The night before the protest, Rashad was unable to sleep. In the morning, he feels nauseous and has diarrhea. When Jessica notices him clutching his stomach, she points out that he feels his nerves in his stomach, just like David. Rashad is intrigued, as he has never known his father to show fear. He thinks back to earlier in the week, when David couldn’t come to the hospital because he was feeling unwell.
David seems to think that it is better to always put on a brave face and portray himself as a strong, disciplined hero in the eyes of his son. However, this passage suggests that it can be more powerful for fathers to show their son their vulnerabilities as well as their strength.
Rashad and Jessica watch the news, which shows images of the cops in paramilitary gear preparing for the protest. Rashad thinks about Spoony’s stories of marching in different cities, and the pain of being tear-gassed. Rashad asks if David is coming to the march, and Jessica replies that she doesn’t know. She says that in the night, she woke up to find David out of bed, staring into Rashad’s bedroom. Rashad said that he’d been awake, and that he wished his father had knocked and come in.
The image of David standing at Rashad’s door, unaware that Rashad is awake and would like to talk to him, is symbolically resonant. David has resisted expressing his vulnerabilities and fears to his son, and this has inhibited their connection. Rashad is more eager than his father to express his anxieties, and in this sense has a greater level of maturity.
Rashad goes into his bedroom and retrieves his old clippings of The Family Circus. He thinks about how innocent he was as a child. Spoony comes in, wearing all black. Rashad dresses in all black too, and goes down to meet Spoony, Jessica, and Berry in the kitchen. Before leaving, Rashad goes into the bathroom and peels the tape off his nose. Although he is embarrassed by the lump, he wants people to see what Paul did to him and know that he will be “different, forever.”
The shame Rashad felt when he first saw himself all over the news has changed into something different. Although he is still self-conscious, he now understands that this self-consciousness is not his fault. Furthermore, he knows that there is no shame in what happened to him, and that it is important for other people to see.
Rashad is stunned by the amount of people who have gathered for the protest, most of them strangers. As he moves through the crowd, people part ways to make space for him. Rashad spots Carlos, English, and Shannon, holding a sign that says, “RASHAD IS ABSENT AGAIN TODAY.” Rashad spots Mr. Fisher, Ms. Tracey, Tiffany, his ROTC comrades in their uniforms, basketball players, football players, and Pastor Johnson. Pastor Johnson’s sign reads: “RASHAD IS ABSENT AGAIN TODAY, BUT GOD IS NEVER ABSENT.” Rashad sees Katie Lansing and Clarissa, and feels moved by everyone’s support.
Each person at the protest has a slightly different reason for being there and a slightly different message. This is because, as the novel has shown, every person is personally implicated in the issue of racism in a different manner. However, despite these differences, the solidarity the protestors show is extremely powerful. It does not matter that they all have different reasons for coming, because once there, they stand together.
The crowd chants. Rashad locks arms with Spoony, Carlos, English, Berry, and Shannon, and the group of them end up at the very front, leading the crowd. Outside the police station, Rashad suddenly sees David. Both he and Spoony are in shock, and grin in unison. Jessica begins to cry. David joins them, locking arms as they keep walking and chanting. The die-in begins, and they all lie together on the ground. Berry shouts through the megaphone, reminding the crowd that they are there not just for Rashad, but for “all of us.” She reads out the names of black people killed by the police, adding, after each one: “Absent again today!” Rashad listens to the names and weeps.
The events of the novel have been a learning experience for all the characters, not just Rashad and Quinn. Indeed, David is probably the character who has been most changed by what happened to his son. The end of the novel is sobering, reminding us that although Rashad was the victim of injustice and brutality, he is lucky in comparison to the many black people who do not survive their encounters with the police.