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‘Doing the Best I Can’

Posted on Mar 31, 2014

    Joe White with three of his children. Photo by Elizabeth Talbert

Joe White is a 36-year-old married father of four in Camden, N.J., and one of many men whom sociologist and Truthdigger of the Week Kathryn Edin got to know as part of her five-year investigation into fatherhood in the inner city, a project that led to the book “Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood In the Inner City.”

In a video created in 2013 by Edin, her husband and colleague Timothy Nelson and filmmaker Elizabeth Talbert, White, who graduated from high school, talks about surviving the streets and raising children.

“I’d been through so much that I didn’t even think I was going to be alive at that age,” White tells Nelson about approaching adulthood and imagining a future with his girlfriend. “So at 18 I was like, look… I’m gonna marry this girl before something happens to me out on these streets. At least do something right.”

About the inescapable conflict that arose from his attempt to provide his family with a decent livelihood by the only means available, White said, “The streets, that’s how I ate. That’s how I kept clothes in my back, his back, her back. And she got tired. She kinda gave me an ultimatum, like, ‘Yo, it’s me or the streets.’ I chose the streets. … I thought I was saving her, because I didn’t really care about whether I lived or died. So that was my mentality, my way of thinking was like, ‘… I’m gonna live this life. I’m gonna make as much money as I possibly can, so if something happens to me, then my son and my son’s mother will be took care of.”

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