Rosa Lee by Leon Dash Review


Leon Dash is a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, who has described the story of Rosa Lee in the eight-part Washington post series. The story describes the life of Rosa Lee, her eight children, and partly follows the lives of her five grandchildren. Originally, the life of the Afro-American woman and her family does not differ from the stories of other African Americans, nevertheless, the miseries of poverty, illiteracy and crimes impressed the readers, and the decision to award Leon Dash with the Pulitzer Prize makes this series of stories an outstanding composition depicting the story of African-American population.

The paper aims to provide an analysis based on geographic location of family origin, geographic location of residence, poverty, race, and gender of the main characters of the story and the surrounding people. The analysis of Rosa Lee’s life will be held on the principles of Advanced Generalist Assessment, which is regarded to be one of the most progressive social assessments in the context of psychological evaluation of the people’s surroundings and social environment.

The Story of Rosa Lee

Originally, her life was described in the context of her surrounding, geographic, cultural and family background. She is a human, whose life does not differ from the lives of lots of other African Americans living in poor districts of metropolises. Reporter Leon Dash followed her life and the lives of her relatives (children and grandchildren) aiming to realize, capture and describe the realities of the lives of inhabitants of poor districts, the lives of American underclass. Rosa Lee just became an accidental character of the story, which impressed the whole world.

Leon Dash’s motivation to write this story is rather contradicting. On the one hand, he wished to reveal the story of the poor districts in Washington; on the other hand, the intention was to overcome the crisis in black journalism, and the journalists of urban America just wished to share their discomfort and alarm. Dash was one of these journalists. He managed to touch the power cord of common response, ass up to 5,000 readers were touched by this story. The seriousness of his intention is confirmed by the notion that Dash does not just observe the flow of her life – he has become the integral part of her daily life: he drove her to the methadone clinic, helped her read the incoming mail, visited her in the hospital. Thus, he played an important role in forming her surrounding, and pictured all the necessary data for the Advanced Generalist Assessment of her life. On the one hand it may seem that he had seriously interrupted the trustfulness of such analysis, nevertheless, he kept the journalistic distance, while interacting with her and her children. He never lent money to her, or solved the bureaucratic issues, as he was unable “to help to forge a poweto forged with Rosa Lee” (Dash, 1997, p. 24)

The story describes Rosa Lee’s life story in the context of the choices she had made. Originally, not all the choices of her life were correct, nevertheless, the price for these choices was paid by her, and even if she can not find enough strength to make the correct choice and take the correct decision, she aims to do so. When she let Leon Dash to issue the events of her life, she made it to prevent others from making her mistakes.

Advanced Generalist Assessment

To begin with, there is strong necessity to define the requirements of the analysis, and give the frames of the assessment in the context of Rosa Lee’s life, her choices, environment and people, who surround her. The analysis, which is required for the present paper entails the generalist foundation of the advanced knowledge skills and values of the analyzed object, and provides the necessary frameworks for the proper assessment of the psychological background of the matter. Originally, the multi-level, culturally competent and theoretically grounded perspective, is the central method that should be used for the analysis.

Originally, the study is aimed at supporting the interventions of the life and environment at micro, mezzo and macro levels. The evident-based practice, which is required for the assessment is represented in the light of the enhancement for the occupation of the researched individual.

To begin with, the image of the person should be represented:

She doesn’t mind getting up early. It gives her a little extra time to make herself look nice. She favors bold earrings, necklaces with gold crosses and colorful paste-on fingernails, which she chooses to, match the stylish pantsuits that she likes to wear. So, she is dressed and ready for our interview long before I knock on the brown metal door of her apartment, part of a low-income housing complex near the District-Prince George’s County line. (Dash, 1997, p. 21)

In the context of the analysis, there is a strong necessity to emphasize that this person is rather self-confident and addicted to the cultural traditions. In spite of the fact that the main aim of the interview is to show the poverty of the low-income districts on the example of a particular life, Rosa Lee, in spite of the financial difficulties, aggravated diseases and overall situation in the district wishes to show the dignity and honor of her family and her own self.

The fact is that, the results, which should be made in the context of the multi-level analysis will be derived from the general image of her character, and attributes of her communication manner. The physical image is just the outside part of the analysis, while her behavior and manners will show the real background of this person. AS for the matters of the geographic location, her behavior may be explained by the necessity to survive (find food), solve the upcoming problems (meet with local bureaucrats). She just tries to get constantly adapted to the matters of social environment. The Macro analysis of her personality should be originated from the analysis of the surrounding world. One of her daughters is aiming to overcome the addiction to cocaine, and find a job. As Leon Dash emphasizes in the first part of the series:

That nine people from three generations could get along in such cramped conditions is a tribute to Rosa Lee and her housekeeping skills. She’s a compulsive cleaner, often jumping up during conversations to snatch a dirty dish or straighten the Disney figurines that she keeps on the glass table in her living room. (Dash, 1997, p. 37)

As for the matter of Leo Dash’s impact on her life, it should be emphasized that he did not wish to interfere deeply in her personal life and her everyday problems. He puts a particular emphasis on the fragment, when Rosa Le asks him to go to Pepco office, to solve the problems with the electricity bill. She thinks that Dash’s appearance will give her greater authority to talk with the bureaucrats. Nevertheless, he refuses, as he is just a reporter, his appearance is not as authoritative as Rosa Lee considers, moreover, he does not wish to interfere into the life of the character of his story so intensively. The fact is that, she can easily cope with the problem herself:

It’s hard to imagine Rosa Lee having trouble getting someone’s attention if she wants to. She has learned how to bring smiles or tears to her long, handsome face whenever it’s necessary. Her hips are broader than they once were, but her 145 pounds settle easily on her 5-foot-1-inch frame, and she likes to boast that her narrow waist still turns heads. Her hands are firm and strong, the result of washing countless baskets of laundry on a scrub board when she was a child. (Dash, 1997, p. 38)

Originally, she could not be another person in the world, where drug dealers sold heroin and cocaine near the schools of the district. The world of cruelty, crime and violence did not bear weak and weak-willed persons. Her narrow waists might have been really forceful, as strength is needed in the districts where she grew up. Thus, everything points out that she was a strong-willed person with her sorrows and problems, who can not keep these sorrows in herself forever.

The mezzo level of the analysis incorporates her own features and skills. In one of the interviews she confesses that she is HIV positive, and tells that her children Patty and Bobby are also HIV infected. This has happened due to their addiction to heroin, when they shared a single needle in a company, where one was HIV positive. Later, she confesses, that she was afraid to tell Leon about this fact, thinking that he would give up his idea of writing her life story. This characterizes her as a strong woman, who needs someone to tell of her sorrows, as she can not keep everything in her own soul forever. Dash, in his turn, calls for trust, and she regarded him as a person who may help others avoid the mistakes, which she has made during her life.

Originally, it is rather hard to evaluate all the levels separately, as Micro, Macro and Mezzo levels have interwoven deeply into each other. Thus, environment shaped the personality of the main character. The personality caused essential changes in her own life and creation of the family in particular. Mezzo level is the result of the taken solutions, born sorrows and troubles, as well as the overcome difficulties and victories. All the aspects of her life, her manners and behavior are simultaneously the causes and the reasons of the events, which happened in her life, the consequences of the taken decision, and outcomes of attitude towards life and environment. As Dash himself emphasizes on this point:

In fact, the stories were about human poverty at the underclass level. Tragically, many families caught in these circumstances and having a restricted vision of what their opportunities make the same bad choices as Rosa Lee did. Many more do not. (Dash, 1997, p. 12)

Taking into consideration the concept of macro analysis as the analysis of the surrounding but not the person in the surrounding, it should be emphasized that the story of Rosa Lee is the personification of the criminal Afro-American district of any metropolis. Her life story is rather touching, thrilling and interesting from the point of view of the generalist assessment, nevertheless, a similar story may be taken from lots of other persons, as Dash himself emphasizes it. After writing this story, he concludes that the story of Rosa Lee is the story of all the low-income districts, about human poverty and illiteracy, as neither Rosa Lee nor her children can read. The tragedy of the appeared situation is that lots of people like Rosa Lee got caught in the trap of these circumstances, and their choices could not be regarded as the correct decisions.


Leon Dash states in one of his interviews that people often ask him what the purpose of writing this story is. They do not mean the real Dash’s intention, but they ask for the conclusions, which readers should make. Originally, readers are free to make their own conclusions; however, Leon Dash states that there is no clear answer. This is the story of Washington criminals with three-grade reading skills. The story tells when these people stopped learning.

If young people will be reading this series, their conclusions should be associated with the matters of further education and study, as illiteracy, illustrated in the story is really awful. If the story is read by parents, they should conclude that their children require attention both in everyday life and studies, as most of the criminals, pictured in the story “went on to junior high school without the academic foundation to do junior high-level work much less be able to function academically at the high school level” (Dash, 1997, p.16)

On the other hand, the story gives the alternative view of the lives of these people. They are not stupid and heartless criminals. They just do not have an opportunity to go on with their education and enter the civilized job market. Crime is not justified, nevertheless, for most it is the only possible source of income and survival.


Finally, it should be emphasized that the generalist assessment and the approach which is used for the analysis of Rosa Lee’s personality is mainly aimed at evaluating the features of her character, her manners and behavioral stereotypes, nevertheless, it is impossible to estimate character without taking into consideration the social environment, the person lives in. As the author of the series emphasizes, the story shows the life of Washington criminals. Surely, Rosa Lee’s character would have been quite different if she had lived in some other environment. Nevertheless, she clearly realizes all, or almost all the mistakes she has made in her life, and tries to warn others against repeating these mistakes. This fact may characterize her as a wise lady, whose wisdom originates on the streets and suburbs of criminal districts, where she spent all her life.


Dash, Leon (1997) “Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America” Plume Publishing.

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