Tuesday, August 6, 2013

an American struggle

I picked up the book A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind because it was on the 10th grade summer reading list of a high school I admire. It was first published in 1997 and updated in 2005. It's the memoir of Cedric Jennings, a bright, determined honor student at Ballou High School - a high school in one of Washington D.C.'s most dangerous neighborhoods.

It is beautifully written by Mr. Suskind. In the Epilogue he writes:
"Nonetheless, the fact remains; he had hope in a better world he could not yet see that overwhelmed the cries of "you can't" or "you won't" or "why bother." More than anything else, mustering that faith, on cue, is what separated him from his peers, and distinguishes him from so many people in these literal, sophisticated times. It has made all the difference."

And in the Author's Note Mr. Suskind writes:
"It is that privilege - to be the trustee of someone's very self - that I've sought to measure up to with each page of this book."

While the book is written beautifully by Ron Suskind, the real hero is Cedric Jennings.

From GoodReads:
It is 1993, and Cedric Jennings is a bright and ferociously determined honor student at Ballou, a high school in one of Washington D.C.’s most dangerous neighborhoods, where the dropout rate is well into double digits and just 80 students out of more than 1,350 boast an average of B or better. At Ballou, Cedric has almost no friends. He eats lunch in a classroom most days, plowing through the extra work he has asked for, knowing that he’s really competing with kids from other, harder schools. Cedric Jennings’s driving ambition–which is fully supported by his forceful mother–is to attend a top-flight college.

In September 1995, after years of near superhuman dedication, he realizes that ambition when he begins as a freshman at Brown University. In this updated edition, A Hope in the Unseen chronicles Cedric’s odyssey during his last two years of high school, follows him through his difficult first year at Brown, and now tells the story of his subsequent successes in college and the world of work.

As I was reading this book, I was thinking what a perfect pick it is for a high school reading list. Every high schooler today should read it.

It is a true success story among too many unsuccessful ones. Rarely can someone face so many challenges and still persevere. It is a story of race and difference and opportunities and difficulties ... and accepting others while still keeping your own sense of self.

after finishing A Hope in the Unseen, I saw this clip on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.

It lead me to read the following articles:

Justin Porter's New York Times article Reflections on the Road to Harvard and Travis Reginal's NYT article Reflections on the Road to Yale.

If you know a high school student, have them read this book.

Whether you are a student who has been given every opportunity and encouragement or one who has not, you are sure to be moved by the story of Cedric Jennings... and all 'Cedric Jennings' past and present.

If you need more enticing, check out... 
This NPR piece by Susan Gilman on A Hope in the Unseen

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