Market Babies

Finalist, 2004 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism


 

City Limits • January 2003

Kwame Boame is only 6 years old, but he’s already got a helluva commute. Every Monday morning, Kwame’s mother, Kimberly Paul, rustles him out the door at 6:30 to take the A train from their apartment in the Dyckman Houses, at the northern tip of Manhattan, to the island’s southern border. In the Broadway-Nassau station, next to the magazine stand on the A platform, they meet Kwame’s great-grandmother, who shepherds Kwame onto the train to Bedford-Stuyvesant, where he goes to school. For the next five days, he’ll stay with his grandmother and great-grandmother. Kwame won’t see his mother again until Friday. Continue reading “Market Babies”

Schools of Door Knocks

City Limits • July/August 2001

A few years ago, as I prepared to leave college enthusiastic, politicized, and yearning for a better world, the obvious option was community organizing. But after four years of full-time work, full-time studies, and part-time organizing and the attendant vending-machine diet, absence of social life–and borderline poverty–a better world didn’t seem nearly as important as my nutrition, rent and mental health.

Ten, 15 years ago, organizing came with certain lifestyle demands. Incredibly long hours that vied with the most fierce workaholics on Wall Street. Compensation matching that of the Wall Streeters’ maids. Skimpy benefits. If you worked for a national or even regional organization, heavy and unpredictable traveling from campaign to campaign, often alone. Continue reading “Schools of Door Knocks”

The Great Training Robbery

Five years ago, Joseph Cruz enlisted in New York’s welfare army. He spent a year doing clerical work in a city office in exchange for a public assistance check. Then he hit the streets for the Sanitation Department in Coney Island. Cruz donned an orange vest five mornings a week before clearing refuse, shoveling snow and riding the garbage trucks.

Finalist, 2002 Harry Chapin Media Award


 

City Limits • May 2001

Five years ago, Joseph Cruz enlisted in New York’s welfare army. He spent a year doing clerical work in a city office in exchange for a public assistance check. Then he hit the streets for the Sanitation Department in Coney Island. Cruz donned an orange vest five mornings a week before clearing refuse, shoveling snow and riding the garbage trucks.

Six months ago, Cruz was pulled off the Work Experience Program trucks for a new welfare experience, this time in the shadow of Williamsburg’s elevated subway tracks. Here, at the St. Nicholas Job Center, welfare recipients double-click their way to employment. Aslee Williams, the center’s job specialist, leads a room of welfare recipients in an afternoon class that is supposed to prepare them for employment. “Okay,” she begins, peering over wire-rimmed glasses. “When you go in for a job interview, do you sit there like this?” Williams lolls about in her chair, slouches, dangles her arms, and rolls her eyes upward, garnering a few chuckles. “Or do you cross your legs and sit up straight?” Continue reading “The Great Training Robbery”