Cedric decides to make peace with Zayd, calling him on the phone to talk. He has realized a lot of things about himself after writing that two-page poem in his education class, and he is ready to let down his guard a little. Zayd reads the poem and likes it, and then the two friends go downtown to shop for CDs. Their conversation is similar to before—disagreements about music—but there is not the same edge there was before, and when it comes time to buy the CDs, Zayd casually lends Cedric the money without worrying about being paid back.
Although it was not exactly appropriate for his education course, Cedric’s poem served an important purpose for the young man, providing some much-needed catharsis. With his feelings out and on paper, he shares the poem with Zayd, which is both a peace offering and another test of his friend’s authenticity. When Zayd understands and accepts Cedric, they are once again friends.
In Cedric’s psychology class, Cedric finds that he has received a 30% on his midterm, a failing grade and the lowest in the class. He worries about passing the course, and decides that he needs to take it pass/fail, because he is also struggling in his math class, which he may end up dropping. He was being ambitious by taking five courses this semester, and it definitely got him off to a strong start, and helped him get over his fear of failure. In his calculus class, his professor decided that they would do a project in place of a second midterm, but Cedric had already started studying for the midterm exam, so the professor let him take it with another section of the class down the hall. He has done well in this class so far, but he will still study hard for this exam.
In his second semester, when he is finally challenging himself academically, Cedric receives his first failing grade. This is a rite of passage for many college students, and the real test is how they respond to this setback. Cedric is worried, of course, but chooses not to drop the psychology class and to work harder to pass the class. This is a big change from his strategy in the fall, when he was solely focused on surviving and unwilling to take any risks with his grades or classes. He is regaining some of the confidence he had at Ballou.
After all of his studying, Cedric is still worried about the exam, and comes into his regular calculus class a few minutes early. His professor reminds him that he is supposed to be taking the midterm down the hall, and Cedric admits that he is worried, and wishes he had just done the project. His professor tells him he will be fine, and Cedric goes in to take the test. Once he has started, he realizes that one of the five questions on the test is something they have not covered in his class yet, but he does not feel comfortable telling this other professor—whom he does not know—about this issue. Instead, he tackles the problem and manages to solve it. When he receives the test back a few days later, he receives a 98, even acing the question that wasn’t covered in his class.
While Cedric is feeling more confident than before, he is still a little lost when faced with the higher academic standards at Brown. He flails around a bit in his calculus class—choosing to take the final exam in place of the final project, and then suddenly changing his mind at the last minute—and is clearly relying on his professor to help him decide what is best for him. It is a testament to his drive and ambition that he aces the exam, answering a question not covered in class, but which he has studied on his own out of desire and interest.
Cedric spends most of spring break sleeping, with some trips to church and a special outing to a mall outside of D.C., and lots of reading to prepare for the end of the semester at Brown. He is back on campus, and getting ready for a date with Chiniqua. They get more comfortable as they walk further from campus, and end up at a shopping mall that is not popular among Brown students. Chiniqua wants to go to Popular Club, a clothing chain more often found in inner cities and low-income areas, so that she can return a pair of boots. This makes Cedric feel better, knowing that they can always explain away the date as simply a trip out to make an exchange. They continue on to Coconuts, a music store, where they browse the titles and discuss music from their childhood.
Cedric’s return to Washington, D.C., is hardly mentioned in this section of the story, and this clearly demonstrates how deeply connected to Brown he has become. The place that was once his home is now only a pit stop, and his mind has remained on Brown throughout the entire spring break. Once he is back at school, he takes another step into the world by going on a date. This date with Chiniqua, however, seems to be more about connecting to his racial identity than about creating any kind of romantic connection.
Chiniqua and Cedric bond over their love of Keith Sweat, an R&B artist who is not popular among their fellow Brown students. Chiniqua describes the music as “real,” and they feel closer for their shared experiences. Cedric knows that Chiniqua’s upbringing was still slightly different from his own—she comes from a very diverse working-class neighborhood, with African Americans, Dominicans, and Irish, Italian, and Jewish populations spread among them. Cedric is excited about how the date is going, but when he moves away from Chiniqua, he is confronted by a large white man, and the two enter into a shouting match for no apparent reason. Chiniqua is unimpressed and runs off to a different section of the store.
Cedric has a lot to learn about the different expressions of blackness, as he has only really understood his racial identity in relation to being poor and living in the inner city. He and Chiniqua have a lot in common, including their musical tastes—though it seems clear that her interest in his favorite music is more “authentic” than Zayd’s because she grew up with it—but they also have very different ideas about how black men should behave themselves. Chiniqua has no interest in his expression of masculinity through violence.
They continue their date at McDonald’s, where they lean across the booth to talk. Cedric continues his attempt to look tough, telling her about how he has shoplifted small things like candy and soda before the movies, but Chiniqua is uninterested, and shifts the conversation to their friends in the unit. The two decide that a movie about their unit would be called “Clique,” and Chiniqua talks about how she would like to go skiing sometime, because “black people like to ski, too.” When they both realize that they have recently been to Boston, Cedric asks her why she didn’t invite him along on her last trip, to which she replies that she has invited him out many times, and he never wants to go. He responds that now, he is finally ready.
It seems that Chiniqua is less tied to some of the more traditional racial and social boundaries that have ruled Cedric’s life. In addition to her rejection of violence as a central part of black masculinity, she has no problem with taking part in activities that would be considered “white,” like skiing, and does not see that as negating her black identity. This will be a learning experience for Cedric, who has internalized some of the norms of his neighborhood without even realizing it.
Cedric and Chiniqua go to see a movie, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, starring Martin Lawrence as a “ghetto scoundrel” who seduces a highly educated executive played by Lynn Whitfield. Cedric is taken aback by how overly simplistic the movie’s take on race relations feels to him, portraying Lawrence’s character as more racially authentic, in contrast to an educated and well-mannered woman who has lost touch with her roots. After the movie, they discuss another popular film, Waiting to Exhale, and Cedric condemns Wesley Snipes for wanting to have an affair with a married woman. Chiniqua disagrees, arguing that they are both adults and should be free to do what they choose, and this throws Cedric off. The two part at the entrance to their dorm, ending the date and making Cedric wonder what happens next.
The film that Cedric and Chiniqua watch on their date gives them the opportunity to talk more directly about their conceptions of racial and class identity, and to compare their morals and boundaries. Cedric has now moved past the simplistic equation of black as “ghetto,” in contrast to the image of educated blacks as less authentic, and it is clearly his time at Brown that has helped him see how painfully simplistic these identities are. He is still deeply rooted in his unyielding ideas about right and wrong, which Chiniqua tries to question when discussing sexual freedom.
Cedric feels that April is turning out to be his month: in addition to his date with Chiniqua, he feels that things are going well with Rob, and he and Zayd are getting along very well now. The musical act for Brown’s spring concert has been announced—the Fugees, a band that Zayd likes but has drawn skepticism from Cedric—and the two friends have engaged in a lighthearted debate about the fact that Zayd “discovered” them first. At dinner one evening, Cedric longs to tell Zayd about the date with Chiniqua, but is worried about gossip spreading throughout the unit. Instead, he talks about another girl he finds attractive, and then Zayd tells Cedric about a girl he really likes, more seriously than his previous conquests. Cedric advises him to hold off on sleeping with her, and Zayd tells him that he might be right about that.
Cedric’s journey of self-discovery has gone through a series of ups and downs, and will continue to do so throughout his college career—but in this moment, he feels comfortable with himself and proud of what he has been able to build at Brown. This is a high point in the narrative, as Cedric feels comfortable disagreeing with Zayd without letting it weigh on him, and without questioning his entire friendship. Again, Cedric returns to his religious upbringing and the advice from his mother about sex and love, which Zayd says that he agrees with, but which he likely considers outdated.
The weekend of April 12th is a major party weekend at Brown, and Cedric is looking over the various flyers for events at the different houses on campus. He is rethinking his earlier belief that these houses were designed to divide students—after his date with Chiniqua, he realizes how much comfort he derived from being with someone like him, who understands some of what he has been through and experienced. While in high school, he was so fixated on getting away from the black community, he now feels an urge to be with his fellow black students at Brown. Chiniqua has told him about a party at Harambee House, and he is unsure whether or not he wants to go.
The next important point in Cedric’s journey is to explore the possibility of enjoying the company of his fellow black students, without worrying about losing his individual identity. He has resisted being with other black students, despite the fact that he craves the connection and understanding that they can offer him. When he visited his MIT friends, and on his date with Chiniqua, Cedric felt more at home than ever.
Cedric’s reluctance to join in with his classmates came to a head the previous evening, when Rob invited him to join some of the kids from their unit at the Underground, the club on Brown’s campus. Cedric agreed to go, and stood in line with his friends, but then slipped away at the last minute. He realizes now that this made him look like he is afraid to join their world, and feels embarrassed. When he discusses the upcoming sexual assault awareness meeting, Cedric reminds Rob that the easiest way to avoid getting into trouble is to avoid those kinds of situations altogether. Rob, however, wonders what the point of life is, if he can’t try anything. Cedric takes this point to heart, and when Molly Olsen invites him to see a comedy show at the Underground, he simply goes, and finds that he is actually enjoying himself and not feeling self-conscious anymore.
It is at this point that Cedric begins to realize that not all of his reluctance to join in with his classmates is due to racial or class differences. Whether he is worried about the possible temptations of a campus bar and club, or he thinks that too much socializing will take him away from his studies, Cedric is clearly more nervous than he needs to be. Rob wonders about the wisdom of living such a sheltered and closed life, without the freedom to experiment or take risks. This echoes what Zayd has said to Cedric in the past, and it seems to get through to him at last—but his adventure is not without its consequences.
The following day, Cedric feels uneasy about his evening at the nightclub, and goes for a walk, creating distance from the Brown campus. He ends up at the Salvation Army downtown, and buys a coat that makes him look a little like his father, Cedric Gilliam. He begins to think about his father, and how he is back in prison after a little bit of time on the outside, and how he will have a lot of trouble finding employment once he gets out again. When Cedric thinks about how his father abandoned him on a regular basis, he does not feel the same anger that he used to feel, and wonders why. He also wonders if his father is still using drugs—Cedric’s mother says that there are plenty of drugs to be found in prison. Cedric also begins thinking about an old friend from Jefferson Junior High, who suddenly disappeared about a week after school started.
After finally deciding to join the Brown social scene for a night, Cedric must balance out this experience by escaping on his own. He often wanders off of the Brown campus to explore the greater Providence area—especially the poorer parts, which feel familiar to him. This is his time to think about his life back home and how it fits in to his new identity. In this case, he realizes how much his feelings about his father have changed, as he begins to create emotional distance between himself and the circumstances of his childhood. He is beginning to shed his anger at the world.
As Cedric wanders back to campus, he wonders why he needed to get off campus alone, and thinks about a line from W.E.B. DuBois about the “double-consciousness” of the black man, in which he is always looking at himself through the eyes of others. He wonders if seeing oneself through other people’s eyes—which all people do, to some degree—really means that there is no way to find true self-consciousness. He also realizes that he is pushing towards a true sense of self as he casts off his mistrust and fear of others, and that his need to spend some time alone is part of that process. As if to confirm his need to connect his past and present, Cedric buys a package of Oodles of Noodles, to remind him of home.
Cedric’s studies have finally come full circle, informing his personal sense of racial identity—this demonstrates one of the most valuable parts of a college education, connecting one’s studies to their lived experience. Cedric is beginning to understand his place at Brown in terms of his class and race, but he is also learning about himself as a person, separate from these larger societal roles. He connects to his childhood through the noodles, which remind him of the times when money was tight back at home.
Back in his dorm room, Cedric receives a call from Clarence Taylor, his old chemistry teacher, who happens to be in Providence as he is traveling to Boston for a marathon. They meet up briefly, and talk about academics, until Mr. Taylor hands Cedric a Bible study magazine as a gift. Cedric thanks him for the gift but does not seem to know what to do with it. Before he leaves, Mr. Taylor then recites a line from scripture, and Cedric knows that the teacher expects him to respond with something equally profound. He simply tells Mr. Taylor that yes, he has indeed quoted the Bible correctly (unlike in the past), but that he actually appreciates it when the man gets a few of the words wrong.
Cedric did not go to visit Mr. Taylor when he returned to Washington, D.C., for break, implying he was not ready to face his former teacher and mentor yet, because he still felt that his sense of self was in flux. The fact that Mr. Taylor decides to visit Cedric demonstrates how much of an impact this student has had on his teacher, and how far this teacher will go to check up on Cedric. This deep connection is a testament to the dedication of teachers at Ballou.
Cedric then reminds Mr. Taylor of one of his quotations, about “a hope in the unseen,” and tells him that it has always stuck with him. He has imagined the unseen as a place, but he knows that before he can arrive at that place, he must know who he is, and deal with the issues he has brought with him to Brown. Mr. Taylor responds that the unseen may be a place in his heart, rather than a geographical space. With that, Mr. Taylor leaves, hugging Cedric and wishing him well; Cedric leaves the Bible study magazine on a stoop, having little need for it and leaving it for someone who might find a use for it.
Cedric’s brief interaction with Mr. Taylor helps him to articulate some of his feelings about his time at Brown, and gives him just a little bit more perspective on his journey. And while they discuss topics related to religion—like the scripture that Mr. Taylor usually misquotes—Cedric is not particularly interested in engaging with his former teacher on the topic of religion, and avoids it altogether.
Cedric decides to go to Harambee House with Chiniqua and some friends, and he has dressed up for the party, wearing his new beige coat and a leather hat that his mother bought for him. Chiniqua tries to convince him to dance at the party, despite the fact that he doesn’t dance in public. Cedric finds a spot on the couch, and watches Chiniqua and another friend dance on the nearly empty dance floor. But when two young men join them, Cedric is annoyed at himself for being inept. All of his life, he has worked against the expectations of a drug dealer’s son, and did not dance, play sports, drink, or do drugs. He is still paying for this alternative path he forged for himself, he thinks.
After agonizing over this decision for nearly the entire year, Cedric has finally decided to try visiting Harambee House and surrounding himself with other black students at Brown. This experience starts off badly, as Cedric has actively chosen to avoid the activities associated with black men, and the fact that everyone else is dancing sends him into another identity crisis. Despite the fact that he has chosen to dress the part exacerbates the problem, as it seems that he does want to fit in, but can’t.
As he watches the dance floor fill up with middle-class black students, wearing clothes that only a few years ago would have been more appropriate for drug dealers and crew members in his high school, Cedric realizes that there is not much difference between these students and the suburban white kids, in terms of privilege. But these black kids were able to pick and choose their identities, co-opting authentic black characteristics and looks, while he had little choice in the matter. He is worried that even at Harambee house, he is a fake, an inferior imitation of these confident black men. He decides to leave the party and walk home alone.
Cedric is once again concerned with the appropriation of black culture. Earlier in the story, Cedric criticized Zayd for copying his clothing style without truly understanding what it is like to be black; now, it is the black students at Brown, most of whom come from middle class backgrounds, who are co-opting the styles that Cedric associates with the inner-city past he wants to move away from.