|Hope in the Unseen|
In 1994, Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind stopped by the principal's office in Washington, D.C.'s Frank W. Ballou High School in search of students striving for educational excellence amid discouraging circumstances. There he overheard a young man arguing loudly for a higher grade in a computer science class. "Who," demanded Suskind as soon as the boy had left, "was that?"
That was Cedric Jennings, an ambitious fifteen-year-old, the poor son of a clerical worker and a jailed drug dealer, who desperately wanted to make it not only to college, but to an elite four-year institution. Suskind chronicled Cedric's quest in a pair of articles that earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1995. When Cedric was admitted to Brown's class of 1999, Suskind continued the project as a book centering on Cedric's freshman year. The result is A Hope in the Unseen, published this May by Broadway Books.
Cedric's transition from inner city to Ivy League is predictably daunting. Academically, his self-confidence is shattered. Culturally, this product of an all-black neighborhood and a religious upbringing must learn to decode an alien world whose signposts, from Sylvia Plath to Jerry Garcia, are only dimly familiar.
Cedric must also bridge chasms of race and class to find common ground with people like Rob (not his real name), the roommate with whom he spends much of the year feuding; Zayd, a fellow rap-music aficionado who becomes Cedric's first white friend; and Chiniqua, the only other black freshman in Cedric's unit (and his occasional date).
As our excerpt begins, it is spring, and Cedric is beginning to hit his stride.