Quan is nervous, even though he’s been hanging with Trey and the other guys for a while now. He’s only ever been on the porch—it’s a big deal to be invited inside. The house’s interior is different than he expected. There are framed pictures of Egyptian monarchs and a poster bearing a Huey Newton quote. It says that the police must stop murdering Black people, or they’ll have to face armed Black people. Quan isn’t sure what to make of this.
Huey Newton was one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, which advocated initially for its members to carry arms and keep tabs on cops. For Quan, seeing something that advocates so clearly for Black power might be jarring, given how little power he currently has over his life.
There’s no one in the living room, but a voice tells Quan to take a seat. From his perch on a sofa, Quan realizes that the room smells just like Ms. Mays’s classroom did. She’d used one of those plug-in things that disperses fragrance, and Quan spots one across the room. This makes everything even more confusing.
The memory of the plug-in scent may give Quan a false sense of security. He associates the scent with Ms. Mays, who genuinely cared about and supported him—but given that he’s here thanks to Trey, it’s likely that whoever Quan is here to meet might not be such a positive figure.
A guy with a beard and an African shirt enters and offers Quan ginger beer. He makes Quan recite his full name and tells Quan to call him Martel, not sir. Martel asks where Quan’s father is and asks if Quan has been incarcerated. When Quan says yes, Martel asks if Quan is angry about this. Nobody has ever asked this before, but Quan says he is mad. Martel asks why. Quan doesn’t want to sound like the guys in prison who always complain about how unfair things are; he remembers Daddy saying it’s important to take responsibility. But Quan always felt like the complaints contained nuggets of truth. He tells Martel that he committed the crime, but a year for stealing a cellphone just seems excessive.
Martel seems like the first adult to understand that what motivates Quan is anger about his situation. He’s angry he has so little power, he’s angry about how the justice system treats Black people, and he’s angry that he hasn’t been able to make Daddy proud. When Martel seems to understand all of this, it makes him seem sympathetic and trustworthy to Quan. However, Quan has been raised to take responsibility for his actions, so he doesn’t feel good about insisting that things are stacked against him. He’s been made to feel like it’s his fault that he’s so powerless and has been pushed to theft to feed his family. But in a lot of ways, the book underscores that it’s not Quan’s fault. It’s part of a system that offers young, poor people little in the way of support.
Martel asks what else Quan is mad about. When Quan looks confused, Martel explains that he did his master’s thesis on African American teen boys who grow up with single moms in poverty—so kids like Quan are Martel’s area of expertise. They’re the reason Martel does what he does now. Martel gestures to a poster of a guy in a beret and says that the man is Huey Newton, a founder of the Black Panther Party. One quote of his motivated Martel, and that is that “Black Power is giving power to people who have not had power to determine their destiny.” Again, Martel asks what Quan is mad about.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that this particular Huey Newton quote spurred Martel to work with what seems to be Black youth—kids like Quan and Trey haven’t, as Newton said, “had power to determine their destiny.” Martel seems to understand that being powerless is what makes kids like Quan angry. But even more than that, Martel understands the importance of talking about that anger.
Quan is stunned. He never expected Martel to be college educated, and the Huey Newton quote rings true. Martel asks Quan to talk about his home life, and Quan mentions Mama and Dwight. He shares almost everything. When Quan is finished, Martel shares how the “organization” works and offers Quan membership if Quan can follow the rules. He never mentions what happens if a person breaks the rules, which gives Quan pause, but Quan accepts. He agrees to be at the Morning Meeting tomorrow and then asks what scent Martel has in his diffuser. It’s indeed the same one that Ms. Mays had.
Though Martel refers to what he runs as an “organization,” the book soon reveals that he’s running a gang. For Quan, it doesn’t seem like much of a choice to join. The gang will give him structure and people to support him—things he hasn’t been able to find anywhere else since Ms. Mays and Daddy left years ago. In this way, it’s bittersweet that Martel has the same diffuser as Ms. Mays. Given that readers already know that Quan will soon end up in prison due to his dealings with Martel’s gang, the diffuser shows that this support is just a lie.