[One of the nightmare experiences that has haunted me since my graduate student days has been the suffering and early deaths of a little gang of a dozen kids from Manhattanville (lower West Harlem) with whom I worked as an intern from Union Theological Seminary in 1956-57.Â I had chosen an internship working with children because I had had much experience as a camp counselor and had also worked with British kids in a poor community in East London as a teen exchange student.
What I discovered with my little Harlem gang was a shock.Â Middle class American children as well as British poor ones post WW2 were living with adequate food, medical care, housing provided where necessary in Britain by the state.Â My kids at the Manhattanville Community Center on W. 126th St. were constantly hungry, so we ended up doing cooking two evenings a week rather than a sport (I would bring in a cake mix).Â Their slum housing was a nightmare.Â They were at grave health risk.Â All of the kids were desperate to make it in America.Â They were very sweet and kind when treated well -- we had a party to which none of the invited girls came except my then fiancee and some of her Sarah Lawrence classmates.Â They were treated with extreme courtesy by the kids.Â The kids were scared most of the time -- they faced crime and violence routinely.Â Their role models were the drug dealers and the lone African American cop in the precinct.Â They were sick with preventable things (skin infections) for which there was no treatment available to them.Â I persuaded them at one point to bring their weapons to my dorm room where we stored them in a bottom drawer.Â One day I came home and found them all missing and knew there was trouble out there.Â I could go on with the horrors -- a Vassar grad family social worker who was crazy -- I witnessed her threaten a mother of five with removal of her kids if she had another -- so the mother tried to abort herself with a coat hanger.Â Aa a consequence I got to take her son, one of my gang, to the Orangeburg State Mental Hospital -- the only place then available for Protestant kids without homes.Â This 'incarceration' kept him out of the military later when I learned that he had been rejected and then reclassified as a draft dodger (per an FBI letter to me indicating he had given me as his contact).
Guiltily I left my little gang behind when I married and we went to Oxford for an exchange year.Â I met a couple of the kids the next few years.Â One had become a gay male prostitute.Â One of 3 to survive had joined the Marines and gone on to become a hero cop.Â Still later nearing retirement from the NYPD Odell Terry told me what had happened to the rest.Â One was homeless on the West coast.Â Another had made it and was living on Long Island.Â All the rest had died early violent deaths -- the most recent, our comic, Shorty, who made the guys laugh, by suicide out of a window.Â All the deceased had been in prison.
Were this a tale of half a century ago only, I would not be commenting here.Â I still live near Harlem and see the lost ones -- 50% of our young African American men are unemployed here in NYC.Â I was bothered by the Obama suggestion that we had 90% solved our racism problem.Â The sea of invisible sufferers is still with us.Â They die earlier from lack of adequate medical care -- cancers discovered when it it too late to help.Â African Americans poor are nearly half our prison population of 2+ millions.Â They are killed on the streets with virtually no public notice.
When I worked with poor kids in London in 1952, the chances of their thriving were great -- one from that community became a philosophy professor who visited us in a CUNY college.Â But today poverty is still killing many millions of America's children prematurely, as Krugman reports below.Â Ed Kent]
Poverty Is Poison
By PAUL KRUGMAN
To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is
to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the
neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child’s brain.
“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)
Ed KentÂ 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]