Thursday, December 06, 2012

Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou

I just found 8 videos on YouTube, featuring Oprah and Maya in a TV movie of the book "There Are No Children Here". Here's the comment I left at YouTube, beneath the first of those 8 videos:
"I grew up in Springfield, Missouri, but for 19 years, I lived in Chicago. I worked for the Y for 5 years within spitting distance of the ABLA housing projects.The scenes portrayed in There Are No Children Here are familiar to me. I felt for these kids, and I worked as a database specialist for YMCA Child Welfare (near ABLA) trying my best to place foster kids, most of them black, in loving homes. I pray they can find a way out of the environments in which they feel trapped."
The ABLA housing projects to which I referred in the YouTube comment were south of Roosevelt Road. I would go daily to the nearby YMCA and attempt to do work on an out-of-date computer, using Microsoft Access. After work, I would take the bus back to my little room at the Lawson House YMCA.

One hot summer day, as I walked down a sidewalk (littered with broken glass bottles) on the way to the Roosevelt Road bus stop (so that I could get to my 2nd job at a laundromat on Clark Street, not far from the location of the Valentine's Day Massacre associated with Al Capone), I was surrounded by little black kids who had turned on the fire hydrant to escape the summer heat. They saw me coming, and apparently thought, "White guy = a good target." On one other occasion, a couple of little ABLA kids had thought the same thing, and they had thrown rocks at me. (Fortunately, they were poor shots, or my story might be similar to the story of St. Stephen, who was stoned to death in Bible times.)

The night of the fire hydrant, I was surrounded by little kids who tossed buckets of water at me, drenching me and my book bag, and forcing me to call my boss (Lisa Weinstein, an attorney for whom I later did office work at her office on Belmont Street) and tell her that I would not be able to make it into work after all.

You might say that it's no big deal to be doused with water (unless one has important papers which could be ruined), but keep in mind that I knew that gangs infested the ABLA projects, and if I whipped any of these little kids (which they deserved), I knew that they might have big brothers with gang memberships and guns. I could not leave on the plane for my safe suburban life in a white town. I had to work there day in and day out, and the last thing I needed was a war with local gang members. So dried myself off and learned to live with it. I did call the police and tell them about the incident, but I knew that my incident would be seen as trivial in a city where gang vioence was commonplace.

Moving to Bellingham, WA was quite a change for me. I've had my share of difficulties since I arrived here (including two "mini-strokes" and a bout of homelessness), but they have been trivial in comparison to what I went through while living in Chicago for 19 years. For people who have money, it can be a beautiful city, but for people who lack money, it can be a dangerous place to live and die.

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