AFTER ALEX KOTLOWITZ: ACROSS THE RIVER and into THE HARBOR

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Hello, I am working on a long range writing project, tentatively entitled:

AFTER ALEX KOTLOWITZ: ACROSS THE RIVER and into THE HARBOR

Here is an excerpt:

Ch. 1: After Eric

It has been over twenty years since the death of teenager Eric McGinnis in May of 1991. The circumstances of his death at age 16 are still unsettled; the exact cause of his death, while officially ruled an accidental drowning, are still up for debate. And the two communities that share this story, St. Joe, where he died, and Benton Harbor, where he was from, are still segregated. In 1992, Wall Street Journal reporter Alex Kotlowitz tried to get to the bottom of the mystery of this tragedy.

The result was his book-length study, The Other Side of the River, which both intrigued readers by its narrative re-creation of the known facts of the case, and impressed the public by its restrained inclusion of speculation, including teasing out the urban legends that McGinnis died with a rope around his neck (not true); or that his death was racially motivated (possible). [below, Paw Paw River, tributary of St. Joe River]

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Alex Kotlowitz did not stop writing about race after publishing The Other Side of the River; indeed his genre bending success, the film The Interrupters, has been used in classrooms, community centers, and police departments to model alternative methods to preventing deaths by gunfire in the Chicago area. This is a radical yet simple idea: to interrupt a shoot out.

His work with urban issues seems genuine if not prolific. He is currently a sponsor on the panel for the photo show, We all we got, by Chicago photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz:

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Like prolific urban issues writer Jesse Katz, who also writes about sports as a palimpsest of greater community or cultural issues, such as race, class, money, mobility, or music, one could look at just the microcosm of the Benton Harbor High School football team and extrapolate about the ravages of still-lingering segregation in the post-Eric McGinnis years. Of this genre I am think about Jesse Katz’s piece about the legal battle over the LA Dodgers wherein baseball ownership is merely a ‘calling card’ to higher society in Los Angeles.

Click to access McCourt.pdf

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In that writerly frame of mind, take for instance the Benton Harbor Homecoming football game on Friday Oct. 3, 2014 It was an exceptionally windy, rainy, and cold evening, when the visiting team, the  St. Joe Bears, lined up against the Benton Harbor Tigers. The result was 58 to 9, a Tigers loss. Yes, the team from ‘across the river’ beat the Tigers on their own turf at their own big party.

1007141737The WSJM (AM) radio guys were democratic with their assessment: the night was brutal for a ‘spread offense’ and the girls of the homecoming court ‘should not be out in rain with their hair and gowns.’ Their message also seemed to be: good coaching and disciplined players beat raw talent and athletic ability every time, astonishingly, as “BH always has a strong second half.” The two teams were an example of integration on the field, but segregation in the locker room.

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Ch. 2 Lead Poisoning, Education, and the next Gen

(see next post)

——–

Other things to research, and other chapters may include:

Ch. 3 Gangs, Guns, Drugs, and the Jail across the river

Ch. 4 Teen Pregnancy, infant mortality, and the cycle of poverty

Ch. 5 Benton Harbor Bankruptcy: terms and deals

Ch. 6 St. Joe’s side of the story, still the same, we’re not to blame

Ch. 7: The Reality: 2010 U.S. Census data: racial demographics

 

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