Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

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.

It’s still summer!


Unknown said...

You have touched upon the class issue. Robert peace never felt he belonged among yalies and felt closer to street people such are the hidden injuries of class and race.

Jacqueline said...

Dr. Graham, this belonging idea is so important. I remember being very unhappy at Michigan State, because I could not find my place, and I still go back to Tuskegee every year for Homecoming where I am comfortable, safe, and happy....

We have to give our system a closer look!

Unknown said...

I don't deny that being part of the continuing integration of elite schools can be very tough on a young person especially with the personal wounds peace suffered. I am less sure that rejecting his chances would have helped peace I also know that his death raises enormous questions. Consider that his mother wanted his story told

Jacqueline said...

I agree, I don’t think that school choice would have impacted his outcome.

Unknown said...

All of which you mentioned in this post are just great points/thoughts to ponder and explore. I especially liked how you repetively used "healthy" as a term for what others view of "doing the right thing". I say that because much like with class and race, we label others based on their activities. He chose all of those "healthy" activities to fit the role of belonging in a world that is never that welcoming to Black men. I even think that in his mind he felt that if he could achieve a certain status he would fit in society much different from the one he left behind. What a tragedy! I remember being a student in college, of course it was not Yale, but it was similar in "status quo" and reputations. I had grown up in the dirt poor muddy Mississippi Delta and was given an opportunity to study at a predominantly White school where every member of the basketball team I played with drove cars fully loaded, received at least $400 a week from home, went skiing at resorts and had traveled out of the country several times. My parents didn't have the means to send me things like that. I had never been anywhere really until then and had none of the experiences as they. I felt cheated out of life in a sense and ALWAYS felt behind, as if I were trying to catch up. Whenever I went back home, it was tough leaving that world of poor, familiar comfort to return to a foreign land of sorts. The disproportionate amount of wealth and equality in this country is unreal!!

Interestingly enough, I too wonder about the American Dream and find myself questioning just who the dream is for in this society. I've just recently reached a place of accepting that true inner peace that I wish so desperately that this young man had received. It's extremely difficult trying to find your identity in a world that so loudly proclaims you ONLY fit into one place or the other.

After I have read the book, I'm sure I will have more to say. But for now these thoughts were just heavy on my heart and I felt they applied to this post.

Keep providing us with food for thought!

Jacqueline said...

Trinia, thanks for sharing and giving me even more to think about. I wish that we could have given Peace some of that inner peace and self-worth that is needed to “survive the game” as stated by Too Short!

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