Blog Action Day - Lezra Teaches Me About Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day when thousands of bloggers unite to discuss a single issue - poverty.  For me, last year's topic (the environment) was easy to write about because I'd been thinking about it for a while and had some actionable ideas.

When it comes to this year's topic, I have as much real understanding of poverty as my cat has of the inner workings of computers. That is to say, Tom is only aware of the computer as something that is sometimes warm, he generally sees it as a bad thing (because it takes up valuable lap space), and the irony of his lack of interest in the mouse is totally lost on him.

Not having experienced poverty or really thought about it much I my take on poverty consisted of two poorly vague ideas. Poverty is:
  1. Not having money to buy things you want or need.
  2. Something that mainly occurs in 3rd world countries.
That was my take until recently...

Lazarus and the Hurricane is a book that profoundly changed my understanding of poverty. It's the true story of the arrest, incarceration, and eventual exoneration of Hurricane Carter for a murder he didn't commit. But the book actually starts following a 15 year old kid from Brooklyn, NY named Lezra (a.k.a Lazarus). 

Through a rather lengthy series of events, and the unbelievable generosity of a Canadian family Lezra moves from a stressful life in Brooklyn NY to a comfortable caring environment in a suburb in Canada.  In doing so Lezra goes from complete illiteracy to a voracious reader. He goes from being unable keep up with kids his age running down the street, to a strong healthy young soccer player. Most importantly he goes from being a shy kid frequently taken advantage of to a strong willed smart young man able and willing to take care of himself and those around him.

I learned from Lezra's story that illiteracy, and extremely poor health in poor inner cities are masked by schools giving passing grades, pervasive malnourishment of all children, and constant physical and emotional stress that put everyone on the same crappy health level.  Once Lezra moved to Canada and he was given the care and attention that I took for granted as a kid, the impact of poverty became painfully obvious.

The one story that stuck with me the most ended with an explanation of why Lezra, like many inner city kids, sleep in class. It's not because they are bored or uninterested, but rather because their homes and streets are so stressful, the classroom is one of the few places they feel safe enough to rest.

Poverty is a problem that impacts every aspect of a person's life, and more surprisingly it is also a problem that exists and is often masked in US cities today.  This was something that hadn't really occurred to me before I read the book.

Lazarus and the Hurricane is a true and amazingly powerful story that provides a unique perspective on the reality of poverty on kids in inner cities. I highly recommend this book.  And when you read it you'll even find out how Lezra is largely responsible for the exoneration and eventual release of Hurricane Carter.