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THE UPTOWN KIDS by Terry Williams


Struggle and Hope in the Projects

by Terry Williams & William Kornblum

Pub Date: March 31st, 1994
ISBN: 0-399-13887-0
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

This compilation of observations, journal entries, and conversations sets out to prove that New York's City's housing projects do not deserve their reputation as ``drug-infested war zones.'' Sociologists Williams (New School; Crack House, 1992, etc.) and Kornblum (CUNY; co-author, Growing Up Poor, 1985) set up the Harlem Writer's Crew, recruiting young people who lived in low- income housing projects in Harlem—the ``'jects''—to keep journals. Meeting regularly in Williams' Harlem apartment, the young men and women—including a teenage mother, a college graduate, and a high school dropout in trouble with the law—read and discussed each other's stories and their lives. Their language ranges from poetic flights to hard-core street talk, as they voice dreams, ambitions, and the determination to escape the web of drugs and crime in the neighborhood outside their projects. Credit goes to the grandmothers, parents, project managers, and tenant organizers who fight to keep the children off the streets, to keep the stairwells clear of dealers and addicts, to maintain a secure community. Williams introduces his crew to writers like Franz Fanon, and the crew offers the reader discussions of Hip Hop and rap music, sexual rituals of the street, and sometimes moving insights into their inner lives. A poem from Sheena, the young mother, concludes: ``...believe it or not, I'm scared of life.'' The authors weave in some of the history and culture of the Harlem neighborhood that surrounds the projects. They also began to act as mentors for some of the young writers, helping them plug into educational opportunities and find jobs. As a result, proof of their thesis rests on shaky ground—are the projects really ``good places to raise children'' as a blurb has it, or are the children involved a self-selected group who would make it anywhere? Rewarding for its glimpses into the real lives and thoughts of black adolescents in the city, otherwise diffuse and unconvincing.