Quan writes that when Doc was here earlier, he mentioned that today’s the anniversary of MLK’s assassination, which made Quan think of Justyce. In Justyce’s last letter, he’d asked why Quan joined Black Jihad. Quan had been annoyed, but then he started thinking about the assassination thing. Doc told Quan about all the assassination attempts on Dr. King, and it made Quan think of one of Justyce’s letters written right after Manny died. Justyce had lamented that Manny died even though he hadn’t done anything wrong, and this is exactly the reason that Quan joined Black Jihad. People fighting for equal rights or kids who haven’t done anything are murdered.
In this letter, Quan expands on his thought process from the previous chapter. In hindsight, he can clearly see that he—and many other Black people—are powerless and constantly in danger. Black Jihad gave Quan the sense that membership would protect him and those he loved from some of that. As Quan thinks about Manny and Dr. King, though, he also comes to the realization that he’s not alone—he’s one of many young Black boys who feels this way.
Then, there’s the thing where Black kids like Quan and Trey get punished more harshly than white kids for the same crimes. If Quan had a dollar for every white kid who came to prison and left within a few days, Quan would be able to buy his way out. Seeing this happen over and over again, all while ending up in prison and then finding things the same at home, was too much. Mama didn’t seem to care much, and Quan hadn’t heard from Daddy since he went to prison. There was nobody to support Quan, which is why Justyce’s question went over so poorly. Quan knows things weren’t great with Justyce’s dad, but Justyce’s mom wasn’t going to let Justyce mess up.
Quan felt like he was trapped in a vicious cycle from which he couldn’t escape. He’d be punished too harshly for some petty crime and then discover that Dwight was still being controlling and abusive at home—and this was more than he could bear. He reacted so poorly to Justyce’s question because, in his mind, Justyce had the support Quan lacked. In other words, Quan initially thought that Justyce’s upbringing was so different that he wouldn’t be able to empathize or understand.
But Quan realizes there’s a huge difference between the letters Justyce wrote when he gave up and when he got to Yale. Justyce visited Quan at some point in between, and Quan asks if Justyce ever used the number he gave him. In any case, Quan joined because he needed support. He needed a family. And it wasn’t all bad; Martel is a “visionary.” He wants to build a community center and a bookstore, and it was awesome to be part of it. Quan is in prison now, sooner than he thought he’d be, but he’s alive. It’s more than Quan ever expected.
For readers unfamiliar with Dear Martin, Quan references a time about a year before this novel’s present when Justyce visited Quan in prison. Quan offered Justyce Martel’s phone number and suggested Justyce join Black Jihad. Justyce did visit Martel, but he didn’t join—instead, he went on to Yale. But because Quan didn’t have the same kind of support Justyce did, he felt he had no choice but to join a gang that was going to be able to fill those gaps. And Black Jihad, as Quan tells it, didn’t have nefarious aims—indeed, the mention of a community center suggests that Martel modeled it off of the Black Panthers in a number of ways. The Panthers ran community centers and children’s nutrition programs at their height.