The uptown kids: struggle and hope in the projects

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Inner-city housing projects can be good places to rear children. Parents in the projects struggle against great odds to instill in their children the values we all cherish. A Harlem renaissance is taking place today, spearheaded by teenagers who are producing a new world culture of music, art, and fashion. Over the past fifteen years, inner-city housing projects have come to symbolize everything that is wrong with urban America: drug use, violence, teenage pregnancy, and the breakdown of the family. Against this harsh backdrop, sociologists Terry Williams and William Kornblum paint a very different picture, one full of energy, talent, and hope. Told largely in the words and through the stories of a handful of Harlem teenagers, The Uptown Kids is the first book in twenty-five years to take a serious look at the lives of people in New York City's public housing projects. Williams and Kornblum, the authors of Growing Up Poor, set out to discover what made New York's good public housing work, in contrast to the famous Chicago and St. Louis failures. In addition to standard research, Williams started something he called the Harlem Writers Crew, comprising teenagers who kept journals and met weekly to discuss their experiences. Five years later, The Uptown Kids relates the stories of young people facing the dual challenges of poverty and racism, but somehow enduring and succeeding. We learn what it is like to see a friend killed on the street, and to take part in a gang fight; how a teenage father can assume responsibility for raising his son and do a splendid job; and how a high school dropout on probation for selling drugs can turn his back on the street. We learn how important having ababy is to a teenage unwed mother whose goal in life is to become a writer - and how she moves from welfare through high school equivalency to a good job. We meet raw talent in music and dance, and we see the pressures that many gifted Harlem kids suffer when they are plucked from the projects to attend exclusive private schools and Ivy League colleges. What the authors tell us most affectingly is that the only thing these kids need is the occasional helping hand, the same kind of support middle- and upper-class teenagers receive. The talent, drive, and energy that exist in housing projects in New York and throughout this great country can be harnessed for our common good or driven underground. It is our choice, and The Uptown Kids opens our eyes, as never before, to that choice.

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THE UPTOWN KIDS: Struggle and Hope in the Projects

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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 ... Read full review


The Public Housing Opportunity
Building Community and Getting Respect

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About the author (1994)

TERRY WILLIAMS is Professor and Head of the Management Science Department at Strathclyde University. After studying at Oxford and Birmingham he lectured at Strathclyde University in Operational Research before joining Engineering Consultants YARD (now BAe) where he worked for 9 years developing Project Risk Management and as Risk Manager for major projects. He re-joined Strathclyde University in 1992 and continues research and consultancy modelling on major projects, particularly as one of a team supporting multi-million dollar post-project Delay and Disruption claims in Europe and North America.
Dr Williams is Editor of the "Journal of the Operational Research Society. He is a frequent conference speaker, and has published widely in many academic and professional journals and books. He is MAPM, PhD and CMath.

William Kornblum is a professor of sociology at the Graduate School of the City University of New York, where he helps train future instructors and researchers in the social sciences. He also teaches undergraduates at various campuses of the City University, including Queens College, Hunter College, and City College. A specialist in urban and community studies, Kornblum began his teaching career with the Peace Corps in the early 1960s, where he taught physics and chemistry in French-speaking West Africa. He received his Doctorate in Sociology from the University of Chicago in 1971. He also taught at the University of Washington at Seattle and worked as a research sociologist for the U.S. Department of the Interior. At the CUNY Graduate School, he directs research on environmental issues and on urban policy. With his longtime research partner, Terry Williams, he recently co-authored THE UPTOWN KIDS, a sociological portrait of teenagers and young adults growing up in high-rise public housing projects. He was also the principal investigator of Project TELL, a longitudinal study of the ways in which home computers can improve the life chances of young people at risk of dropping out of school. In 2005, Kornblum was awarded the Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology from the American Sociological Association.