. And these are kids eight-, nine-, 10-years old.

Alex Kotlowitz Well, the most amazing thing to me, Studs, is that here you were, 30 years ago, out in these neighborhoods, and these kids clearly felt the same way. And it has only gotten worse.

Studs Terkel Which, of course, leads and, of course, you touch this, you don't miss a [bat?] in this book, you touch every aspect of it. It's only gotten worse. Of course, you speak of the powers that be, and attitudes toward this. Remember at the beginning, you were saying, when LaJoe, the mother, moved in, built on the cheap? And then there were self-righteous editorials in the papers. The same papers we look at today, so virtuous, and full of righteousness.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel And about "don't spoil these people?"

Alex Kotlowitz No, absolutely, and not only that, I mean, there was terrible racism involved as well. I mean, all the public housing, when it was proposed the white aldermen would have, hear nothing of having it built in their wards, their neighborhoods. And, so, these high-rises became the anchors for already existing ghettos. I mean, it was sort of predisposed to end up the way it was.

Studs Terkel Yeah. We gotta pick up, though, with the story of this family, the Rivers family--LaJoe, and especially Pharaoh and Lafeyette, age 8 and 11, and about childhood. The subtitle, of course, is "The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America." And the last time "The Other America" was used by Michael Harrington. Remember? Talking about, well, discovering there were poor people in the country during the 50s. And here it is, the other America. Doubleday, the publishers. If I seem enthusiastic about this book, that's a mild commentary. It's, suddenly you read it, and wham. And what you did, Alex, is what I find so astonishing--you entered the minds, and the thoughts of these kids and the others. And this is not, and if ever there, this, something can put to sleep that myth of "objective" journalism, the meaninglessness of it, this book could do it. Well, I hope it does more than that. "There Are No Children Here." So this is the area, we talked about the shootings--how come? And the why of it.

Alex Kotlowitz Well, most of the, a lot of the shootings are between the different gang factions which have, and, I mean, it's plain and simple. I mean, it's over territory and where they can sell their drugs. And it's over money which is very scarce in these neighborhoods. And, so, much of it is over drugs. But also, the other thing is, a lot of it is just growing up in that environment. I think kids end up becoming violent in the way they just interact with each other.

Studs Terkel You even got into the thoughts of some of the drug dealers. There's a guy who becomes both--Jimmie Lee.

Alex Kotlowitz Jimmie Lee, the head of the--

Studs Terkel Now, Jimmie Lee is a power, isn't he?

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah. Jimmie Lee was the head of the Conservative Vice Lords in Henry Horner and somebody I never met but he was sort of viewed with a mixture of awe and respect and also utter fear and terror. He was a person who people have told me that they, people had a lot of hope that he would become a real positive force in that community. And instead he became the head of a gang that was selling an estimated--were selling drugs that were estimated, sometimes it was worth a million dollars a week.

Studs Terkel You're talking here about something. And this is that twilight zone: What if? What might have been? Jimmie Lee had all the qualities of affirmative leadership, became this. Because they looked upon him a certain way--ambivalently. The cops, too, by the way. The cops who knew him, the guys who worked around there.

Alex Kotlowitz I have a lot of sympathy for the police. There's just an incredible amount of distrust in this neighborhood, not only from the community towards the police and vice versa, but also between the residents of the community themselves. And, so, it's very hard for the police to go out and really try to gather information from other people. And so there is a certain kind of, at some point a certain kind of acceptance. And Jimmie Lee, who is, as a lot of these drug dealers are, is very wise. He never carried a gun. He never carried drugs--or very rarely. He eventually got caught. But he--

Studs Terkel So, Terence--some of these little kids like Terence, maybe was 16, the brother of Pharoah and Lafeyette, who was in jail because of the robbery. At 18, arrested. But he was still, the kids watch or, and they get paid a couple of hundred bucks a day.

Alex Kotlowitz Well, Terence actually sold drugs when he was 12-years old for a dealer.

Studs Terkel But when his mother's in trouble, there he is with the dough.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. He came, his father lost--one Christmas his father was robbed and lost, I think, four or five hundred dollars. And Terence, who had not been home for a number of weeks, he was living at the house of a drug dealer, actually heard about the robbery and came up with the money, and had another friend, a young boy, deliver the money to the family, to his mother.

Studs Terkel Yeah. But doesn't, this also explains what it is that allows it to some extent, too. There's one kid who killed himself, didn't he? Wallace? Or some--he left a note. A cop--

Alex Kotlowitz Oh, right.

Studs Terkel Found the note.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. One of the--

Studs Terkel Left an incredible note. An essay.

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah. One of the, Neal Wallace--

Studs Terkel Neal Wallace.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. One of the leading drug dealers. He didn't kill himself. He was killed but they found a, he, they found an essay he had written, the police had found an essay in one of his jacket pockets, in which he talked about that he was doing what he was doing so that the next generation of Black children could become lawyers and doctors. And, clearly, the sense that he was doing--while he was doing wrong, he ultimately was doing right by his community.

Studs Terkel Yeah. It's a rationalization. At the same time, an example. See, again, I marvel at what you've been able to do with this book. And even as you, as we read the book--it reads like a house afire--we're following Pharoah and Lafeyette and their adventures. In the very beginning, the very opening--"Give me your hand," says Lafeyette to his younger brother as they near the railroad tracks." Gathering what?

Alex Kotlowitz They were looking for snakes. They were up on the railroad tracks, a viaduct near the house, trying to find some garter snakes that they could take home as pets. They had heard they could find them up there. And, of course, they didn't quite know where to look, and--

Studs Terkel And, so, there's a train there, flowers around and about, and you describe that scene, of there in the distance is the Loop, and those tall buildings--another planet, really. And here flowers, in the middle of all the--but then, this part, is int--again, we know about people on trains, sometimes [suburbians?] worry about it, some crazy kid--usually meaning, of course, Black--are going to shoot randomly at them. These kids have their, they have their own fears that the people on the train are going to shoot at them!

Alex Kotlowitz Right. No, absolutely. In fact, I was--what I did, in fact, to recreate the scene, is I went up to the railroad tracks with Pharaoh and he and I spent a couple of hours just sitting there one summer day. And there was a train, a commuter train, coming from downtown and Pharoah got--I could just see him getting all tense. And he insisted that I get down in the bushes with him. And I said, "Pharoah, what's wrong? What's wrong?" And he pulled me into the bushes with him and he was--and apparently the kids were so afraid that they were going to be shot at from the commuters who were passing by because they were trespassing on this property. And it's this sense that nobody quite knows who the enemy is.

Studs Terkel "Some of the commuters had heard similar rumors about neighborhood children and worried that, like the cardboard lions in a carnival shooting gallery, they might be the target of talented snipers. Indeed, some sat away from the windows as the train," here you, with 8-year old Pharoah looking, "as the train passes through Chicago's blighted core. And the boys who have felt the commuters were crack shots." And, so, your last sentence of that paragraph: "For both the boys and the commuters, the unknown was the enemy." "The unknown was the enemy." And what the book--your book, Alex Kotlowitz--and "There Are No Children Here" is precisely that. You make them known. You reveal.

Alex Kotlowitz And as I said earlier, I mean, my reason for doing this book is because of the silence that surrounds these neighborhoods. That there is just utter silence surrounding the lives of these children.

Studs Terkel Of course, "It ain't right. Peoples fighting peoples." This is 8-year old Pharaoh saying, "It ain't right, peoples fighting peoples." He knows.

Alex Kotlowitz The kids have a terribly strong sense of justice, and right and wrong. That's the wonderful thing about children is that they are, I mean, they're filled with this sense of fairness and truth. And in some ways that's what made it so much fun and so easy to work on the book because the kids were just such a bright light in all of this. Of course, the sad thing is that they get older, and they get older and they grow older in this environment and they grow old [quickly? quicker?].

Studs Terkel We're seeing this happening to Lafeyette. Lafeyette, not quite as innocent as Pharaoh, nor as imaginative. But there, but caring response--he took care of the house pretty much, didn't he?

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah. Lafeyette was a--is--a kind of man-child, and he is somebody, a boy who keeps everything inside. He has terrible stomach problems as a result. And part of it is that he cares so much about everybody and everything. And he doesn't have time and a sense to take care of himself. And so he spends his time worrying about his older brothers, and older sister, he worries about his father. He's so protective of his mother. And in the end it's himself who ends up suffering because he doesn't, he doesn't watch out for himself.

Studs Terkel And when his friend, a man named Craig Davis, who the community liked, full of--he's sort of a disc jockey [at the club?], is shot in a horrendous way. This is one case the cops never apologized or anything for it.

Alex Kotlowitz No.

Studs Terkel And that, [that's where?] Lafeyette's despair and cynicism took over--with the death of Craig Davis.

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah. I think that was a kind of breaking point for Lafeyette. I mean, it was a, his--Craig Davis was an older boy who was 19 who Lafeyette just idolized. I mean, you can remember being, Lafeyette was 13 at the time, and you can remember always--as a child I can remember latching on to an older boy who I just thought was the ultimate. And Craig was a boy full of verve, and vigor, and he played, he would disc jockey and they'd have dances in front of the building. And sadly, Craig was shot in the back of the head. An accidental shooting by an Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent. It's still unclear to this day why or exactly what happened. And never, no apologies. No word of sorrow. And, in fact, afterwards they slandered him and said he was a gang member which he [wasn't?].

Studs Terkel

Alex Kotlowitz Now and then you come across a book and you say, that's it. There's nothing more to be said, simply to read it. And I'm talking about a book called, the title is, "There Are No Children Here." And the subtitle, "The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America," and the author is Alex Kotlowitz. And Alex Kotlowitz is a journalist for "The Wall Street Journal's" Chicago office, and a few years ago did several pieces on a couple of kids, a couple of brothers, one 8, one 11, at the Henry Horner public housing project. And out of that series, his interest became the interests of the people in that project. And so he's not just a journalist reporting something detachedly, he became a friend, especially of these two boys--Pharoah Rivers, age 8, and his brother Lafeyette Rivers, aged 11, and their mother, LaJoe. And that's pretty much how it began, didn't it? It is. I met them a few years ago and sort of became good friends with them, as you said, and was horrified by their stories. And also sort of horrified by the silence, that nobody seemed to be paying any attention. But you were thinking of a title. And, so, you now practically lived with the kids in there, you were there almost every day? I was there almost every day for about a year. For about a year? Right. And this was, by the way, this knocks the hell out of the whole myth of "objective" journalism. We have to make one thing clear: Alex Kotlowitz and this is--was not an objective journalist. No, no. I mean, I was, I mean, I make note of that in the book. But the kids are--and I have become very good friends. I'm thinking about the title now--"There Are No Children Here." You were wondering--once, I remember you--we talked about it, what's a good title. And the mother, LaJoe Rivers, so, perhaps, describe it. She said? Well, when I first approached her about doing the book back in, I think, 1988, I said to her, I said, "LaJoe, what do you think about the idea of my doing a book about your two sons, Lafeyette and Pharoah, and the other children in the neighborhood?" And she said to me, she said, "That sounds like a wonderful idea, Alex, but you know there are no children here. They've seen too much to be children." And, indeed, they have seen too much to be children. And the remarkable thing about it is survival of a certain kind of vision, an innocence of a child. Especially 8-year old Pharoah. We're talking about survival, aren't we? Yeah, no, survival, and there's sort of the incredible resilience and tenacity of children. And the sadness of it is that these children, as they get older, they begin to lose that. And--but they hold onto it with such a tight grip. I mean, for Pharoah, for example, who when the book opens is eight or nine years old, he talks about how he's too, when things terrible happen in the neighborhood his response is, "I'm too young to understand. I'm too young to understand." And he didn't want to understand. And that was his way of keeping some distance from it, emotionally. But his brother, who cares for him, they both, now, takes care of him--Lafeyette. Right. Three years older, 11, is far from a child. In fact, perhaps describe the family. Yeah-- Well, first of all, now you've got to describe Henry Horner Homes. Well, the Henry Horner Homes is a public housing complex. It was built in the mid-1950s and it's a stretch of eight blocks. And they're just concrete buildings and they were built on the cheap. They were built as a massive national housing program. And as you go into the buildings you can see how they were built on the cheap--the walls are made out of cinder block, the walls of the bedrooms are cinder block. The elevators are all--there's no door, no lobby--there's just a tunnel that runs through the building. So there's no buzzer system, no--anybody comes and goes as easily as the wind. And there's, the elevators are exposed to the elements, and these, and the elevators now, which often don't run, are made out of this steel; it's like going into a steel trap when you go into these elevators. And they're all high-rises. I mean, they just stack people on top of each other so it's just awfully crowded. And they've done very little work on these buildings since the 1950s. It's been-- And you describe the 50s too, where she thinks back--the mother, LaJoe--thinks back how exciting it was at that moment. Her family was the first family to move into their building. And she still remembers that day. She was, I believe, five years old at the time. And she talks of--and I've talked to her and her sisters, and they talked about how the bricks were red as licorice, and the windows were shimmery, and they were so excited that they'd moved into a f--they moved into a five-bedroom home, and it was spacious, and it was just, it was so quiet you could hear the birds singing on the day they moved in. And, of course, now, I mean, everything is drowned out by the sounds of children, and gunfire at night, and it's just-- You said something just then, you said it so casually--children and gunfire. Right. It's something that happens so regularly there that you-- There is, in the midst of this violence, there is that, because there are drug wars, and the gangs, the Disciples and the Vice Lords. And if one kid walk with their, with the cap turned to the left in the wrong neighborhood, he's liable to get shot. Right. It's, there is this--this is pervasive, isn't it? No, quite, very pervasive. I mean, even the young children have to sort of make some decision early on as to what section of the neighborhood they're going to be able to go and not to go. Lafeyette and Pharoah, for example, won't cross over the Damen Avenue, which is sort of the dividing line between the two gangs. But just to describe the family very quickly--so, LaJoe's was the first family to move in there and now they live in a, they live on the first floor in a four-bedroom apartment. And it's LaJoe, who is now--she's now 38. And she's got Lafeyette and Pharoah, and she has a set of eight-year-old triplets--two girls and a boy. And she has, in addition to that, two older boys and an older girl. And one of the older boys is in prison for armed robbery. That's Terence. Terence, right. And one of the boys is now married-- 18? About that? He was 18 in the book, yeah, when he--a very, sort of troubled kid and a very troubled child. And she's got--he has an older sister, LaShawn, who is a drug addict. And LaShawn also has her boyfriend, her boyfriend's brother, living, all living there. Right. It's a very crowded apartment. There are anywhere from 11 to 14 people living at one time. And her husband, Paul, is in and out sometimes. Right. He's been strung out on drugs. And a very bright man. I mean, a very bright man. You met him. You met the mother. All living in this place. What is, what stands out about LaJoe, the mother, is her absolute generosity of spirit. She welcomes--by the homeless people wandering in and out, now and then, this is the most--here we are, at a public housing project, you know, horrendous shape, yet they take in the homeless [and people like that?]. I know. She has trouble turning away, turning people away. I mean, particularly her own relatives and children. What you do in the book, aside from getting inside the minds, the spirit of 8-year old Pharoah, 11-year old Lafeyette, and the others, too. Terence, we said, 18 when he was arrested for robbery. You also get into Terence's mind and we know what this kid was thinking of as he and the other guys were planning it or not planning it. And, to me, the book is just stunning. And this could be a turnaround of thoughts on the part of a great many people. Well, I certainly hope so. And my reason for focusing on the children is that whatever you can say about the adults, it's the children who are innocent of what is and of what could be. And it's, I hope it's the only way to sort of break the silence. You talk about how the child adjusts to the violence and the shooting. Pharoah, or was it Lafeyette, the mother was warning when you--of course, they just were able to get out of the way. So, "He was afraid"--Lafeyette, who takes care of his kid brother. Lafeyette, has his own troubles at, but, I mean, he's in trouble from 13 on, about that. But old Pharoah, he likes school. And he daydreams. Right. He does. And he follows rainbows! There's a great scene of following the rainbow. An act toward the very end. He sees that rainbow. Right. He sees a rainbow and he just, Pharoah just wants to--he wants to chase it. He's heard from when he was a little kid that at the end of the rainbow there might be some gift for him there. And, so, he actually drags an older boy and they go running, chasing the rainbow, almost all the way down to Cook County Hospital, which is about a mile away. But Pharoah, this is about the shooting, almost, they got away from. "Lafeyette saw his little brother running and then taking cover behind the trees," this is an incredible scene, "and lost sight of him. 'Mama, lemme go get him,' Lafeyette begged. He was afraid that Pharaoh would run straight through the gunfire. Pharoah would later say he had learned to look both ways." And "'My mama told me when you hear shooting, first to walk because you don't know where the bullets are coming.'" And, so, here you have that casual acceptance. Well, it's an acceptance on the one hand. They learn, the children learn, in a sense, how to deal with it. I mean, they learn how to protect themselves. But I don't think that they ever get used to it. There's no getting used to it. But he clutches on to childhood. Yes. Spelling bee, the schools, he was bright in school, though daydreaming a lot. Lafeyette, troubles. But, the question of mortality; in many cases these kids, 11, 12, talk about their own mortality. Yeah. I mean, life for them is not a given. And if, for them it's something that they really have to--I mean, something as fundamental as life is not given to them, and they have to strive for it. There's one scene at the end of a funeral where two boys, Lafeyette is talking with a friend, and one of them, and it's a funeral of a boy who was shot by another gang member and-- This is Bird Leg? A kid named Bird Leg. Right. Right. Bird Leg. Who loves animals. Who loves animals, loves dogs. And Lafeyette just really admired Bird Leg. Bird Leg was a little older than he. And at the end of the, as they walk out of the funeral, Lafeyette says to a friend, he says, "You know, I don't want to," he says, "I don't want to die like that." And the other boy says to him, "I just want to die just plain out," meaning I want to die just of natural causes. And there's this constant fear that they're somehow going to get caught up in the crossfire between the gangs. Or that they may get caught up in drugs which is a slow kind of death. We can talk about the drugs, too, and the drug dealers, the kids, and how they become, and why they become and what it means to the community, too. There's one scene there that's a stunner; so much of the book is that. But about the matter of mortality--"Will I grow up?" Well, they say, "if I." So, Carla, Carla Palmore, 17-year old friend of Bird Leg's, who was killed, and she's going to make a eulogy, offer a eulogy for Bird Leg. Of course, the place is crowded, and "through her speech underlined the feeling among her peers that many of them like Bird Leg might not make it to adulthood. And during an impromptu sermon, Lafeyette, and James, and the others in the church"--James, a friend of Lafeyette, a cousin, I think. Just a friend. A friend. "Had nodded in assent." And here's the part: Carla's saying, "Tomorrow is not promised for us. So let's take advantage of today. Some would take tomorrow for granted. Tomorrow's not promised for us." Now, when I heard that, I fell off my--when I read that in--page 49 of the book we're talking about, "There Are No Children Here," with the author Alex Kotlowitz. When I read that sequence I fell off the chair, because about 30 years ago Jimmy Unrath and I did a documentary for WFMT. And let's hear just a piece--a little child is tal--it was the West Side of Chicago, near the Jane Addams homes, there was trouble. There were some Black kids, and Latino kids, some Greek, and Italian kids. A little trouble, and I wandered about there--not as you did, so much knowing the kids. Mine was a kind of a haphazard, three-, four-day venture. And, so, they're skipping rope, and we hear a drum and bugle corps in the background suddenly coming in, and I'm talking to the various kids and then asking a rather silly, usual question. This is what we hear: What do you want to be when you grow up? I don't know. I just want to see what I'm--I want to see if I'm a grow up first. I mean, I might not live to be grown up. Why do you say that? Cause I don't know when my time will come. Huh? I don't know when I'm a die yet. I don't know what may happen. My life wasn't promised to me. Oh, come now. My life wasn't promised to me. And I never know if I could die overnight or nothing. So, today wasn't promised to me. It was. It what? What? In the Bible it was. It what!?! It was! It what!?! It was! And then they got into the argument--"It was promised!" "No, it wasn't!" "It was!" "It wasn't!"--as they're skipping rope. And these are kids eight-, nine-, 10-years old. Well, the most amazing thing to me, Studs, is that here you were, 30 years ago, out in these neighborhoods, and these kids clearly felt the same way. And it has only gotten worse. Which, of course, leads and, of course, you touch this, you don't miss a [bat?] in this book, you touch every aspect of it. It's only gotten worse. Of course, you speak of the powers that be, and attitudes toward this. Remember at the beginning, you were saying, when LaJoe, the mother, moved in, built on the cheap? And then there were self-righteous editorials in the papers. The same papers we look at today, so virtuous, and full of righteousness. Right. And about "don't spoil these people?" No, absolutely, and not only that, I mean, there was terrible racism involved as well. I mean, all the public housing, when it was proposed the white aldermen would have, hear nothing of having it built in their wards, their neighborhoods. And, so, these high-rises became the anchors for already existing ghettos. I mean, it was sort of predisposed to end up the way it was. Yeah. We gotta pick up, though, with the story of this family, the Rivers family--LaJoe, and especially Pharaoh and Lafeyette, age 8 and 11, and about childhood. The subtitle, of course, is "The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America." And the last time "The Other America" was used by Michael Harrington. Remember? Talking about, well, discovering there were poor people in the country during the 50s. And here it is, the other America. Doubleday, the publishers. If I seem enthusiastic about this book, that's a mild commentary. It's, suddenly you read it, and wham. And what you did, Alex, is what I find so astonishing--you entered the minds, and the thoughts of these kids and the others. And this is not, and if ever there, this, something can put to sleep that myth of "objective" journalism, the meaninglessness of it, this book could do it. Well, I hope it does more than that. "There Are No Children Here." So this is the area, we talked about the shootings--how come? And the why of it. Well, most of the, a lot of the shootings are between the different gang factions which have, and, I mean, it's plain and simple. I mean, it's over territory and where they can sell their drugs. And it's over money which is very scarce in these neighborhoods. And, so, much of it is over drugs. But also, the other thing is, a lot of it is just growing up in that environment. I think kids end up becoming violent in the way they just interact with each other. You even got into the thoughts of some of the drug dealers. There's a guy who becomes both--Jimmie Lee. Jimmie Lee, the head of the-- Now, Jimmie Lee is a power, isn't he? Yeah. Jimmie Lee was the head of the Conservative Vice Lords in Henry Horner and somebody I never met but he was sort of viewed with a mixture of awe and respect and also utter fear and terror. He was a person who people have told me that they, people had a lot of hope that he would become a real positive force in that community. And instead he became the head of a gang that was selling an estimated--were selling drugs that were estimated, sometimes it was worth a million dollars a week. You're talking here about something. And this is that twilight zone: What if? What might have been? Jimmie Lee had all the qualities of affirmative leadership, became this. Because they looked upon him a certain way--ambivalently. The cops, too, by the way. The cops who knew him, the guys who worked around there. I have a lot of sympathy for the police. There's just an incredible amount of distrust in this neighborhood, not only from the community towards the police and vice versa, but also between the residents of the community themselves. And, so, it's very hard for the police to go out and really try to gather information from other people. And so there is a certain kind of, at some point a certain kind of acceptance. And Jimmie Lee, who is, as a lot of these drug dealers are, is very wise. He never carried a gun. He never carried drugs--or very rarely. He eventually got caught. But he-- So, Terence--some of these little kids like Terence, maybe was 16, the brother of Pharoah and Lafeyette, who was in jail because of the robbery. At 18, arrested. But he was still, the kids watch or, and they get paid a couple of hundred bucks a day. Well, Terence actually sold drugs when he was 12-years old for a dealer. But when his mother's in trouble, there he is with the dough. Right. He came, his father lost--one Christmas his father was robbed and lost, I think, four or five hundred dollars. And Terence, who had not been home for a number of weeks, he was living at the house of a drug dealer, actually heard about the robbery and came up with the money, and had another friend, a young boy, deliver the money to the family, to his mother. Yeah. But doesn't, this also explains what it is that allows it to some extent, too. There's one kid who killed himself, didn't he? Wallace? Or some--he left a note. A cop-- Oh, right. Found the note. Right. One of the-- Left an incredible note. An essay. Yeah. One of the, Neal Wallace-- Neal Wallace. Right. One of the leading drug dealers. He didn't kill himself. He was killed but they found a, he, they found an essay he had written, the police had found an essay in one of his jacket pockets, in which he talked about that he was doing what he was doing so that the next generation of Black children could become lawyers and doctors. And, clearly, the sense that he was doing--while he was doing wrong, he ultimately was doing right by his community. Yeah. It's a rationalization. At the same time, an example. See, again, I marvel at what you've been able to do with this book. And even as you, as we read the book--it reads like a house afire--we're following Pharoah and Lafeyette and their adventures. In the very beginning, the very opening--"Give me your hand," says Lafeyette to his younger brother as they near the railroad tracks." Gathering what? They were looking for snakes. They were up on the railroad tracks, a viaduct near the house, trying to find some garter snakes that they could take home as pets. They had heard they could find them up there. And, of course, they didn't quite know where to look, and-- And, so, there's a train there, flowers around and about, and you describe that scene, of there in the distance is the Loop, and those tall buildings--another planet, really. And here flowers, in the middle of all the--but then, this part, is int--again, we know about people on trains, sometimes [suburbians?] worry about it, some crazy kid--usually meaning, of course, Black--are going to shoot randomly at them. These kids have their, they have their own fears that the people on the train are going to shoot at them! Right. No, absolutely. In fact, I was--what I did, in fact, to recreate the scene, is I went up to the railroad tracks with Pharaoh and he and I spent a couple of hours just sitting there one summer day. And there was a train, a commuter train, coming from downtown and Pharoah got--I could just see him getting all tense. And he insisted that I get down in the bushes with him. And I said, "Pharoah, what's wrong? What's wrong?" And he pulled me into the bushes with him and he was--and apparently the kids were so afraid that they were going to be shot at from the commuters who were passing by because they were trespassing on this property. And it's this sense that nobody quite knows who the enemy is. "Some of the commuters had heard similar rumors about neighborhood children and worried that, like the cardboard lions in a carnival shooting gallery, they might be the target of talented snipers. Indeed, some sat away from the windows as the train," here you, with 8-year old Pharoah looking, "as the train passes through Chicago's blighted core. And the boys who have felt the commuters were crack shots." And, so, your last sentence of that paragraph: "For both the boys and the commuters, the unknown was the enemy." "The unknown was the enemy." And what the book--your book, Alex Kotlowitz--and "There Are No Children Here" is precisely that. You make them known. You reveal. And as I said earlier, I mean, my reason for doing this book is because of the silence that surrounds these neighborhoods. That there is just utter silence surrounding the lives of these children. Of course, "It ain't right. Peoples fighting peoples." This is 8-year old Pharaoh saying, "It ain't right, peoples fighting peoples." He knows. The kids have a terribly strong sense of justice, and right and wrong. That's the wonderful thing about children is that they are, I mean, they're filled with this sense of fairness and truth. And in some ways that's what made it so much fun and so easy to work on the book because the kids were just such a bright light in all of this. Of course, the sad thing is that they get older, and they get older and they grow older in this environment and they grow old [quickly? quicker?]. We're seeing this happening to Lafeyette. Lafeyette, not quite as innocent as Pharaoh, nor as imaginative. But there, but caring response--he took care of the house pretty much, didn't he? Yeah. Lafeyette was a--is--a kind of man-child, and he is somebody, a boy who keeps everything inside. He has terrible stomach problems as a result. And part of it is that he cares so much about everybody and everything. And he doesn't have time and a sense to take care of himself. And so he spends his time worrying about his older brothers, and older sister, he worries about his father. He's so protective of his mother. And in the end it's himself who ends up suffering because he doesn't, he doesn't watch out for himself. And when his friend, a man named Craig Davis, who the community liked, full of--he's sort of a disc jockey [at the club?], is shot in a horrendous way. This is one case the cops never apologized or anything for it. No. And that, [that's where?] Lafeyette's despair and cynicism took over--with the death of Craig Davis. Yeah. I think that was a kind of breaking point for Lafeyette. I mean, it was a, his--Craig Davis was an older boy who was 19 who Lafeyette just idolized. I mean, you can remember being, Lafeyette was 13 at the time, and you can remember always--as a child I can remember latching on to an older boy who I just thought was the ultimate. And Craig was a boy full of verve, and vigor, and he played, he would disc jockey and they'd have dances in front of the building. And sadly, Craig was shot in the back of the head. An accidental shooting by an Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent. It's still unclear to this day why or exactly what happened. And never, no apologies. No word of sorrow. And, in fact, afterwards they slandered him and said he was a gang member which he [wasn't?]. By--there again we come to papers and coverage. This whole subject of the media, and crime, and Black and white is also within this book, too. Well, the media--and I say this as self-critically as I do critically--we have not done a good job of covering these neighborhoods. I look at the amount of resources that have been poured in by the media into the war in the Persian Gulf and I think that, my god, we can't even have bureaus, for example, out here on the West Side of Chicago. And these deaths happen so frequently, so often, that you, that those of us living outside have sort of become inured to what's going on.

Studs Terkel And so many unreported.

Alex Kotlowitz And so much of it unreported, right. Or incompletely reported.

Studs Terkel But the one of Craig Davis, I remember that paragraph, it was in one of the local papers. And as I read it, which was "reputed gang member"--you assumed gang member. Now, as I read your book, [of?] the killing of Craig Davis by this cop, and there's no doubt of that; as to what the cause we still don't know what. But he was obviously not a guy--it was overwhelming evidence--he was furthest thing from being a gang member. So, again. But, nonetheless, in reading that paragraph, and that's all it was. There's, we come back to press, again, and it's coverage.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel And media, I should say.

Alex Kotlowitz And once again it's the silence that surrounds these children's lives.

Studs Terkel Yeah. We haven't come--by the way, Lafeyette, who is 11, the older brother of Pharoah, is taking care of the family while LaJoe is looking for a job. She's looking for a job, the mother, and he's doing the sweeping, the floors, and the cooking, and the laundry, and these little triplets--he's wiping their noses, and whatever is they're doing. He takes care of all that. But we have LaJoe at the welfare station. Now that is a stunning one, too.

Alex Kotlowitz Well, this is LaJoe, who is on public aid, receives public aid, and I had done a story back in 1987 for "The Wall Street Journal" in which I just chronicled a summer in the life of Lafeyette. And in passing in the story I mentioned that Lafeyette's father lived at home sporadically. Well, the next thing I--when the story came out it received a lot of response from people who were just horrified by the life Lafeyette lived. Except for the welfare department in Illinois. They immediately latched onto that one sentence, that the father was home sporadically, and launched a huge investigation of the mother and the family and cut her off of public aid as a result.

Studs Terkel Let's go over this very slowly. Of course, this gives us the mindset of certain mechanical people who are in charge of a lot of welfare recipients' lives and fate. My guest, Alex Kotlowitz, did the series for "The Wall Street Journal," which itself has its own built-in irony, but they allow, [we'll say this for "The Wall Street Journal"?]--it allows its journalists--we won't talk about the editorial policy--but allows for its journalists pretty much freeway.

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah. They--

Studs Terkel And you were s--your series was so moving it caused--it was national attention. It was just a moving piece on these two kids surviving. But here's the way it was read by someone, a member of the Illinois Department of Public Aid. And this is a footnote. And I've got it marked: page 100. A key aspect, a key part of the book. The footnote of "There Are No Children": "A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Public Aid later conceded that it had launched the investigation as a result of an article I had written for 'The Wall Street Journal.' The story chronicled a summer in Lafeyette's life detailing the almost daily violence he had to contend with. One line in particular caught the attention of the Department. It read, 'Lafeyette's father, a bus driver for the city, stays with the family sporadically.' According to the spokesman, the Department regularly combs newspapers for possible hints of welfare recipients who may be ineligible for benefits." Now that is a horrendous footnote.

Alex Kotlowitz It is. When you think of the fact that the welfare department was set out, set up to help these very people that it is now out--

Studs Terkel Now, I'm thinking of those who read your piece and saw that in it. "We caught 'em!" It's not the story of Lafeyette and of Pharoah. That's what I'm talking about.

Alex Kotlowitz No, I know, it's just horrible that people, that the welfare department which was actually set up to help these very people is out there combing the newspapers, looking for lines like that, that they can snatch up and--

Studs Terkel We've got to pick up on this and also pick up on how, the public and officialdom's attitude toward kids and what is done when kids experience violence and death, or violent death in their midst. In, say, a white community--the Laurie Dann case--and at Henry Horner Homes, which itself tells us about the two Americas. But we're talking to Alex Kotlowitz. Should point out the book is written in a style--you just read it as though it were a novel. I wish it were a novel.

Alex Kotlowitz I wish it were,

Studs Terkel [too?]. But it's true. "There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America." Alex Kotlowitz, my guest, is the author, and Doubleday, the publishers. Picking up with LaJoe Rivers, the mother, and the family. And now she's been caught, by god, because Paul, this guy, was strung out on drugs, and this occasional bus driver, comes in and out, and we come to his story in a moment, too. You spoke with him, too?

Alex Kotlowitz Oh, Paul, yeah. Quite a bit.

Studs Terkel But now she's at that welfare, and the [wait?], and now we come to the whole matter of the--oh, the inquisition.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel It's the mechanical, cold thing, isn't it?

Alex Kotlowitz Oh, it was terrible. Nobody--we walked, I was with LaJoe at the time, and we walked into a room and there were two, there was a chair for LaJoe set up, looking directly at four chairs lined up in a row. And there are four, four administrators from public aid walked in. Nobody introduced themselves and they just got down to business. It was all cut and dry.

Studs Terkel You know what's so funny about that--the welfare offices--cut and dried, mechanical, just a digit is there, a cipher is there; no person. The same thing exactly in the juvenile court. Or, for instance, when Terence was in trouble. Or was it Lafeyette?

Alex Kotlowitz Lafeyette is in trouble.

Studs Terkel Lafeyette, toward the end. The same mechanical, and there's a judge there, it's a very funny scene. It's out of [comic Dickens?].

Alex Kotlowitz Right. And the sad thing about it for me--at the end of the book Lafeyette gets in some trouble and goes to the juvenile court system--and what was so sad for me is that as I follow Lafeyette through, I, it was a absolutely humiliating experience. And, yet, after, when talking to the judge, and the attorney, the public defender afterwards, clearly these people cared so much about these children and had, yet had so little time to do much of anything.

Studs Terkel The public defender?

Alex Kotlowitz The public defender, for example. The judge, too. The judge, in fact, was a very respected judge down there. And yet, clearly, she doesn't have the time to spend, like she would like, to spend on these cases.

Studs Terkel And so, therefore, it's mechanically dismissed.

Alex Kotlowitz Oh, it was very [unintelligible]. There's a part in the juvenile court system, where Lafeyette goes in when he's first arraigned, and he goes into the courtroom with his mother and the judge asks him a string of quick questions: where have you, what's his name, where he's lived, who is his father, what, who is his mother. And he gives him the next court date, and they walk out and LaJoe realizes that he may have given them the wrong court date. And they go back into the courtroom, not more than just two minutes later, and the judge doesn't even remember Lafeyette.

Studs Terkel "Who is

Alex Kotlowitz this?" [laughing] Right. He can't even remember that this child had been here just two minutes earlier.

Studs Terkel Two minutes later, "Who are you?" Who are you! I'm laughing. Yeah. It's, but now we come to the case at the, all the shootings going on here at the Henry Horner Homes. A kid, a 9-year old boy is shot. Yeah. Alonzo Campbell. And the shooting may have been a notif--he's, he's--he's shot. And they're all over there, they see blood all the time there. And these kids do, little kids see it, right?

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Studs Terkel And then you say, about that time, in Winnetka, Laurie Dann, emotionally disturbed, shot those kids. Now, you speak of the two Americas and the two ways of handling it.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. Well, the Laurie Dann situation is, she shot some children in a very, in this elementary school in a very wealthy suburb. The community just mobilized around the children and the parents. They provided social workers, and school psychiatrists, and they had the children go through counseling sessions, and the teachers, and, they did what they should have done, which was to deal with it as, because it had a, I'm sure it had a lasting impact on those children. And, yet, you had this same incident--a young boy, 9-year old child, shot in the head in the Henry Horner Homes, that, I believe, within a day of this--

Studs Terkel And kids saw it?

Alex Kotlowitz Oh, kids saw it. Oh, it happened right in front of a building. And nothing happened. No, there were no social workers, or psychiatrists sent to the Henry Horner Homes. Parents weren't given any advice on how to help their children cope with having just watched a 9-year old boy shot in the, shot in the back of the head.

Studs Terkel Well, as you say, "In Winnetka, the shooting was an aberration; In Horner, it was part of natural life." Describing the contrast of the coverage by the papers, as well as by the officials. "'I've got to keep smiling to keep from crying,' LaJoe, the mother counseled herself. 'If I ever slow down, I'll lose it.'" We're talking about the two Americas, but mostly the Henry Horner homes, but over and beyond that, the resilience of certain children. And especially of Pharoah and Lafeyette. Pharoah, especially. And the growing up. And also of a certain journalist--that's you, Alex--and over and beyond detachment, objective journalism. And out of it comes--there's Terence. And Terence, the brother who is now in trouble, is going to spend time in the book through the jail walls while the case still pends, is lecturing his kid brother--not to, not to. And this goes on.

Alex Kotlowitz It was a, one of the things that had just struck me as, is here you have this community and this neighborhood crumbling around you. But the family, the love between these siblings, and between the siblings and LaJoe, it's just, it's so intact. I mean, it remains so, so forceful. And you can see [Raydel?] goes to prison, and Lafeyette goes to visit him, and [Raydel?], who's been in trouble all his life, lectures his younger brother about how not to follow his footsteps, how to, that Lafeyette should go to school, and--

Studs Terkel By the way, we're talking about a family. This is a big, this is an interesting subject. You just set something off. No families. And it's true, there are many families, single-parent mother families. Through, Herb Gutman, the historian, who clobbered, way back, Moynihan's theory, he just des--I mean clobbered it, chapter and verse, but it's never [covered in mainstream?], spoke [with? of?] the families maintained in the most adverse, through slavery, and post-slavery, and Reconstruction betrayed, and big city life, of course, plays a big role. The maintenance of some families under these circumstances is the remarkable thing.

Alex Kotlowitz It is remarkable. But I will tell you, Studs, that the thing for me that struck me in my time out there is how the--even that is beginning to crumble.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Alex Kotlowitz That even the mother, who is, traditionally has been a very strong figure in the Black, the poor Black community, that if you go out into these committees you find that a lot of the people who are on drugs are the young mothers in their 20s and early 30s. And even the, and that's where you begin to see the toll that [those?] decades of silence has taken, when you begin to see that even the family is beginning to crumble.

Studs Terkel Even that, there. And, yet, in the midst of this, these two kids. This is you--you're following them without losing--and, of course, what happens to this guy, the strung-out father comes in and out, Paul. And Lafeyette, the 13, now 14, kid has it out with him. Here we come to something else, don't we?

Alex Kotlowitz They--Paul, the father, is a very bright man. He is somebody who had been very involved in politics back in the 60s. He's somebody who still, when he watches television, he only watches public television. And he cares so much about his children. But he has really had his own problems, his own bouts with alcohol and heroin. And Lafeyette just resents him tremendously because of that. And there is a scene later in the book where Lafeyette has a puppy, and he can't find the puppy, and he thinks his father is taking it to sell for money for drugs. And he confronts his father, and his father, who used to be an amateur boxer goes--doesn't want to touch his son. He's a very gentle man. And they actually get into a little bit of a fistfight in the living room. And it ends out that the puppy was underneath the refrigerator in the end.

Studs Terkel But the father, at the end, breaks down.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. And the father, yeah. He--

Studs Terkel So, it also deals with children and parent throughout. But LaJoe, we haven't, talking about strength, we haven't mentioned her. Her own, although she has these difficult times, but her own strength. And even, see, what you capture, also, are these daily events in life. Christmas window shopping, which is a remarkable scene.

Alex Kotlowitz Now, there is a scene in the book where LaJoe is, well, LaJoe, who has trouble sometimes finding the time or the energy to do anything with the children, and she, right before Christmas a couple of years ago, in the book, she takes the triplets, and Pharoah, and a couple of their young friends downtown to just go window shopping. And she buys them popcorn. And on the way back, on the bus ride back, the triplets are sitting there and saying, "Oh! We had such a lovely day!" Imitating adults, you know.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Alex Kotlowitz And LaJoe, to this day, still repeats that because it was such a, just that one afternoon was so important to her.

Studs Terkel As far as the gangs are concerned, here you have--we forget they're kids. They're horrendous, but they're--then they have truces on occasion--for the big talent show at the boys club.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. The gangs are so well-organized that they actually are able to call, and they call them, and they, that's what they call them--are truces--where they, there won't be any shooting, and they might come together at the talent show at the local boys club, and where everyth--all their differences are laid aside for an evening.

Studs Terkel By the way, there are these signals and, you know, the caps, a certain color, and earrings. But mostly it's how the cap is turned.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Vice Lords have it turned one way and the--

Alex Kotlowitz Disciples have it another.

Studs Terkel And the Disciples. By the way, are El Rukns an offshoot? I'm mixed up, cause I'm working on [something?] now and this kid talking to me used "Folk," and "Nation," different ones. Are the El Rukns offshoots of Vice Lords?

Alex Kotlowitz I don't know where the El Rukns fit in but the Folk and Nation are the two--Chicago is divided into two essential--

Studs Terkel Folk and Nation?

Alex Kotlowitz Gangs--Folk and Nations. And the Vice Lords fall into one and the Disciples into another, and the same with the El Rukns, which is one of the original, sort of the prototypes for a lot of these [gangs?]

Studs Terkel So it's done in military fashion?

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah. Very much so.

Studs Terkel There's sort of a hierarchy, and there's a roster.

Alex Kotlowitz Well, they call them lieutenants, they call them generals. Jimmie Lee, in fact, his nickname was General Lee. That's--

Studs Terkel And, so, they have this laid out and there's an understanding, at times, with the police, too, on occasion?

Alex Kotlowitz Mm-hmm.

Studs Terkel Throughout, there's so many aspects of the book--it's about Lafeyette and Pharaoh picking up a buck or two--the Chicago Stadium plays a role here. The Chicago Stadium is right near the, isn't it?

Alex Kotlowitz Right. It's just a block away, just a block south of--

Studs Terkel From the Henry Horner?

Alex Kotlowitz The Henry Horner Homes.

Studs Terkel So now we come to Bulls games and Blackhawks games.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. And this is about the only time that, really, there's any contact between the outside community and Henry Horner, is that when people come to watch the Chicago Bulls or Chicago Blackhawks, basketball and hockey teams, respectively. And the children will go and park cars. And what they mean by that is that they'll go and ask somebody, if they'll pay them a dollar, they'll watch their car for the night and make sure nothing happens to it. And the kids love to go to the games, particularly Pharoah, who is an avid basketball fan. And, well, Pharoah and I, when--this is in the book--and the kids have told me that they've been turned away a lot at the gate. Even if they had tickets. And I didn't quite fully believe them. And Pharoah and I got standing room only tickets to a Chicago Bulls game, and we were going in to the game, and one of the ushers looked down at Pharoah, who was not, who was dressed somewhat bedraggled-y, and he said, "I'm sorry. No neighborhood kids allowed." I was just horrified. And this happens often, where the ushers won't allow the children in because they live in the neighborhood.

Studs Terkel Even if they have a ticket? Some, some--

Alex Kotlowitz Somebody might--

Studs Terkel Somebody coming along is late, and he can't sell tickets, he gives them to the kids. Yeah.

Alex Kotlowitz He might give it to a young kid like Pharoah, for example. And, so, there's a lot of tension between the Stadium and--

Studs Terkel But I'm talking about the Stadium, itself, and the events, and the kids pick up a buck or two. And sometimes if they, if the customer turns them down?

Alex Kotlowitz Right. Then they might, if the customer turns them down, occasionally there are times when the children may, in fact, smash their window and try to steal a radio. And, so, it's a complicated relationship but it's the only relationship they have with anybody outside their community, particularly white people. That's--

Studs Terkel So, the kids around there from, generally from Henry Horner project, or around and about there. But the Stadium's role, too, as far as housing and reconstruction?

Alex Kotlowitz Well, the Stadium hasn't, certainly hasn't done any reconstruction. The owners there, I mean, over the years has taken a lot of the property there and bulldozed homes and made them into parking lots. And there's a lot of rumor, and I think it may be idle rumor, that ultimately they are going to want to tear down the projects because of the new stadium.

Studs Terkel Which leads to a question: there was a very good and strong neighborhood community group called Miles Square Federation.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel What happened to Miles Square Federation?

Alex Kotlowitz It fell apart in the early 70s, as did a lot of these neighborhood organizations. I think the strength of these communities, there was a strong sense of community and politics in the late 60s; the Black Panthers, for example, were headquartered just a couple of blocks from Henry Horner Homes. But as the War On Poverty began to sort of unravel, and there was less money to go around, the communities began to give up on themselves. And the first sign of that was to see groups like the Miles Square Federation, which at one time was a very powerful and important organization in that community, began to just unfold and eventually disappear. And now there are very little, if any, community organizations.

Studs Terkel This is part, seems to me, this is part of what's happening in the country--the loss of a certain vision with the, ever since the Reagan administration, of course, and obviously continuing with Bush, with his vetoing of the Civil Rights Act which, of course, is absolutely astonishing. And, so, that does something to the communities, does it not?

Alex Kotlowitz No, it does. And when people give up on you, your tendency is--

Studs Terkel Plus local elections, of sorts, too, we need not go into.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. But I think there is a sense when people give up on you, that there's a tendency to give up on yourself.

Studs Terkel Yeah. And, so, talking to Alex Kotlowitz, and the book, and--throughout, throughout all we're talking about, and throughout the book is this kid, especially Pharaoh, age 8, in and out, dreaming. He has dreams, actual dreams. His spelling bee, his triumphs, his seeking sanctuary--a certain neighborhood where he can just sit and look up at the sky. And, of course, his brother, Lafeyette, the man-child. And Doubleday are the publishers with this. I think this is, as I say, I say somewhere else here, this book could possibly make a difference. We've been talking about the children primarily, and the Rivers family, with LaJoe, the mother, at the Henry Horner Homes. And investigation--Vincent Lane is the new head of housing. He's been trying to do a good job.

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah, done a very impressive job.

Studs Terkel But they found a basement there, didn't they?

Alex Kotlowitz Oh. They found--they're used to their--LaJoe lived in one of them--they have two bathrooms, and in one of the bathrooms they'd have terrible smells that would come up through the toilet. And LaJoe never quite knew what it was. And in the summer of, I believe it was the summer of '89, they found in the basements of five buildings, they found two thousand appliances: stoves, refrigerators, kitchen cabinets, just rusting away. They'd been down there for 15, 20 years. And amidst all that they found the dead carcasses of cats and dogs. And it was just horr--the smell was so horrible that when the housing manager went down into the basement she vomited.

Studs Terkel Gwen Anderson.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Yeah. And, so, this also comes up through the floors?

Alex Kotlowitz It must. It must have. It must--

Studs Terkel And, again, we're thinking of how families survive, or don't survive, under these circumstances. Now, they've been, to some extent, cleaned out?

Alex Kotlowitz Right. They did clean the basements out.

Studs Terkel We haven't asked what happens. Finally, and this involves you now, too, see? It's hard to separate. This is one of those books where it's hard to separate the author, the writer, the reporter, the journalist--but the participant, Alex Kotlowitz--from the events, and from the lives of these people in the book. Since the finishing of the book?

Alex Kotlowitz Well, I'd say, as we talked about earlier, Studs, I've become very good friends with the kids. And for me that [essence of it?] is the most important thing. And we go fishing every summer. And with some of the money from the book we were able to, I was able to get the boys into a private school--Pharoah goes to Providence St. Mel, an all-Black private school. It's very rigorous. And Lafeyette was not quite as successful, and he's back in public school. But I see the kids at least once a week now and on every Saturday. They're doing okay. Their troubles never end. I mean, it's just two or three weeks ago a policeman was shot outside their window. Outside their--

Studs Terkel They still live at Henry Horner?

Alex Kotlowitz They still live in Henry Horner.

Studs Terkel They live first floor?

Alex Kotlowitz They live on the first floor so they have it good and bad. On the one hand, they don't have to go up the pitch-black stairwell, or the pitch-black elevator. On the other hand, if, there have been times when bullets have actually gone through their windows.

Studs Terkel So, when the bullets go through windows we're talking about--this is actual, live bullets. They have to hide behind, in the kitchen, or the bedroom, or hit the floor?

Alex Kotlowitz Right. They often go into the hallway which is windowless. So, they're

Studs Terkel Oh, I see. parallel to

Alex Kotlowitz

Studs Terkel Oh, I see. And so-- So, they're parallel to the firing. And the bullets are one gang, as against another, random sometimes.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. Or often it may just be a dispute, it may be a domestic dispute. I mean, guns are such a common--

Studs Terkel Yeah. But, Pharoah

Alex Kotlowitz

Studs Terkel and Lafeyette are at St. Mel's? Pharoah is at Providence St. Mel's. Pharoah is.

Alex Kotlowitz Lafeyette is back in public school now.

Studs Terkel And doing okay? By the way, he was good, he used to win spelling bees?

Alex Kotlowitz Right. He's doing okay. It's been a struggle for him and he's had a tough time, and, for example, I will tell you the past two months has been very difficult for him because of things going on at home and in his neighborhood. But he's beginning, he's so determined. He is [unintelligible]--

Studs Terkel Pharoah?

Alex Kotlowitz Yes, Pharoah.

Studs Terkel He has dreams. Actual dreams.

Alex Kotlowitz Oh, he has actual dreams. And he wants to be a congressman. T h a t's his--

Studs Terkel And it's congressman--oh, yeah, he has a program, [boy, I wish he were here now?], because he has, his program is so much better than that of Congressman--255. Here's what Pharoah, age 8 said: "I want to change a lot of rules. I want to change them and everybody move out of the projects. I'll pay people to build housing," get that--I'll pay people to build housing, "Let the people who live in the projects live in other houses. Any gang member who has their hat turned, they go directly to jail. Stop stealing and stuff." [You might want?] to tell that to SNL people. "A little kid got to come into a store with their parent or guardian or they can't come in. They'd probably steal. If I, you get to be congressman, people guard me, so you won't get hurt. I like that." That's a significant one.

Alex Kotlowitz Yeah. He's, he's, quite--

Studs Terkel Gotta have bodyguards.

Alex Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel But there's that aspect of it. And Lafeyette's doing--

Alex Kotlowitz Lafeyette's doing okay. I think Lafeyette, as I said, he's troubled, he keeps everything inside, and so he's just--he worries so much. He said something to me a few weeks ago that it really sort of hit home. He said to me, "Alex, I worry that I'm going to end up doing drugs like my older brothers and sister." As if somehow his fate was out of his hand, but he had no control over it.

Studs Terkel In the--

Alex Kotlowitz And there is a sense among the children there that things are out of control. Their future is out of their hands.

Studs Terkel Future is out of their hands. And Paul, the father, has got a part time job?

Alex Kotlowitz Did. He doesn't anymore.

Studs Terkel Oh, doesn't anymore. And how's LaJoe, the mother, doing?

Alex Kotlowitz She's doing okay. As you mentioned earlier, she has her moments when, I think, she ends up being overwhelmed by all that's going on there. And our hope is that we'll be able to, with the publication of the book, we'll be able to help the family move.

Studs Terkel I should point out to [unintelligible] you've set up a trust fund with some of the proceeds from the your book.

Alex Kotlowitz Right. For Lafeyette and Pharoah, and some of the other children in the book.

Studs Terkel You know, we should close as, we had that excerpt, those kids 30 years ago skipping rope. Let's go back to that again so it's as though it is a circle. And where we come from it. Still faced with it. Now, I hope this book of yours can really make a difference. "There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America." Doubleday, the publisher. Alex, thank you very much for a lot of things.

Alex Kotlowitz Thank you, Studs.

Studs Terkel What do you want to be when you grow up?

Child #1 I don't know. I just want to see what I'm--I want to see if I'm a grow up first. I mean, I might not live to be grown up.

Studs Terkel Why do you say that?

Child #1 Cause I don't know when my time might come.

Studs Terkel Huh?

Child #1 I don't know when I'm a die yet. I don't know what may happen. My life wasn't promised to me.

Child #2 Oh, come now.

Child #1 My life wasn't promised to me. And I never know if I could die overnight or nothing. So, today wasn't promised to me.

Child #2 It was.

Child #1 It w h a t? It what!?! It was! It

Studs Terkel What ? what?!? It was! It what?!? It was!

Child #2

Child #1 It what!?!

Child #2 It was!

Child #1 What ? It what?!?

Child #2 It was!

Child #1 It what?!?

Child #2 It