Best-selling author Jonathan Kozol will speak about social justice and public service at Wake Forest University March 19 at 8 p.m. in Wait Chapel. His talk is titled “Savage Inequalities: The Reality of Injustice in America.” It is free and open to the public.
A prolific author, Kozol has worked for social justice and equity in education for more than 30 years. His books, including “Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools” and “Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation,” have won numerous awards. “Amazing Grace” was a national best seller and won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1996.
Kozol will sign copies of his books in the Wait Chapel lobby following his address at Wake Forest.
A student committee is sponsoring Kozol’s visit with help from several Wake Forest academic and administrative departments. Seniors Maura Proulx, Noelle Shanahan, Jackie Shock, Laura Wray and Kristin Zipple say Kozol’s books have inspired them to consider careers in public service after they graduate from Wake Forest in May.
“While we are among the privileged, inequality runs rampant throughout our world,” Zipple said. “When you think about it, what separates us from people who go to bed hungry or don’t have a place they can call home? How can we who are privileged not do something to help others once we realize the line between a comfortable life and having nothing is so fine? Jonathan Kozol is an inspiration, and we hope his visit will challenge our campus and community in some of the same ways his message has challenged the five of us.”
Kozol’s newest book, “Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope,” published in May 2000, is the product of four years of interviews with children, families and teachers in the South Bronx – one of the most violent, dangerous communities in the United States. There, he found that 25 percent of children suffer from asthma, 75 percent of men are unemployed, 99.8 percent of children in the public schools are black or Hispanic, and nearly 95 percent of families live on yearly incomes of $10,000 or less. Incarceration rates for men are so high that countless children see their fathers only when they visit them in prison.
Poet Gwendolyn Brooks called the book “a magnificent gift to us all.”
Kozol’s career as an activist began in 1967, when he accepted a teaching position in a poor, black section of Boston after graduating from Harvard University. After he was fired for reading a Langston Hughes poem to his fourth-grade class, he wrote a book about his experiences at the school titled “Death At An Early Age.” It won the National Book Award and has sold more than 2 million copies around the world.
Kozol then began teaching in a white, suburban school near Boston. He was shocked at the disparities he saw between that school and the inner-city school where he started his teaching career. Kozol began combining teaching with activism.
He next taught at South Boston High School during the city’s desegregation crisis. Working with a group of minority parents, he set up a storefront learning center that has since become the model for numerous others through the United States.
In 1980, the Cleveland Public Library asked Kozol to design a literacy plan for the nation’s large cities. His plan became the model for a major effort sparked by the State Library of California. Kozol’s next book, “Illiterate America,” launched a campaign to spur state, federal and private sector action to fight adult illiteracy.
In 1985, Kozol spent an evening at a homeless shelter in New York. He turned the conversations he had with mothers and children there into his third book, “Rachel and her Children: Homeless Families in America,” a narrative portrayal of the daily struggles of some of the poorest people in the nation. The book won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1989, and the Conscience in Media Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
In a review of Kozol’s work, Nobel Prize- winning author Elie Wiesel wrote, “What he (Kozol) says must be heard. His outcry must shake our nation out of its guilty indifference.”
For more information about Kozol’s visit at Wake Forest, call the Volunteer Services office at 336-758-4549.
Editor’s note: Jonathan Kozol will be available for interviews March 19. Please contact the News Service to schedule an appointment.
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