Part of a new series called "Hot Books," edited by former editor-in-chief of Salon David Talbot, this collection of essays was written by a young man, D. Watkins, who once dealt crack on the east side of Baltimore but eventually found his way to Johns Hopkins where he earned a master's in education. His essays outline the many reasons blacks in Baltimore, and other cities, are struggling to escape the cycles of drugs, poverty, poor education, and violence. The writing is raw and heartfelt; the statistics about literacy rates (e.g., only 7% of black 8th-grade boys in Baltimore read at grade level) and murders alarming; his observations shrewd; and his descriptions of his experience are variously poignant, heartrending, and infuriating. He describes people so poor they eat cereal with a fork to make sure there's enough milk for the last bite. The schools have metal bars on the windows, metal detectors, classes of up to 50 students, and subs that sit on their phone the whole time while chaos erupts around them; is it any wonder the schools are seen by some as feeders the private, for-profit prison systems? The drug-dealers work 80-90 hours a week, hustling; in fact, there's a lot of hustle going on, mostly illegal, but these people know how to work. Poverty is not the same as laziness, he insists. What's easy and hard are completely flipped around in this environment: "It's easier to get a gun than a job in east Baltimore. I went to Fat Hands's and Naked's crib with $300 and came out with a two-toned .45 ..." But he has antidotes, the first one being: "Simple communication, which I perfected at Hopkins, was the key Underneath it all, found, the privileged whites and Asians at Hopkins were the same as the black dudes in my neighborhood. We all wanted love, success, purpose, and opportunity. ... Learning how to communicate with people so far removed from my reality made me smarter. ..."
This is a very quick but important read. I'd strongly recommend for anyone who is thinking about race, education, and public policy in America.