Rodney J. Carroll (2002). No Free Lunch: One Man's Journey from Welfare to the American Dream

Article excerpt

Introduction by President Bill Clinton. One World Ballantine Books, NY. ISBN 0-345-45229-1.

No Free Lunch is a memoir of Rodney Carroll's journey from growing up on welfare, to being President and CEO of the Welfare to Work Partnership. The story is compelling, true and difficult to put down.

The book begins with childhood memories of North Philadelphia. Rodney clearly describes the hardships he experienced, such as an absent father and an abusive & alcoholic mother who once sent him to the emergency room after hitting hit him in the head with a baseball bat. Rodney also takes us on a journey through North Philadelphia where gang members, hustlers and drug dealers are frequent role models. Rodney is fortunate enough to have had a very powerful role model in his grandmother. Her wisdom and guidance is pivotal to his growth.

The descriptions of coming of age as a teenager are chilling in their realism. The descriptions of how Rodney tries to avoid gangs and drugs help readers understand how difficult it is to "just say no." When Rodney refuses to join a gang, they spray paint gang messages designed to incite rival gangs to attack him. The ploy normally forces gang membership for protection but when it fails, the gang simply attacks Rodney and puts his head through a storefront window (the owner wants Rodney to pay for the damages). It is amazing Rodney wasn't killed for his convictions to pursue education and avoid gangs.

Not all of the challenges occur in the streets. Rodney always seemed to enjoy learning but several teachers demoralize him and one tells him he will never attend college. This is another place Rodney could have been derailed from his goals of education and escaping poverty. It is amazing Rodney did not become involved in drugs and he describes how close he came to doing just that.

After maneuvering past the traps, obstacles and danger zones in and outside school, Rodney takes a job at United Parcel Service. Rodney could have failed on his first day when UPS co-workers refused to help him `learn the ropes.' Instead, Rodney begins to show talents for improving work efficiency and for motivating people. …