I think that it is important that we tell our own stories, but if we are not around to tell them, then I guess that is where people like Jeff Hobbs come into play...
Jeff Hobbs did a great job of telling Robert Peace’s story.
So, according to Hobbs, Peace had the type of discipline that helps people to flourish; attending a prestigious private high school he would get to school around 4:45am to work at the pool to help his family out financially, he studied his father’s criminal case and made it possible for his father to get out of jail for awhile, he learned how to swim in the 9th grade and became a pretty good water polo player and went on to play for Yale, he studied and earned good grades which compelled a millionaire to give him a free ride to Yale, all while maintaining a healthy social life.
At Yale, he played on the water polo team, had great grades, took his job working in the cafeteria and cleaning the university during the school’s academic breaks seriously, worked in a lab on cancer cells, graduated with a degree in molecular biochemistry, all while maintaining a healthy social life.
After graduating from Yale, he went back to teach at the high school where he attended, worked as a luggage person for the Newark airport and traveled the world, and helped his mother to care for his aging grandparents all while maintaining a healthy social life.
All seems well with Peace right...
However, he sold drugs all through college and after college, and the drug involvement eventually ended his life at 30 years old, and I am not so sure if the healthy social life was healthy at all. Read an article about his death here.
I can not stop thinking about Peace and what went wrong??? Why would a Yale student and graduate sell drugs?
At first, I thought maybe it was about needing money?
However, he worked while in college and did not need to worry about tuition or books, that was taken care of. After college, I am wondering if he applied for jobs and just did not get one, or was he tired of academic pressures and just needed a break, or was he trying to secure financial freedom for his mom and himself after he graduated.
I guess these are questions that we will never know.
I have thought about Coates thoughts on The American Dream and if it is attainable and exactly what it is?
When a person gets a degree or two, a job, a house, 2.5 children, does that mean that the person has acquired The American Dream, and I wonder if Peace thought that these things were impossible for him or if he even wanted these things...
This book made me think a lot about Peace’s mother, and other people like her, who worked faithfully in a cafeteria all of her life and never made enough money to achieve The America Dream: house, car, or to change her social standing. I wonder if Peace rejected the idea of being a slave to a job like his mother and never being able to change his social status in The United States of America?
Aren’t we suppose to follow all of the rules, work hard, and achieve The American Dream?
At Yale he could not just drop the fact that sometimes there was no food in house, his mom spent almost all of her earnings to send him to private schools, his father was in jail for murder, and many of his friends who went to the same private high school as he did were still in Newark trying to make ends meet. I wonder if focusing on his reality made The American Dream seem like a silly idea that only a few White people achieved so he resorted to what he knew?
Hobbs mentions that Peace attended his classes in both high school and college, but knew how to be “invisible”. I wonder if this had to do with the feeling of “Do I belong here or being a fraud." Which leads me to the idea of systematic marginalization....The idea of the system being set up to keep some people at the bottom and some people on the top. And the people at the bottom have no business at a prestigious high school or Yale. I know that when I ventured off to Michigan State for graduate school, I could never find my place and had many miserable days. I also thought that having a degree from one of the top school’s of education in the country would guarantee me a job, but that was not the case. Michigan State graduated me and sent me on my way just like Yale did Peace.
Then, I started to think about race as a social construct as Coates talks about in his book Between the World and Me. If we put people into groups, then it allows some people to be at the top and some to be on the bottom, and the people at the bottom can never change their social standing EVER. There is no them without us type of thing. And, I wonder if Peace always felt that he did not belong in either his prestigious high school and college, but he felt that he belonged at the bottom where he could make his own rules and the government would only interfere, by policing, to keep him in his place, at the bottom.
Now, these are all ideas that I am throwing around in my mind in order to try and understand why a Yale graduate ended up being tragically killed over drugs?
My People, I can’t shut my brain off, and I don’t want too....
Hobbs does a beautiful job of telling Peace’s story carefully and with dignity, and I think that this is a story that needs to be added to this conversation on race that we are having today!
This book reminded me a lot of Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward and systematic marginalization and belonging. Jesmyn’s story is almost the same as Peace's with a different location.
My next read is How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon.
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