Last night’s trip into DC to hear Michael Rosen at Politics and Prose was inspired by our daughter in San Francisco, who had heard him interviewed yesterday on the Diane Rehm Show. She urged us to go hear him talk about his new book “What Else but Home: Seven Boys and an American Journey between the Projects and the Penthouse.”
What a fascinating story he had to tell about his “experiment” in raising 7 boys in a penthouse on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In addition to his own two children, five of the boys were from the neighboring projects and were clearly not of his race or class.
How did they get there? They were initially attracted by his 7-year-old son who had picked them up at the neighborhood ballpark with the promise of Nintendo and milk in the refrigerator, two luxuries those boys had never known.
Evenings playing Nintendo turned into weekend slumber parties, which eventually turned into more permanent residence at the home of “YoMike” as they called the author, their adoptive father figure.
The author read a section about their first trip out to a restaurant with their extended family, who clearly hadn’t learned restaurant etiquette in their tenement upbringing. But as he and his wife opened their fortune, it said “Love is like paint, it makes things beautiful when you spread it, but it will dry up if you don’t use it.”
I quickly concluded that the book is not about race and class as much as it is about family. It’s about teaching children the benefits of education and how to access and direct the love they are all born with. I haven’t read the book, but the audience comments lead me to believe I’m in for a treat.
This morning as I shared a latte with my friend M, we pondered the odds of children emerging from the kind of poverty those 5 boys and so many other children know so well. She wished Malcolm Gladwell would apply his outlier theory to this situation and come up with the perfect formula for success. I wondered if any of my young shelter kids would rise above their current status and find a corner of the world in which to shine.
Last night I was particularly intrigued with an audience question from the only black man in attendance. He professed to have emerged from the ghetto, not far from where the author lives. He was well spoken and well dressed. I so wanted to know his story, to know how he had managed what seems so impossible. I spoke to him after the book talk and mentioned reading to the kids at the shelter. He smiled and said, “Just keep reading to them.”