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The illumination of the "otherness" of the Other America that these books provide is valuable to the extent that mainstream America needs to wake up to the harsh realities of the inner city. Christians especially need to avoid remaining so insular that we fail to see the contemporary Lazaruses at the gate.
Some of these books, though, perform a further crucial service: they remind us that, in some ways, the Other America really isn't so different from mainstream America. The danger in stressing the otherness of the inner city is that doing so may provide mainstream society with an excuse for inaction. When ghetto residents appear alien, the rest of us tend either to condemn or pity them--almost always from a safe distance. One of the triumphs of Frey, Coyle, and Joravsky is their ability to bridge the gap and show us how inner-city residents, like the rest of us, are multidimensional characters not easily reducible to tidy stereotypes.
In "Hardball," just before the Kikuyus' game against the Hausas, Coyle introduces us to Michael, the elder cousin of Freddie, one of the Kikuyus' players. Michael, we learn, is in his late twenties, has great affection for Freddie, and taught Freddie how to pitch and hit. Michael agrees to help coach that afternoon and does a fine job, breaking up the Kikuyus' in-fighting, reformulating some of the players' positions, getting caught up in the spirit of the competition. "This is great," Michael tells the coach at the conclusion of the game. "I could do this everyday."
Unfortunately, Michael never gets the chance: the next time we hear of him he is being sent to serve six years in prison for robbery. His recent police record at the time includes battery, sexual assault, and property damage. A police officer Coyle interviews says Michael was "a good kid for a long time," even went to college. Then he came back to the streets, got a girl pregnant, and started doing heroin. "Sad to see," says the cop, "because he was a pretty good ...