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ROSA LEE (LEON DASH).

  Term Paper ID:28025
Essay Subject:
Investigative report on effects of racism & poverty on Rosa Lee & her family, of Washington D.C. Focus is on Rosa Lee's impact, positive & negative, on her children, & factors that turned family to a life of crime & drugs. Discusses each chapter.... More...
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Paper Abstract:
Investigative report on effects of racism & poverty on Rosa Lee & her family, of Washington D.C. Focus is on Rosa Lee's impact, positive & negative, on her children, & factors that turned family to a life of crime & drugs. Discusses each chapter.

Paper Introduction:
"Rosa Lee" written by Leon Dash, investigative reporter for The Washington Post, chronicles four years in the life of Rosa Lee Cunningham's poverty stricken family in Washington, D.C. It is, in essence, a list of events that occurred between the years of 1991 and 1994 to Rose Lee, the 52-year-old link between a rural generation of sharecroppers and the growing urban under-underclass who survive through their "street smarts." Rosa Lee exemplifies the fact that in America the cycle of abject poverty and violence is an endless and continual spiral downward. Dash describes his chronicle as a "close-up look at the interrelationships among racism, poverty, illiteracy, drug use, and crime, and why these problems sometimes persist from generation to generation (Dash, 1997, p. 7)." The book is a stark, frightening example of crime and drugs as a

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One of those differences, she says, is that she was a prostitutein order to feed her children while Patty does it to feed her drug habit.However, she acknowledges that Patty says she is merely repeating thelifestyle of her mother when called on her choices for her lifestyle, andRosa Lee cannot disagree with her. However, in "Coming Full Circle," Rosa Lee is also taken to visit herformer country home community by Dash, to reconnect with her remainingrelatives there and her own past. Rose Lee's pride as she observes the granddaughterhiding the drugs for safety from drug dealers surprises the reporter, who,"up to this point, thought I understood Rose Lee pretty well," but hedidn't (Dash, 1997, p. She justifies this by telling Dash that the underworld path washer avenue to survival, and therefore it was alright for her children tofollow her path. They showed me the positive side of life... In addition, he notes with dismay that "the fruits of Rose Lee'slessons to her children are with her every day," such as her daughterendangering herself to retain the attention of boyfriends, a device RoseLee herself performed unsuccessfully and regrets(Dash, 1997, p. She is able to recall memories of the segregation and abuse of herchildhood that made her grandparents so fearful and strict, but she is alsoappreciative of the new chance to change her life. He continued to repeathis life of crime and violence. It is, in essence, a list ofevents that occurred between the years of 1991 and 1994 to Rose Lee, the 52-year-old link between a rural generation of sharecroppers and the growingurban under-underclass who survive through their "street smarts." Rosa Leeexemplifies the fact that in America the cycle of abject poverty andviolence is an endless and continual spiral downward. Rosa Lee describes to Dash how she first embarked on a life of drugs,starting with diet stimulant pills and working her way up to heroin, whichshe describes as, "It was a hell of a rush. The authorities summed up his problem by noting thathe had a very troubled time as a child and as a teen, and that all theintervention on his behalf by the authorities had no positive effect.According to Junior, he was never given such help. This job lasted 14 years and was the closestRonnie came to entering the steady working class despite steady drug useand gambling; however, his drug habit interfered and he wound up in and outof jail and homeless, stuck in the same pattern as Rosa Lee's otherchildren, Ducky, Bobby and Richard. It is one of emotionlessness,which is a teen's idea of masculinity. Ronnie stole cars, burgledapartments and was in and out of jail as a teenager. Dash notes that in studies of the attitudes of black teenageboys in poor urban communities, many of the young men have an unfulfilledsense of self and become obsessed with a need to appear tough. There are wonderful moments for Rosa. By the time he was 18and a senior in high school, he was the father of six children by fourdifferent girls. One positive attitude was her caring and spunk, much admired by herentire family. I don't remember ever having to stick up forher." (Dash, 1997, p. This last staybecomes the grand finale to the grinding, vulnerable lifestyle she led ofpetty crime, abuse and violence. But he also landed a civil service job with benefits,pension and a steady income. Thechildren rarely had a father figure in the house since husbands were notallowed to live with mothers on welfare. Rather than appreciate anything hermother did for the family, Rosa was angry and thwarted her wheneverpossible, even if this meant having one child after another when ateenager, the result of sexual liaisons rather than relationships.Rosa's revenge for her mother's physical and verbal abuse was to enter intoa fuller life of shoplifting and outsmart her mother until she could gaincontrol of government checks and live on her own (Dash, 1997, p. Yet, Dash contends, while all of these views aretrue, Rosa Lee and her family were failed by the school system and she wasa victim of sexism and racism, ignorant of her own opportunities. Rosa's mother's conflicted attitude towardcrime prompted Rosa's cavalier attitude toward stealing, as well herpassing along shoplifting skills to her children and grandchildren. References Dash, L. This is especially true because Rosa Leeallows Patty to inject her with heroin. Chapter Six "Another Way of Life" depicts how Eric and Alvin, two ofRosa Lee's eight children, have avoided a criminal life -- apparentlythrough sheer resolve. In "Coming Full Circle" Rosa Lee also adjusts to the new lifestyle ofher final years, as usual concerning herself with her family, in this case,caring for one of the estimated 32 grandchildren of her own eight children.She also engages in public speaking to tell her story. The chapter also describes Rosa's children and their fathers. What isimportant in the end, contends Dash, is that the public be aware of thisunder underclass, learn from her story and provoke a change. Chapter Two, "Just Trying to Survive," establishes the choices RosaLee made early on in life to avoid the wrath of her former sharecroppermother who supported the family with welfare checks, "daywork" and makingmeals to sell on week-ends. It was part of his code thathe could not let anyone "hurt, threaten, or disrespect him, nor evensomeone in his family." (Dash, 1997, p. "Serious Time," Chapter Five, examines Rosa Lee's abuse of herchildren, as she permits, even encourages their drug use and drug sellingas well as any other criminal activities that would bring money to thehousehold. AfterJunior resumed his old way of life, he was caught and sentenced forstabbing another boy. 169) Alvin credits his positive way of life to the fact that, he "didn'tlet drugs grab me" (Dash, 1997, p. (Dash, 1997, p. This situation led to an ongoing cycle ofprobation, crimes involving the sale of drugs and jail, summed up simply byRosa as, "Bobby finds it difficult to negotiate life outside prison."Eventually Bobby contracted the AIDS virus and died. 199) Unfortunately, this code led to negative and illegal behavior; even astint with the Vision Quest program to instill discipline into Juniorfailed -- with Junior accusing staff members of being too rough with him, acase of discipline without dedication on the part of the staff. In "The Third Generation," Chapter Eight, Rosa Lee's grandchildrenare the topic. 171) Chapter Seven, "A Daughter Watches and Learns" describes thesimilarities and differences between Rosa Lee's daughter, Patty, andherself. Beat up mostgirls and a good many boys. Even as a young teenager, Junior successfully fought off his uncle,Ducky, when he tried to take Junior's money. Dash describes his chronicle as a "close-up look at theinterrelationships among racism, poverty, illiteracy, drug use, and crime,and why these problems sometimes persist from generation to generation(Dash, 1997, p. 7)." The book is a stark, frightening example of crime and drugs as adeliberate lifestyle choice at an early age. To further compound the problem ofno father figure, strangers introduced to the children as their fatherwould make big promises, only to never return. 169), and like Eric, a feeling ofrejection for the family lifestyle -- "shame and humiliation for Alvin andanger and disgust for Eric." (Dash, 1997, p. As a Medicaid patient, Rosa pays less than a penny a pill andresells them from $1-2 dollars for each pill. "Coming Full Circle," Chapter Nine, covers Rosa's final series ofhospitalizations due to the effects of her drug habits. 153) And even though Eric describes himself as a"badass kid," he eventually skillfully arranged tutoring for himselfthrough the family social worker who had been checking up on anotherbrother. 47) Chapter Three "Rosetta's Legacy" may be the most important chapter inthe book because it explains how the urban Afro-American under-underclassarose from poor families isolated in forest or swampland areas witheducation as a low priority: In a South when segregation was rigidly enforced, rural blacks received little or no education, black men were routinely lynched, blacks had no legal rights, and their labor was exploited. Over the years Rosa has used and sold heroin andcrack and anything else she could get. Rosa's borderline pathological attitude toward crime -- norecriminations -- appears innate and additionally cemented by her mother'sself-righteous attitude, which was to punish Rosa for stealing but condoneit by accepting stolen goods. Chapter one introduces a litany of daily crises: procuring drugs ormethadone; supporting the drug habit of two of her children; obtaining andhandling her regularly supplied government income to pay bills, dealingwith her own HIV positive status, as well as two of her AIDS-infectedchildren, and children in prison and/or in trouble with the law or drugsuppliers. Thisattitude accounts for the high rates of homicide, accidents, self-destructive behavior and incarceration, and also provides a "face" forteens such as Rosa Lee's grandson, Junior. 33). I heard bells ringing" (p.113). "Rosa Lee" written by Leon Dash, investigative reporter for TheWashington Post, chronicles four years in the life of Rosa Lee Cunningham'spoverty stricken family in Washington, D.C. According to Eric, it was the social worker and ateacher who, when Eric had already seen a negative way of life, "showed mea better way of living. Rosa's later relationship with a lesbian who moved in with thefamily is described as a happy experience, although the drugs they dotogether have a debilitating effect on Rosa. In 1987 Bobby was convicted of selling heroin and was sentenced toover 3 months jail time. She is the best dressed memberof her old community church. Even Dash's attempts toconvey Rosa's manipulative "smarts," capability to organize a household,"handsome" appearance and humor make her a scarier rather than empatheticfigure. Dash contends that Rose is "trapped in a drug culture shehelps perpetuate" (p. New York: Plume. 77) Although Dash painstakingly describes how Rosa was discouraged fromstaying in school by her mother and teachers, her heritage of domestic workdid not predetermine her life as a drug addict, prostitute and child abusersince eight of her own siblings and two of her own children moved into theworking, middle class. 49). Chapter Four also offers a glimpse into the young Rosa Lee before toomany hard drugs, alcohol, prostitution and crime hardened her and destroyedher health. Ronnieexplains his drug habit away as a solution to his stammering speech, whichgoverned his life from the time he was 16. From the time she admirably sold newspapers atage 12, Rosa Lee stole from neighbors, stores and even from fellow churchmembers to buy clothes and friendships. Nor did it prohibit her from learning how to read,which she somehow avoided in all her years of school with the exception ofa few words, and remained a functional illiterate in spite of a quick andsharp mind. 25). For example, she gets prescriptiondrugs such as Darvon and Xanax and resells them on the street at a premiumprice. andwhat was possible if I just cared about myself." (Dash, 1997, p. As her brother Ben summed up,"Rose, you're cold" (Dash, 1997, p. At a service, Dash marvels at "the power ofRosa Lee Cunningham (to step) in front of people who have never seen herbefore and inspire them to sing (a) song of redemption." (Dash, 1997, p.243). Eric also intuited the social worker's interest since it was nother job to care for him. With lack of parental figures, children were on their own. In summation, chronicler Leon Dash reminds his readers that Rosa Lee,in the last year of her life at 52, can be viewed as a victim ofdiscrimination and racism who made poor choices for herself, her childrenand her grandchildren, leading them into a life of petty crime and drugs.Ironically, she is a woman who set her children on the path to failure evenwhile caring for them. As Dash writes, "both somehow came to recognizethat they had real alternatives within their reach, that they had the powerto make something of themselves if they didn't give up." (Dash, 1997, p.152) Instead of caving into the negative forces in their lives, they usedthem as motivating tools even though they also skirted around the "edge ofthe law." (Dash, 1997, p. Daughter Patty's arrest and jail term forher connection to a murder, and Bobby's death are the worst emotional blowsfor Rosa. 96). Rosa Lee. 53). "Serious Time" traces the ongoing life of petty crimes involvingdrugs, car theft and burglary by two of Rosa Lee's children, Ronnie andBobby. Ben remembers, "(She would) fight anybody! Rosa soon afterward used sex to gain attention from boys just as shestole clothing to appeal to her peers. (1997). Chapter Four, "A Hell of a Rush," documents the dynamics of Rosa Lee'sdrug taking and drug dealing as well as her relationships with her motherand children. Dash also observes firsthand a new development: yet anothergeneration becoming involved in a life of drugs and crime with theintroduction of Rosa Lee's five-year old granddaughter into the drug tradeas a wily messenger.

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