Everybody looks different, but they haven’t changed a bit.
The classmates at your reunion got older, that’s for sure. Some have gotten a little wider, a bit grayer, too, and more lined than they were decades ago.
What’s funny, though, is that while you were reminiscing with these former-classmates-cum-friends, you didn’t notice gray hair. You didn’t see extra pounds or new wrinkles. You only saw children, the way they were in school.
Author Jonathan Kozol had children in his mind’s eye as he reconnected with interview subjects from 25 years ago. They were so little then–but in the new book “Fire in the Ashes” (c.2012, Crown Books, $27.00 / $32.00 Canada, 355 pages, includes index), you’ll meet the adults he found.
For the average New Yorker, the winter of 1985 was brutal. Temps stayed low, snow rose high, and winds were relentless.
For the poor and homeless staying at the Martinique Hotel in the shadow of Macy’s department store, though, winter was particularly challenging: heat was iffy at the Martinique, and busted windows often went unfixed.
Though he had worked on behalf of the poor in years past, Kozol said, “I had never seen destitution like this in America before.” Nearly every child he met that winter was hungry.
For two years, Kozol visited the Martinique, until the city relocated the hotel’s residents to housing units in The Bronx. Undaunted, he followed the families across the river. He still follows some of them.
Since the release of the books that resulted from those interviews, Kozol says that his readers have wondered about the people–particularly the children–he wrote about so many years ago.
In this book, he tells us.
With assistance from the priest at the local church (“an extraordinary woman”), Kozol watched one family escape the city, though they couldn’t escape the crime. He watched a family fracture due to a mother’s death and a son’s drugs, while another family fractured because of immigration laws. He comforted a friend dying of AIDS, helped two children get out of the ‘hood and into boarding schools, and he served as godfather for another boy, folding into family after family . . . .
School started recently and the children in your neighborhood returned there with bright clothes and brighter smiles. But for some kids, the education system has failed and author Jonathan Kozol tackles that subject, among others, in his book.
Opening with a story of triumph that turns tragic, Kozol grabs his readers by the collars and forces us to see that which we’d rather ignore: drug abuse as a normal part of life, murder too-common, lackadaisical schools, lack of food, lack of appropriate clothing, lack of safety.
We can’t look away, nor do we want to: Kozol then tells of the tragic-turned-triumphant, children that adapted, adults who moved mountains to help, academies that opened their doors, and donors–like his readers–who’ve opened their hearts.
So check your wallet. Check your soul. Then check out this magnificent book, because I think you’ll like it. For anyone who cares about his fellow human, “Fire in the Ashes” burns bright.