“An American Summer”, and What This Book Means to Me

An American Summer is one of the more recent books by Alex Kotlowitz, and to be honest, I am not sure whether it makes sense to anybody who did not read any of his books before, or didn’t see any of his documentaries. 

I first learned about Kotlowitz when the Interruptors documentary was released. At that time, I was already quite involved in homeless charities, and I knew quite a bit about Chicago schools and existing issues. It just happened that I got tickets for Igor and myself to “Chicago Live!” where the first episode was the meeting with the “Interrupters” team. After the show, we talked to Alex Kotlowitz, the film director Steve James, and with amazing Ameena Matthews. And then we went to see the screening of the movie in the Siskel center, and there was more conversation there. In shots, for me, there is a history behind that book.

This book is just a collection of episodes. No plot. No conclusions. No judgment. But still, it shows, very painfully, how difficult it is to get out of poverty and violence. And how easy it is to fall back. Story after story, different people, the same scenario.

I was thinking about this book last two times I visited the Open Doors Shelter. The last time was this past Wednesday, and I saw one girl who left a while ago, and whom I didn’t have a chance to see off. My immediate reaction was: Z, I am so glad to see you!!!! And she shrugged: Things didn’t work out at home. I realized how insensitive of me was to say that, and I said: I am really sorry things didn’t work out for you, but I am so glad that you found your way back here!  

Then we talked a lot while making dinner, and she told me that all these residents who were going to leave the next day after my previous visit had only left a day earlier. I should know by now, that things usually happen that way, but I am keeping forgetting how unrealistically optimistic these young people are. 

And I am glad that I had time to talk with a couple of them before they left, and that I told them: please do not get discouraged when things do work exactly the way they should. Do not give up. You will fail at some point because everybody does. Just do not give up. Keep going. 

I hope they will.

When I was talking with Z, I shared with her some parts of my story, I do not usually share, but I felt they were relevant in the situation. She looked at me: Do you know how amazing you are? I said: I am telling you these stories to encourage you. I could do it. And you can do it because you are amazing, too. 

I was going to finish this post right here, but I started to go back to my journal of 2011, and I thought: nine years later, nothing changed! Except Ceasefire was closed due to the lack of funds. So I decided to finish this post with The Interrupters official trailer.

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