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[1 of 5] Dear Martin, Chapters 1-4, by Nic Stone (2017)

Author: Nic Stone

“Chapters 1 - 4.” Dear Martin, by Nic Stone, Ember, 2018, pp. 6–32.

To K and M.
Be your best.
&
To Mr. Casey Weeks.
Consider this my quietus.

I BELIEVE THAT UNARMED TRUTH AND UNCONDITIONAL
LOVE WILL HAVE THE FINAL WORD IN REALITY.

—REVEREND DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. NOBEL PEACE PRIZE ACCEPTANCE SPEECH, DECEMBER 10, 1964

PART ONE

CHAPTER 1

From where he’s standing across the street, Justyce can see her: Melo Taylor, ex-girlfriend, slumped over beside her Benz on the damp concrete of the FarmFresh parking lot. She’s missing a shoe, and the contents of her purse are scattered around her like the guts of a pulled party popper. He knows she’s stone drunk, but this is too much, even for her.

Jus shakes his head, remembering the judgment all over his best friend Manny’s face as he left Manny’s house not fifteen minutes ago.

The WALK symbol appears.

As he approaches, she opens her eyes, and he waves and pulls his earbuds out just in time to hear her say, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Justyce asks himself the same question as he watches her try—and fail—to shift to her knees. She falls over sideways and hits her face against the car door.

He drops down and reaches for her cheek—which is as red as the candy-apple paint job. “Damn, Melo, are you okay?”

She pushes his hand away. “What do you care?”

Stung, Justyce takes a deep breath. He cares a lot. Obviously. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t’ve walked a mile from Manny’s house at three in the morning (Manny’s of the opinion that Melo’s “the worst thing that ever happened” to Jus, so of course he refused to give his boy a ride). All to keep his drunken disaster of an ex from driving.

He should walk away right now, Justyce should.

But he doesn’t.

“Jessa called me,” he tells her.

“That skank—”

“Don’t be like that, babe. She only called me because she cares about you.”

Jessa had planned to take Melo home herself, but Mel threatened to call the cops and say she’d been kidnapped if Jessa didn’t drop her at her car.

Melo can be a little dramatic when she’s drunk.

“I’m totally unfollowing her,” she says (case in point). “In life and online. Nosy bitch.”

Justyce shakes his head again. “I just came to make sure you get home okay.” That’s when it hits Justyce that while he might succeed in getting Melo home, he has no idea how he’ll get back. He closes his eyes as Manny’s words ring through his head: This Captain Save-A-Ho thing is gonna get you in trouble, dawg.

He looks Melo over. She’s now sitting with her head leaned back against the car door, half-asleep, mouth open.

He sighs. Even drunk, Jus can’t deny Melo’s the finest girl he’s ever laid eyes—not to mention hands—on.

She starts to tilt, and Justyce catches her by the shoulders to keep her from falling. She startles, looking at him wide-eyed, and Jus can see everything about her that initially caught his attention. Melo’s dad is this Hall of Fame NFL linebacker (biiiiig black dude), but her mom is from Norway. She got Mrs. Taylor’s milky Norwegian complexion, wavy hair the color of honey, and amazing green eyes that are kind of purple around the edge, but she has really full lips, a small waist, crazy curvy hips, and probably the nicest butt Jus has ever seen in his life.

That’s part of his problem: he gets too tripped up by how beautiful she is. He never would’ve dreamed a girl as fine as her would be into him.

Now he’s got the urge to kiss her even though her eyes are red and her hair’s a mess and she smells like vodka and cigarettes and weed. But when he goes to push her hair out of her face, she shoves his hand away again. “Don’t touch me, Justyce.”

She starts shifting her stuff around on the ground—lipstick, Kleenex, tampons, one of those circular thingies with the makeup in one half and a mirror in the other, a flask. “Ugh, where are my keeeeeeeys?”

Justyce spots them in front of the back tire and snatches them up. “You’re not driving, Melo.”

“Give ’em.” She swipes for the keys but falls into his arms instead. Justyce props her against the car again and gathers the rest of her stuff to put it back in her bag—which is large enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries (what is it with girls and purses the size of duffel bags?) . He unlocks the car, tosses the bag on the floor of the backseat, and tries to get Melo up off the ground.

Then everything goes really wrong, really fast.

First, she throws up all over the hoodie Jus is wearing.

Which belongs to Manny. Who specifically said, “Don’t come back here with throw-up on my hoodie.”

Perfect.

Jus takes off the sweatshirt and tosses it in the backseat.

When he tries to pick Melo up again, she slaps him. Hard. “Leave me alone, Justyce,” she says.

“I can’t do that, Mel. There’s no way you’ll make it home if you try to drive yourself.”

He tries to lift her by the armpits and she spits in his face.

He considers walking away again. He could call her parents, stick her keys in his pocket, and bounce. Oak Ridge is probably the safest neighborhood in Atlanta. She’d be fine for the twenty-five minutes it would take Mr. Taylor to get here.

But he can’t. Despite Manny’s assertion that Melo needs to “suffer some consequences for once,” leaving her here all vulnerable doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. So he picks her up and tosses her over his shoulder.

Melo responds in her usual delicate fashion: she screams and beats him on the back with her fists.

Justyce struggles to get the back door open and is lowering her into the car when he hears the WHOOOOP of a short siren and sees the blue lights. In the few seconds it takes the police car to screech to a stop behind him, Justyce settles Melo into the backseat.

Now she’s gone catatonic.

Justyce can hear the approaching footsteps, but he stays focused on getting Melo strapped in. He wants it to be clear to the cop that she

wasn’t gonna drive so she won’t be in even worse trouble.

Before he can get his head out of the car, he feels a tug on his shirt and is yanked backward. His head smacks the doorframe just before a hand clamps down on the back of his neck. His upper body slams onto the trunk with so much force, he bites the inside of his cheek, and his mouth fills with blood.

Jus swallows, head spinning, unable to get his bearings. The sting of cold metal around his wrists pulls him back to reality.

Handcuffs.

It hits him: Melo’s drunk beyond belief in the backseat of a car she fully intended to drive, yet Jus is the one in handcuffs.

The cop shoves him to the ground beside the police cruiser as he asks if Justyce understands his rights. Justyce doesn’t remember hearing any rights, but his ears had been ringing from the two blows to the head, so maybe he missed them. He swallows more blood.

“Officer, this is a big misundersta—” he starts to say, but he doesn’t get to finish because the officer hits him in the face.

“Don’t you say shit to me, you son of a bitch. I knew your punk ass was up to no good when I saw you walking down the road with that goddamn hood on.”

So the hood was a bad idea. Earbuds too. Probably would’ve noticed he was being trailed without them. “But, Officer, I—”

“You keep your mouth shut.” The cop squats and gets right in Justyce’s face. “I know your kind: punks like you wander the streets of nice neighborhoods searching for prey. Just couldn’t resist the pretty white girl who’d locked her keys in her car, could ya?”

Except that doesn’t even make sense. If Mel had locked the keys in the car, Jus wouldn’t have been able to get her inside it, would he? Justyce finds the officer’s nameplate; CASTILLO, it reads, though the guy looks like a regular white dude. Mama told him how to handle this type of situation, though he must admit he never expected to actually need the advice: Be respectful; keep the anger in check; make sure the police can see your hands (though that’s impossible right now). “Officer Castillo, I mean you no disresp—”

“I told your punk ass to shut the fuck up!”

He wishes he could see Melo. Get her to tell this cop the truth. But the dude is blocking his view.

“Now, if you know what’s good for you, you won’t move or speak. Resistance will only land you in deeper shit. Got it?”

Cigarette breath and flecks of spit hit Justyce’s face as the cop speaks, but Justyce fixes his gaze on the glowing green F of the FarmFresh sign.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you, boy.” He grabs Justyce’s chin. “I asked you a question.”

Justyce swallows. Meets the cold blue of Officer Castillo’s eyes. Clears his throat.

“Yes sir,” he says. “I got it.”

August 25

DEAR MARTIN (AKA DR. KING),

First and foremost, please know I mean you no disrespect with the whole “Martin” thing. I studied you and your teachings for a project in tenth grade, so it feels most natural to interact with you as a homie. Hope you don’t mind that.

Quick intro: My name is Justyce McAllister. I’m a 17-year-old high school senior and full-scholarship student at Braselton Preparatory Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m ranked fourth in my graduating class of 83, I’m the captain of the debate team, I scored a 1560 and a 34 on my SATs and ACTs respectively, and despite growing up in a “bad” area (not too far from your old stomping grounds), I have a future ahead of me that will likely include an Ivy League education, an eventual law degree, and a career in public policy.

Sadly, during the wee hours of this morning, literally none of that mattered.

Long story short, I tried to do a good deed and wound up on the ground in handcuffs. And despite the fact that my ex-girl was visibly drunk off her ass, excuse my language, I apparently looked so menacing in my prep school hoodie, the cop who cuffed me called for backup.

The craziest part is while I thought everything would be cool as soon as her parents got there, no matter what they told the cops, these dudes would not release me. Mr. Taylor offered to call my mom, but the cops made it clear that since I’m 17, I’m considered an adult when placed under arrest—aka there was nothing Mama could do.

Mr. Taylor wound up calling my friend SJ’s mom, Mrs. Friedman

—an attorney—and she had to come bark a bunch of legal hoo-ha in the cops’ faces before they’d undo the cuffs. By the time they finally let me go, the sun was coming up.

It’d been hours, Martin.

Mrs. F didn’t say a whole lot as she drove me to my dorm, but

she made me promise to go by the infirmary and get some cold packs for my swollen wrists. I called my mama to tell her what happened, and she said she’ll file a complaint first thing in the morning. But I doubt it’ll do any good.

Frankly, I’m not real sure what to feel. Never thought I’d be in this kind of situation. There was this kid, Shemar Carson…black dude, my age, shot and killed in Nevada by this white cop back in June. The details are hazy since there weren’t any witnesses, but what’s clear is this cop shot an unarmed kid. Four times.

Even fishier, according to the medical examiners, there was a two-hour gap between the estimated time of death and when the cop called it in.

Before The Incident last night, I hadn’t really thought much about it. There’s a lot of conflicting information, so it’s hard to know what to believe. Shemar’s family and friends say he was a good dude, headed to college, active in his youth group…but the cop claims he caught Shemar trying to steal a car. A scuffle ensued (allegedly), and according to the police report, Shemar tried to grab the cop’s gun, so the cop shot Shemar in self-defense.

I dunno. I’ve seen some pictures of Shemar Carson, and he did have kind of a thuggish appearance. In a way, I guess I thought I didn’t really need to concern myself with this type of thing because compared to him, I don’t come across as “threatening,” you know? I don’t sag my pants or wear my clothes super big. I go to a good school, and have goals and vision and “a great head on my shoulders,” as Mama likes to say.

Yeah, I grew up in a rough area, but I know I’m a good dude, Martin. I thought if I made sure to be an upstanding member of society, I’d be exempt from the stuff THOSE black guys deal with, you know? Really hard to swallow that I was wrong.

All I can think now is “How different would things have gone had I not been a black guy?” I know initially the cop could only go by what he saw (which prolly did seem a little sketchy), but I’ve never had my character challenged like that before.

Last night changed me. I don’t wanna walk around all pissed off and looking for problems, but I know I can’t continue to

pretend nothing’s wrong. Yeah, there are no more “colored” water fountains, and it’s supposed to be illegal to discriminate, but if I can be forced to sit on the concrete in too-tight cuffs when I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s clear there’s an issue. That things aren’t as equal as folks say they are.

I need to pay more attention, Martin. Start really seeing stuff and writing it down. Figure out what to do with it. That’s why I’m writing to you. You faced way worse shi—I mean stuff than sitting in handcuffs for a few hours, but you stuck to your guns… Well, your lack thereof, actually.

I wanna try to live like you. Do what you would do. See where it gets me.

My wrist is killing me, so I have to stop writing now, but thanks for hearing me out.

Sincerely,

Justyce McAllister

CHAPTER 2

Justyce drops down onto the plush leather sofa in Manny’s basement and grabs the game controller from the giant ottoman in front of him.

“You good, dawg?” Manny says, furiously pressing buttons on his vibrating controller as the sound of machine-gun fire fills the room in surround sound. It pushes into Justyce’s ears and bounces around in his head; he can feel it pulsating in his chest:

BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG.

He gulps. “Yeah. I’m good.”

“So you playing, or what?”

Manny’s avatar switches weapons in quick succession, tossing everything he’s got at the enemy troops.

Grenade: BOOM.

Glock 26: POP POP POP.

Flamethrower: FWHOOSH.

Bazooka: FWUUUUMP…BOOOOOOM.

So many guns. Just like the one Castillo kept his hand on while treating Jus like a criminal. One wrong move, and Jus might’ve been the next Shemar Carson.

He shudders. “Hey, you mind if we play something a little less… violent?”

Manny pauses the game. Turns to his best friend.

“Sorry.” Justyce drops his head. “Can’t really handle the gunshots and stuff right now.”

Manny reaches out to give Jus’s shoulder a supportive squeeze, then pushes a few buttons to switch games. The new Madden. Which doesn’t even hit the shelves for another week.

Justyce shakes his head. If only he had his best friend’s life. Must be nice having the VP of a major financial corporation for a dad.

The guys choose their respective teams. Manny wins the coin toss and elects to receive. He clears his throat. “You wanna talk about it?”

Justyce sighs.

“You know I’m like…here if you do, right?” Manny says.

“Yeah, I know, Manny. I appreciate it. Just not real sure what to say.”

Manny nods. Puts a spin move on Justyce’s defensive lineman and gets the first down. “Wrists feelin’ any better?”

Justyce fights the urge to look at his arms. It’s hard to see the bruises because his skin is such a deep brown, but even after a week, they’re still there.

Sometimes he thinks they’ll never fade.

“Yeah, they’re all right. Mel gave me this weird ointment from Norway. Smells like Altoid-covered feet, but it’s doing the trick.” Manny’s quarterback throws a deep pass, but it’s short. Justyce’s free safety intercepts. “We got back together last night.”

Manny presses Pause. Turns to his boy.

“Dawg, you are not serious right now.”

Justyce reaches over and hits the triangle button on Manny’s controller. Jus’s QB tosses the ball to his running back—who is unguarded since Manny’s stare is burning a hole in the side of Jus’s face. The virtual player runs it in for the easy touchdown.

The kick is good.

Manny pauses again. “Jus.”

“Let it go, man.”

“Let it go? That ho is the reason you sat in handcuffs for three hours, and you want me to let it go?”

“Stop callin’ my girl a ho, Manny.”

“Bro, you caught this girl wrist-deep in another dude’s pants. Helloooo?”

“It’s different this time.” Justyce starts the game again.

His team kicks off, but Manny’s players don’t move because he’s still

gaping at Justyce like he just confessed to murder. “Hold up,” Manny says, stopping the game and tossing his controller out of Jus’s reach. “So you mean to tell me that after this girl sat there and watched this cop brutalize your ass—”

“She was scared, man.”

“Unbelievable, Jus.”

“Whatever.” Justyce stares at the football frozen in midair on the massive flat-screen. Girls don’t flock to Justyce like they do to Emmanuel “Manny” Rivers, Bras Prep basketball captain and one of the best-looking guys Jus knows. There’s a lot of stuff Manny has that Justyce doesn’t—two parents with six-figure salaries, a basement apartment, a badass car, crazy confidence…

What does Justyce have? The hottest girl in school.

“I don’t expect you to understand, Manny. You run through girls like underwear. Wouldn’t know true love if it kicked you in the nuts.”

“First of all, true love wouldn’t kick me in the nuts. Considering how many times Melo has figuratively kicked you in yours—”

“Shut up, man.”

Manny shakes his head. “I hate to break it to you, homie, but you and Melo’s relationship puts the ick in toxic.

“That’s some girly shit you just said, dawg.”

“You know my mom’s a psychologist,” Manny says. “You got Codependency Syndrome or something. You should really take a look at that.”

“Thanks, Dr. Phil.”

“I’m serious, Jus. I can’t even look at you right now. This thing you’re doing? This always-running-back-to-Melo thing? It’s a sickness, my friend.”

“Shut up and play the damn game, man.”

Just then Manny’s mom appears at the foot of the stairs.

“Hi, Dr. Rivers,” Justyce says, rising to give her a hug.

“Hey, baby. You doin’ all right?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“You sleeping over? Dinner will be ready in a few. Chicken cacciatore.” She winks.

“Aww, you know that’s my favorite,” Jus says.

“Dang, Ma, how come you don’t never make my favorite?”

“Don’t ever, Emmanuel. And hush.”

“Don’t be mad cuz your mom likes me more than you, Manny.”

“Shut up, fool.”

Dr. Rivers’s cell phone rings. “This is Tiffany Rivers,” she says when she answers, still smiling at the boys.

Doesn’t last long. Whoever’s on the other end of the phone, it’s obvious from her expression they’re not bearing good news.

She hangs up and puts her hand over her heart.

“Mom? Everything okay?”

“That was your aunt,” she says. “Your cousin’s been arrested.”

Manny rolls his eyes. “What’d he do this time?”

Dr. Rivers looks from Manny to Justyce and back again. “He’s been charged with murder,” she says.

Manny’s jaw drops.

“They say he killed a police officer.”

CHAPTER 3

Justyce has a lot on his mind as he steps into his Societal Evolution class on Tuesday. For one, yesterday a Nevada grand jury didn’t return an indictment on the cop who killed Shemar Carson. Since being arrested, Justyce has spent all his free time following the case, and now it’s just…over.

Speaking of cops and arrests, yesterday Justyce also learned that the cop Manny’s cousin confessed to shooting was none other than Tomás Castillo.

What Jus can’t get over is that he knows Manny’s cousin. His name is Quan Banks, and he lives in Justyce’s mom’s neighborhood. Quan’s a year younger than Justyce, and they played together back when the only thing that mattered was staying outside until the streetlights came on. Like Justyce, Quan tested into the Accelerated Learners program in third grade, but when elementary school ended, Quan started running with a not-so-great crowd. When Quan found out Justyce was headed to Bras Prep, he mentioned a cousin who went there, but Jus never put two and two together. And now Quan’s in jail.

Justyce can’t stop thinking about it.

Yeah, Castillo was an asshole, but did he really deserve to die? And what about Quan? What if they give him the death penalty?

What if Castillo had killed Jus, though? Would he have even been indicted?

“Come here for a second, Jus,” Doc says as Justyce drops his backpack on the floor beside his seat. Dr. Jarius “Doc” Dray is the debate team advisor and Justyce’s favorite teacher at Bras Prep. He’s the only (half) black guy Jus knows with a PhD, and Jus really looks up to him. “How you holding up, my man?” Doc says.

“Been better, Doc.”

Doc nods and narrows his green eyes. “Figured as much,” he says. “I wanted to let you know today’s discussion might hit a nerve. Feel free to sit it out. You can leave the room if need be.”

“All right.”

Just then, Manny comes into the room with Jared Christensen at his heels. Justyce isn’t real fond of Jared—or any of Manny’s other friends for that matter—but he knows they’ve all been tight since kindergarten, so he tries to keep a lid on it.

“What’s up, Doc?” Jared crows as he crosses the room to his seat.

“Oh god, Jared. Sit down somewhere.” That would be Sarah-Jane Friedman. Lacrosse captain, future valedictorian, and Justyce’s debate partner since sophomore year.

“Aww, SJ, I love you too,” Jared says.

SJ glares at him and pretends to shove a finger down her throat as she approaches the seat to Justyce’s left. It makes him laugh.

The rest of the class trickles in, and the moment the bell rings, Doc pushes the door shut and claps his hands to begin class:

Doc: Morning, peeps.

Class: [Multiple grunts, waves, and nods.]

Doc: Let’s get started, shall we? Discussion prompt of the day…

[He makes a few taps on his laptop, and the words all men are created equal appear on the classroom’s digital chalkboard.]

Doc: Who can tell me the origin of this statement?

Jared: United States Declaration of Independence, ratified July Fourth, 1776. [Smiles smugly and crosses his arms.]

Doc: Correct, Mr. Christensen. Twelve of the thirteen colonies voted in favor of severing all ties to the British throne. The document known as the Declaration of Independence was written into being, and to this day, one of the most oft-quoted lines of said document is what you see there on the board.

Everyone: [Nods.]

Doc: Now, when we use our twenty-first-century minds to examine the quote within its historical context, something about it isn’t quite right. Can anyone explain what I mean?

Everyone: [Crickets.]

Doc: Oh, come on, y’all. You don’t see anything odd about these guys in particular making a statement about the inherent “equality” of men?

SJ: Well, these were the same guys who killed off the indigenous peoples and owned slaves.

Doc: Indeed they were.

Jared: But it was different then. Neither slaves nor Indians—

Justyce: Native Americans or American Indians if you can’t name the tribe, homie.

Jared: Whatever. Point is, neither were really considered “men.”

Doc: That’s exactly my point, Mr. Christensen. So here’s the question: What does the obvious

change in the application of this phrase from 1776 to now tell us about how our society has evolved?

[Extended pause as he adds the question to the digital chalkboard beneath the quote, then the scrape of a chair as he takes his regular seat in the circle.]

Jared: Well, for one, people of African descent are obviously included in the application of the quote now. So are “Native American Indians.”

Justyce: [Clenches jaw.]

Jared: And women! Women were originally excluded, but now things are more equal for them too.

SJ: [Snorts.] Still not equal enough.

Doc: Expound if you will, Ms. Friedman.

SJ: It’s simple: women still aren’t treated as men’s equals. Especially by men.

Jared: [Rolls eyes.]

Doc: Okay. So there’s Women’s Rights. Any other areas where you guys feel like we haven’t quite reached the equality bar?

Everyone: []

Doc: Feel free to consider current events.

SJ: You would make a terrible lawyer, Doc.

Everyone: [Nervous laughter.]

Doc: I know y’all know what I’m getting at here.

Manny: I mean, we do….But you really wanna go there, Doc?

Doc: Hey, this school prides itself on open dialogue. So let’s hear it.

Everyone: []

Doc: I’ll come right out with it, then: Do you guys feel we’ve achieved full “equality” with regard to race?

Everyone: []

Doc: Come on, guys. This is a safe space. Nothing said here today leaves this room.

Jared: Okay, I’ll bite. In my opinion, yes: we have reached full equality when it comes to race.

Doc: Expound, please.

Jared: Well, anyone born here is a citizen with full rights. There are people who claim certain “injustices” are race-related, but if you ask me, they’re just being divisive.

Justyce: [Inhales deeply and rubs his wrists.]

Jared: America’s a pretty color-blind place now.

SJ: Of course you would say that.

Manny: Oh boy.

SJ: It never ceases to amaze me that guys like you have your heads so far up your entitled asses

Doc: Sarah-Jane.

SJ: Sorry. It’s just—you’re completely oblivious to the struggles of anyone outside your little social group.

Jared: Whatever, SJ.

SJ: I’m serious. What about the economic disparities? What about the fact that proportionally speaking, there are more people of color living in poverty than white people? Have you even thought about that?

Jared: Dude, Manny drives a Range Rover.

Manny: What does that have to do with anything?

Jared: No beef, dude. I’m just saying your folks make way more money than mine.

Manny: Okay. They worked really hard to get to where they are, so—

Jared: I’m not saying they didn’t, dude. You just proved my point. Black people have the same opportunities as white people in this country if they’re willing to work hard enough. Manny’s parents are a perfect example.

SJ: Seriously? You really think one example proves things are equal? What about Justyce? His mom works sixty hours a week, but she doesn’t make a tenth of what your dad ma—

Justyce: S, chill with that, man.

SJ: Sorry, Jus. What I’m saying is Manny’s parents are an exception. Have you not noticed there are only eight black kids in our whole school?

Jared: Well, maybe if more people were like Manny’s parents, that wouldn’t be the case.

Justyce: [Takes another deep breath.]

SJ: Ah, okay…so you’re saying people just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps?

Jared: Exactly.

SJ: In order to do that, they have to be able to afford boots.

Manny: Dang. Point for SJ.

Jared: Whatever. There are people on welfare strutting around in Air Jordans, so there’s obviously some footwear money coming from somewhere. And don’t get all high and mighty, SJ. Your ancestors owned slaves just like mine did.

SJ: Wrong, numbnuts—

Doc: Ms. Friedman…

SJ: Sorry, Doc. As I was saying, my great-grandparents immigrated to this country from Poland after narrowly escaping Chelmno.

Jared: What?

SJ: It was a Nazi death camp. And you just proved my point again. You’d spew a lot less asininity if you were willing to see beyond the eighteenth hole of your country club golf course.

Doc: Reel it in, SJ.

Jared: Just so you know, Manny’s parents have been members of our country club longer than we have.

Manny: Bro!

Jared: Just sayin’, dude.

SJ: God. This country is headed to hell in a handbasket with people like you at the helm, Jared.

Justyce: [Chuckles.]

Jared: Anyway, to those unfamiliar with the US Constitution, thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment, every person in this country has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—

SJ: Bullshit.

Doc: SJ!

SJ: It’s true!

Justyce: You need to chill, S.

SJ: Are you serious?

Justyce: Yeah, I am.

SJ: You of all people know I’m right, Jus—

Justyce: Leave me outta this.

SJ: Fine. Bottom line, it’s been over two centuries, and African Americans are still getting a raw deal.

Jared: Coulda fooled me.

SJ: Oh my god. Do you watch the news at all? The name Shemar Carson ring a bell, maybe?

Jared: Ah, here we go. Not every white person who kills a black person is guilty of a crime. Pretty sure the courts proved that yesterday.

SJ: All the courts “proved” yesterday was that a white guy can kill an unarmed teenager and get away with it if the kid is black.

Doc: Conjecture, SJ. You know better. You two need to tread carefully here.

Jared: Dude, the kid attacked the cop and tried to take his gun. And he had a criminal record.

Justyce: Hold up, man. The attack was alleged. There weren’t any witnesses—

Jared: I thought you were staying out of it?

Doc: Watch it, Mr. Christensen.

Jared: He said it, not me.

Justyce: [Grits teeth.]

SJ: Maybe if you actually followed the case instead of getting your information from social media—

Jared: Doesn’t change the fact that the guy’d been arrested before. You don’t get arrested if you’re not doing anything wrong. Bottom line, he was a criminal.

SJ: The charge on his record—which is public, so you can go look it up—was a misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Jared: So? Do the crime, do the time.

SJ: Jared, you bought an ounce of weed two days ago—

Doc: Don’t make me write you up, SJ.

SJ: I saw it with my own eyes, Doc!

Jared: What I do with my money is none of your or anyone else’s business.

Justyce: [Snorts.] Course it’s not. But what Shemar did with his is everyone’s, right?

Doc: Y’all better get back on topic before I start handing out detentions.

SJ: My point is I’ve seen you commit the same crime Shemar Carson had on the “criminal record” you mentioned.

Jared: Whatever, SJ.

SJ: I know you’d prefer to ignore this stuff because you benefit from it, but walking around pretending inequality doesn’t exist won’t make it disappear, Jared. You and Manny, who are equal in pretty much every way apart from race, could commit the same crime, but it’s almost

guaranteed that he would receive a harsher punishment than you. Manny: Why do I keep getting pulled into this?

Jared: Obviously because you’re black, bro. Everyone: [Snickers.]

SJ: Numbers don’t lie.

Justyce: [Rubs his wrists again.]

Jared: Yeah, yeah. We get it. Your mom’s the big-shot attorney. You have alllllll the facts.

SJ: Deflect all you want, but you can’t deny that you get away with stuff Manny could never get away with.

Manny: I swear I’m changing my name.

Jared: Maybe I get away with it because I’m not dumb enough to get caught. Justyce: Wow.

SJ: You get away with it because you’re white, asshole. Doc: Sarah-Jaaaaaaane—

Jared: You looked in a mirror lately, SJ? You’re just as white as I am. SJ: Yeah, and I recognize that and how it benefits me.

Jared: Do you? Sounds like you’re jumping on the White Is Wrong bandwagon to me. Justyce: [Cracks his knuckles and shakes his head.]

SJ: Whatever, Jared. Bottom line, nobody sees us and automatically assumes we’re up to no good.

Everyone: []

SJ: We’ll never be seen as criminals before we’re seen as people. Everyone: []

Justyce: I’m going to the bathroom. [Gets up and leaves.]

CHAPTER 4

Due to the restaurant-like setup of the Bras Prep senior lounge, Jared, Manny, and their “crew”—Kyle Berkeley, Tyler Clepp, and Blake Benson—don’t see Justyce sitting in the back booth when they come in.

True to form, Jared disregards Doc’s “everything stays in this room” directive, and since he’s obviously under the impression that he and his bros have the lounge to themselves, he doesn’t bother to keep his voice down once the five of them are seated:

Jared: Can you believe that asshole? What kind of teacher has the nerve to suggest there’s racial inequality to a classroom full of millennials?

Kyle: Seriously, bro? He said that shit?

Jared: I kid you not, bro. The dean should fire his ass. I seriously might have my dad give the school a call.

Tyler: Damn, homie.

Jared: And of course SJ jumped right on it. I think the fact that her mom has to constantly defend all those thugs is starting to screw with her head.

Blake, Kyle, and Tyler: [Laugh.]

Manny: [Laughs belatedly.]

Jared: If you ask me, she wants Justyce to pop her little cherry.

Kyle: Well, seeing as you never did it…

Jared: Shut up. We were in eighth grade.

Blake: You still totally wanna tap that, bro.

Kyle: Too late, though…if Justyce is your competition, you’re screwed, dog. “Once you go black,” right, Manny?

Manny: [Snorts.]

Tyler: Too bad for SJ, Justyce has his hands full with Melo Taylor—literally.

Jared: Which makes no sense to me, bro. What the hell does a hottie like Melo Taylor see in a guy who can’t afford a Happy Meal?

Manny: Maybe it’s not about money, J.

Jared: Says the dude who drives a Range Rover.

Blake, Kyle, and Tyler: [Laugh.]

Manny: Dawg, what is it with you today?

Jared: I’m just sick of people suggesting African Americans still have it so hard these days. I don’t care what SJ says, Manny. Your parents are totally proof that things are equal now.

Blake: They really are.

Jared: Right here, right now, on these red hills of Georgia, a son of former slaves and sons of former slave owners are sitting down at the table of brotherhood, dude. The Dream has been realized!

Tyler: Damn, bro. That was really poetic.

Manny: That’s from the I Have a Dream speech, T.

Jared: Remember, bro? I had to memorize that shit for our eighth-grade Heritage Play.

Blake: That’s right! Token black guy over here got sick or something, right?

Jared: Exactly.

Kyle: You had one job, Manny.

Manny: Shut up, fool.

Jared: I still remember the whole speech.

Manny: That wasn’t the whole speech, J.

Jared: Whatever. It was the most important part, and I remember all of it. They put brown makeup on me and everything.

Blake: I remember that, dude! You totally got a standing ovation!

Kyle: See, things really are equal nowadays, bro. A white kid can play a famous black dude in a play, and it’s no big deal.

Jared: Exactly! This is a color-blind society, my brethren…people are judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin.

Kyle: Right, dude. Like I totally don’t even see you as black, Manny!

[Manny laughs at this, but Justyce can tell his heart isn’t in it. The statement makes Justyce think about those handcuffs…these fools might not “see” Manny “as black,” but Justyce knows damn well the police would.]

Jared: My brothers, let us raise our Perrier bottles to EQUALITY!

Blake: Equality!

Tyler: Equality!

Kyle: Hell yeah, dude! Equality!

Jared: Manny? You with us, bro?

Everyone: []

Manny: Course I am, bro. Equality!

**CLINK!**

September 18

DEAR MARTIN,

I just got back to school after an impromptu trip to the hood. Putting all my cards on the table, I went home with the intention of just staying there forever (which is extreme, I know).

When I got there, Mama was curled up on the couch with her nose buried in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Just seeing her reading, something she worked hard to teach me to do, I knew I’d be on the bus back to school before the evening was over.

“Whatchu doin’ here, boy? It’s a school night” was the first thing she said (without looking up from the book).

“Can’t I drop in to see my dear ol’ mom when I’m missin’ her?”

“Who you callin’ old?”

That made me laugh.

“You gonna tell me what’s really going on?” She closed the book and put it to the side then.

I dropped my bag with a sigh. “Just been a rough few weeks.”

“Come on over here and sit down.”

In all honesty, I didn’t want to. Sit down is Mama-code for “spit it out,” and I woulda preferred to get my big toes shot off than talk about the stuff I was trying to escape. But Mama being Mama—and possibly psychic?—she pulled it right outta me. “This about that cop and them handcuffs?”

I dropped down beside her. “Little bit. I keep thinking about how much worse it coulda gone.”

“That non-indictment in the Carson case got you shook, huh?”

“Yeah. We had this discussion in class today, and…I don’t know, Ma. Everything I’m doing right now feels like a losing battle.”

She nodded. “Hard being a black man, ain’t it?”

I shrugged. “Guess that’s one way to put it. All I know is I can’t

seem to find where I fit. Especially at that school.”

“Hmm.”

“It’s just like…I’ve been there my whole high school career, and I still feel like an outsider, you know? We were talking about the Declaration of Independence, and all I could think was how Shemar Carson was straight-up denied his ‘inalienable rights.’ It really bugged me out.”

“It should’ve.”

“I did the math when I got back to my room: there were 192 years between the Declaration of Independence and the end of all that Jim Crow stuff. Now we’re over a decade into

the twenty-first century, and I know from experience people like me are still getting shafted.”

Mama nodded. “Mmhmm.”

“Sittin’ there listenin’ to this rich white boy brag about breaking the law after I sat in handcuffs for no reason…I can’t even tell you how hard that was, Ma. It’s like no matter what I do, I can’t win.”

She crossed her arms and lifted her chin, and that’s when I knew there’d be no sympathy. “So whatchu gon’ do? Run away?”

I sighed. “I don’t know, Mama.”

“You think coming back here will solve your problem?”

“At least I’d be around people who know the struggle.”

She snorted. “Boy, you betta get your behind on up to that school.”

“But, Ma—”

“Don’t ‘But, Ma’ me, Justyce.”

“I don’t fit there, though, Mama.”

“I’ve been tellin’ you since you were small that you gotta make a place for yourself in this world,” she said. “You thought I was playin’?”

I sighed again.

“You ever consider that maybe you not supposed to ‘fit’? People

who make history rarely do.”

“Aww, here we go with this ‘making history’ thing again.”

“Goodbye, Justyce. I didn’t raise you to punk out when the going gets rough. Get on outta here.” She picked up her book.

“Dang, I can’t even get a hug? Somethin’ to eat?”

“You know where the kitchen is. You can get a hug on your way out.”

See what I deal with, Martin?

On the return trip, it really hit me hard: she’s right. There’s really nowhere to run. While it’s been hard processing my arrest/Castillo’s death/the Carson case/dealing with fools like Jared and them on the daily without getting discouraged, when it comes down to it, I don’t really have an alternative but to keep going, do I?

I’ll tell you the hardest thing for me today: sitting in the lounge listening to Manny agree with those fools. Granted, I could tell his heart wasn’t in it…

But still.

I’ll be candid with you: sometimes it really bugs me that Manny spends so much time with those guys. I know he’s known them forever, and it’s none of my business, but it’s hard to see my boy hang out with dudes who are blatantly disrespectful to our people. (Who puts a little kid in blackface?!) And then he doesn’t say anything about it? I guess it’s possible it doesn’t bother him, but to hear him agree that things are equal when he KNOWS about my incident…well, I’m kinda mad about that, if you want the truth.

I’ve been trying to figure out what you would’ve done if you’d been in my shoes today. I know you lived in a world where black folks were hosed and beaten and jailed and killed while fighting for equal rights, but you still managed to be, like, dignified and everything.

How did you do that, Martin? How do I do that? There are people who don’t see a man with rights when they look at me, and I’m not real sure how to deal with that. Being treated the

way I was and then hearing Jared insist there’s not a problem? And then hearing Manny agree with him? It sucks, Martin. It really does.

So what do I do now? How do I handle people like Jared? Arguing obviously won’t work….Do I just ignore him? But what does that solve, Martin? I want to “put my best foot forward,” as Mama would say. That’s what you did. Just gotta figure out how….

Time to knock out some of this homework. Hopefully I can focus.

Thanks for hearing me out,

Justyce

DMU Timestamp: September 03, 2020 08:33