Saturday, August 11, 2007

This writing is in response to Bob Herbert's articles: Poor Kids Living In A War Zone and A Voice Raised In Chicago.

Growing Up Poor In America

Occasionally, you write articles about the plight of the poor in America. Your recent articles about the gun murders of black children were excellent, but they never got to the heart of the problem. Every child growing up anywhere needs two things: hope and resources. Everybody needs a reason to believe and resources to achieve. This isn't rocket science. You mention the absence of black fathers in the family, but you don't mention that in some cities black male unemployment is 50% or worse. Half of all US prisoners are black or Hispanic. And, despite our $14 trillion economy, poverty and violence are on the rise. NONE of this is an accident. The cures are obvious, but the pusillanimous politicians say there's no will to act. WHY? Because no one wants to support the enlargement of the competition pool for the better things in society. I grew up poor and black in Harlem. My mother had a third grade education. My father had none. Yet, the good nuns at St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic school instilled in me a love of achievement. You don't necessarily need a parent to do so, but a mentor is a must. When I entered all-white Fordham Prep in the Bronx from all-black St. Charles, I faced two years of culture shock. My stellar grades plummeted and everyone thought there was something wrong with me. There was nothing wrong with me. It was simply a case of throwing a poor black ghetto kid with nothing but my dreams in with advanced upper middle class white students with resources. The only way I was able to catch up to them and compete was my access to the public library system. Without it, I had no chance at all. These kids went home to private libraries which were, in some cases, better stocked than the public system. Yet, I was able to catch up and compete because I had daily access to the books my family couldn't purchase. It's not enough to improve the public schools. You need to keep the public library system open six days a week with at least three late evenings. The thuggish Bush regime has done everything possible to deny resources to the poorest and most vulnerable in America. Contrary to ignorant conservative opinion, no one wants to be poor. Most folks, when given the opportunity, would do anything to improve the lives of their families. However, the task becomes almost impossible when the two most important factors, hope and resources, are consistently kept in short supply.

Franklin L. Johnson