Alex Kotlowitz met Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers in 1985 while working as a journalist. He was interviewing them for a photo essay in Chicago magazine on children living in poverty. The violence that occurred every day where the brothers lived in Governor Henry Horner Homes, or Horner, disturbed Kotlowitz. Lafeyette and Pharoah are 12 and 9 years old at the start of the book but have experienced more than many kids their age. The boys did not seem sure of what life held for them. Lafeyette told Kotlowitz, “If I grow up, I’d like to be a bus driver,” Lafeyette was not sure that he would grow up at just 10 years old (x). Kotlowitz wanted to show what it is like for children growing up in urban poverty after seeing the brothers’…show more content… Dropping out of school and teen pregnancy are more common than not in the projects.
Horner, like many other public housing, is full of violence. The neighborhoods are run by gangs and violence often breaks out between rival gangs. In Horner there are gang rivalries between the Vice Lords and the Disciples. Gang shootings were just a commonplace in Horner life. At 10 years old, Lafeyette witnessed someone being killed for the first time (Kotlowitz 40). The stress of living in such a violent neighborhood caused Pharoah to develop a terrible stammer. Speaking became so difficult that he would be left unable to speak and forced to write things down to communicate. The stress from the violence affected Lafeyette in a different way. Like his mother, he handled the stress from the violence by cleaning as much as they could to feel like they had some control over their lives. A lot of the kids in poor inner city neighborhoods do not have both parents involved in their life and see the gangs as the family they don’t have, leading them to join the gangs. The leader of the Vice Lords, Jimmie Lee, could be seen as a good thing sometimes because he occasionally took care of people in need in the neighborhood. Gangs in these neighborhoods are somewhat of an endless cycle. The violence of the neighborhoods leads the youth to join the gangs but they are the ones causing the violence to begin with.