Jared insisted on coming on the grounds that it would be educational, enlightening, and that he’d need to be familiar with the kind of people he’ll serve eventually. But when Justyce catches sight of Trey, he remembers Jared’s ill-fated Halloween experiment two years ago. Trey greets Justyce warmly. Brad comes out of the house with a grin. Secretly, Justyce wonders if one of these two is Officer Castillo’s killer. Jared introduces himself and compliments Brad’s grill, which Brad doesn’t appreciate. He recognizes Jared from Halloween and now, Trey does too. Trey sends Justyce in, but says that Jared has to stay outside. Jared looks thrilled.
Jared doesn’t seem to fully grasp the significance of visiting what the book implies is Martel’s house. He’s taking this as an educational opportunity—which reflects his naïveté and his privilege, since he doesn’t seem to understand the possible threat that Brad and Trey pose to him. The mention to the Halloween experiment is a reference to Jared’s choice in Dear Martin to wear a KKK robe for Halloween, a wildly offensive choice.
Justyce tries not to think about the crazy thing he’s about to ask Martel. He’s read up on gang exit strategies and didn’t learn anything reassuring. Martel greets Justyce, shows off that his ankle monitor is gone, and asks why Justyce is here. Justyce stares at the floor and finally says he’s here about Quan. They’ve been communicating, and Martel looks almost impressed by this. His look turns suspicious as he asks what the boys talk about. Justyce knows he has to be careful—his request is outlandish, so he needs to create a solid foundation before he makes it.
Though Justyce doesn’t say it outright yet, his mention of gang exit strategies and an “outlandish” request implies that he’s going to request that Martel allow Quan to not return to Black Jihad. It may be a reflection of Justyce’s innocence and sense of privilege that he’s trying at all, given how far-fetched he thinks Martel’s cooperation will be.
Justyce says he’s been encouraging Quan. One of Justyce’s teachers took over facilitating Quan’s education, and Quan got his diploma. Martel looks genuinely happy at this, which gives Justyce hope. Justyce explains that Quan also has a new lawyer, and there’s a chance that Quan’s rights were violated when he was arrested. The lawyer is working hard at freeing Quan. Justyce stumbles over his words and Martel asks him to get to the point. Justyce finally asks if Martel will let Quan go free, too. Quan has been working hard. He has a support team who cares about him and now, he can see a future for himself.
In this passage, it’s important to recognize the moments in which Martel seems genuinely happy. When he’s happy that Justyce and Quan are writing and that Quan got his diploma, it offers hope that Martel sees the value in education and in having comparatively privileged friends like Justyce. Martel has a master’s degree in social work, so even though he’s a gang leader, he may still have it in himself to cheer on the Black boys who work hard to take the “statutory” (legal) path to success.
Justyce notes that Quan would probably be livid if he knew Justyce were here, but Justyce knows that Quan can pursue his dreams with just a bit of help. Martel asks what those dreams are. Justyce doesn’t know what they are, so he says he knows that Quan wants to take care of his family. He reiterates that he’s not trying to be disrespectful, but they both know that when Quan gets out, he’ll be back. And if he comes back, his hard work will have been for nothing. Justyce asks Martel to not let Quan back in. Martel’s eyes narrow, and he says that Justyce has a lot of nerve.
Both Justyce and Martel understand that Quan is in debt to Black Jihad—and that Quan also feels like he must demonstrate his loyalty to the one person who’s been there for him. But Justyce and Quan also know that if Quan goes back to Black Jihad, he’s at risk of ending up back in prison or even being killed in the course of his work for the gang. Quan’s success, in other words, depends on him getting out of the gang—but this hinges on if Martel will let him.
Justyce stares at the poster of Huey Newton as Martel asks what he gets out of this. The request is outlandish; he should get something. Justyce asks what Martel wants. Martel wants the teacher who helped Quan get his diploma to tutor his boys. Hoping Doc will be cool with this, Justyce agrees. Then, Martel says that Quan can’t come back, and his family has to leave, too. Quan won’t exist anymore, but he’ll have to pay his debt back with interest. Trey will contact Justyce with the details, and Justyce will be the responsible party. Martel warmly tells Justyce that Quan is lucky to have a friend like him and tells him to leave. Outside, Justyce finds Jared, Trey, and Brad laughing about keg stands and college. Justyce feels free.
When Martel asks for Doc, it shows that Martel runs his gang out of perceived necessity. It may give young men in the neighborhood the structure and support they crave, but right now, it can’t give them the education they’d need to do better. However, it’s still worth considering why Martel needs Doc rather than just to require gang members to attend classes. Trey was expelled—and Quan has been pulled out of school too. A tutor will be less beholden to a school system that, due to punishing kids with expulsions and suspensions, doesn’t make it easy for kids battling other pressing issues to get an education.