The first time I drove through Camden, New Jersey, I was shell-shocked.
I was the state’s deputy commissioner of education and was on my way to one of the city’s schools, where Governor Christie was hosting a bill-signing event. I had previously visited one of Camden’s alternative schools, but I had been ferried by a local who, I later figured out, knew the roads inside and out.
I had heard countless stories about Camden’s sad state but hadn’t truly witnessed it during that trip. But the online map provider I used for my first solo journey showed that it knew less about the city than I did. It generated a route that took me on a tour I will never forget.
To that point, the two most tragic cities I’d seen were Detroit and Cleveland. Yes, both have areas that still give the appearance of vibrancy, but venture a bit further out and you see countless deserted buildings and decaying neighborhoods.
Then you see kids.
The cruelty these environs inflict on boys and girls is unspeakable. It’s why I do this work.
But what I saw in Camden was even worse. Entire blocks had fallen apart. The street activity, meager as it was, was unwholesome to say the least. The city felt not just hollow but abandoned.
The worst part was when I finally made my way to a larger thoroughfare and saw a...