There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz tells the story of two young African-American boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, growing up in inner-city Chicago Housing Project.
The text only covers two years of their lives, beginning in 1987. Pharoah was nine years old at the time. His brother, Lafeyette, was twelve. The boys lived in an old, neglected housing project called the Henry Horner Homes. Their mother, LaJoe, had lived there her entire life. Their father was a drug addict and neither lived with the family nor supported them financially. Their small apartment was always full of people, including LaJoe's married children and their families.
Alex Kotlowitz conducted extensive research in his writing of this text. He found court records, reports from the Chicago Housing Authority, and interviewed people who managed, worked at, and lived in the housing project. Some of these records are more shocking and saddening then the stories of the characters themselves (240-242). The basements that had once been used as meeting places were full of broken and rotted appliances, cockroaches, and dead animals. Sewage backed up and was regurgitated into the kitchen sink. LaJoe washed dishes in the bathtub for weeks until the plumbing was repaired. Crime and vandalism were rampant in the area. The police were ineffective, but even when the police did try to help, the people living in the neighborhood were too scared to talk. People who spoke out against the organized crime were quickly silenced. Gangs ruled the complex and drugs were sold from abandoned apartments. Rival gangs shot at each other and stray bullets went into the apartments.
Pharoah and Lafayette were both good kids. They were smart and tried to stay out of trouble. The boys spoke not of when they grew up, but if they grew up. Pharoah, at age eleven, told a friend that he worried every day about dying. He worried about growing up and the safety of his family. He even began to stutter, which was attributed to his nervousness. These boys wanted to be good. They tried to make good decisions. They wanted to stay away from the violence, but they just couldn't. LaJoe's son Terence was convicted of robbery and spent two years in jail. Lafayette was arrested for vandalism and robbery. He was with a group of boys who were breaking into cars and stealing purses and stereos. Lafayette was put on probation because it was his first offense.
This report prepared by Jeanne Milligan