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A Hope in the Unseen

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A Hope in the Unseen follows Cedric Jennings through various obstacles on his path to success as a young African American male in the mid 1990’s. Ron Suskind does a stellar job creating the intricate background for the events of the novel. Residing in the inner city of Washington D.C., Cedric must overcome a culture of malaise where an intelligent black male is often ridiculed with terms such as “cracker” and “white.” The teachers have no faith in the future of their students, and most parents are proud when their children graduate from high school. In this environment, Cedric hopes not only to succeed, but also help elevate himself to a higher level of learning, the Ivy League schools.

Suskind chooses to open his novel with the chapter, “Something to Push Against.” It is a fitting chapter to open a novel about the trials and tribulations Cedric will have to face in order to reach his dream. The scene opens at an award assembly to honor the few distinguished students of Ballou High School. Unfortunately, the assembly basically made sure “the ‘whiteys’ now had faces. The honor students were hazed for months afterwards (Suskind 3).” In addition to showing the adversity Cedric faces from his peers, the opening chapter also portrays Cedric positively. “Cedric Jennings often retreats [to Mr. Taylor’s classroom to practice SAT problems (Suskind 4)].” Unfortunately, one person can only be so positive with a negative world surrounding them. Cedric must cope with drug dealers, fatal shootings, poverty, and a hostile school environment, something most college students rarely experience. His school is a war zone, where the speaker system announces, “Attention Students. We are in Code Blue (Suskind 15).” This use of militaristic language shows the fear and anxiety the students are faced with each and every day. The chapter closes with Cedric remembering the time a gun was pulled on him by a boy who had seen him win some money at the assembly. Cedric was scared to death, but resolved to himself “that’s something he can live with (Suskind 23).”

To get through his trying four years at Ballou High School, Cedric relies on his relationship with his God, and his church, the Scripture Cathedral. Suskind does a good job of showing how Cedric and his mother Barbara need the church for reaffirmation, yet also showing how the church manages to convince the poorest that buy giving the last money they have in their accounts how they are pleasing God. Cedric may have a different view. He says, “How can I compete? It’s like I’m living in a refrigerator (Suskind 39)!” When we meet Cedric, he would not blame his family’s hardships on the church, but over the course of the novel, it becomes apparent Barbara is putting a lot of money into Scripture Cathedral. It is money she could better have used in order to provide not only for Cedric, but herself.

Fortunately for Cedric, he grew up in an era where despite his family’s financial hardships; there were still opportunities for him to succeed in school. One such program he was accepted to was the summer MIT program where he would attend with other inner-city black students. Suskind does a good job at differentiating the students for the reader. For example, many would assume that the black and minority students being accepted to these low-income programs are the neediest. When Cedric was feeling bad about the whole situation, he decided to call an old friend, a boy named Torrence. Torrence sensed Cedric was feeling down, and said, “You’re just being used by the white power structure to make them feel good, like they’re doing their part and giving a few select Africans a chance…I bet there are not a lot of real brothers up there (Suskind 87).” Torrence is right in his guess. Cedric is surrounded by man working class black students. These students have no idea where Cedric has been and what Cedric has had to fight against. To Cedric and Cedric’s peers, a 910 SAT score was great, but to the black students at the MIT program, the score was low. Unfortunately, Cedric did not have a proper person to vent to. Instead, he had to listen to Torrence talk about how the white person’s world is no place for Cedric. It shows the adversity Cedric had to face, not in just becoming educated, but in proving to others he was not just given an opportunity to make white people feel better about themselves. He earned the right to improve his condition, intellectually and hopefully, financially.

Unfortunately, Cedric finds out that perhaps he is not MIT material. His SAT scores are too low, and somewhere that affects Cedric. It takes away some of that resolve he had, some of the determination to fight his way out of Ballou High School. Shortly after Cedric is accepted to Brown, he is invited to meet Clarence Thomas, the first and only black Supreme Court Justice. They chat back and forth about their common experiences.

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