Jasmine, Richard’s mother, gave birth to Richard when she was just fourteen years old. Richard’s real father didn’t stick around long, and Jasmine started dating Derick, Richard’s stepdad, when Richard was just five years old. When Richard was nine, Jasmine’s sister, Savannah, was killed in a drive-by shooting, and her two daughters came to live with Jasmine.
Savannah’s tragic murder is another reflection of Oakland’s social inequality. Drive-by shootings don’t tend to happen in Sasha’s middle-class neighborhood—Savannah is killed simply because she had the misfortune of living in a high crime area.
Within two years, Jasmine gave birth to Derriyon, Richard’s younger brother, and suddenly their small family had six members. Jasmine was never able to finish her own education, and she now works in the kitchen of a long-term care facility. “I want [Richard] to have a career. Go to college,” she says.
Jasmine is an example of what happens when “life sticks its foot out.” Lack of opportunities and increased responsibilities mean that she has had to settle for less, and she wants better for Richard.
But these are “big dreams in [Jasmine’s] part of town,” Slater writes. Each year about six hundred African American boys begin high school in Oakland and only half graduate. Even then, “fewer than one hundred [will] graduate with the requirements needed to attend a California sate college or university.” It is more likely that Richard will be arrested. Young black boys account for only 30 percent of the underage population in Oakland, yet they account “for nearly 75 percent of all juvenile arrests.” So Jasmine “prays.” She prays for Richard to graduate, to stay alive, and to not get anyone pregnant.
These statistics reflect the institutional racism present in American society. Black youths are given few opportunities for success in the city of Oakland, and then once they get into trouble, a biased justice system funnels many of them, regardless of their age, into prison, effectively removing large numbers of black men from American society.