In contrast to what LaJoe calls the “war-zone” summer of 1987, the summer of 1988 begins with hope. Craig Davis, a young man from another housing complex who comes to visit his girlfriend at Horner, has the double ambition of being a good father and becoming a DJ. Despite a slight learning disability, he has worked hard in school to make it to senior year, which a large majority of students at his high school fail to do. He writes raps and sets up turntables in front of the buildings at Horner, thus encouraging people to come out and dance.
While Craig’s ability to set up turntables in front of the building is probably due to a pause in violence, since gangs would otherwise have the power to tell him to stop, it is primarily his unique personality that brings joy and excitement to Horner. His hopeful example shows that, sometimes, a single well-intentioned individual is capable of changing an entire community’s atmosphere and mindset.
Lafeyette particularly admires Craig because Craig listens to Lafeyette’s opinions, treating him as an equal, and has a big dream of living in a home in a safe neighborhood, far from Horner—a capacity to project himself into the future that, as Kotlowitz notes, many young men at Horner usually give up on. He talks about “good things” and tells Lafeyette to stay away from gangs.
Unlike Lafeyette, Craig has not given up on dreaming about the future, which could give Lafeyette hope and make him feel that he, too, could one day achieve his dreams. Craig’s advice mirrors Terence’s, thus highlighting the fact that, even though Craig is not part of Lafeyette’s family, he truly seems to want what is best for his friend.
As the evening drags on, Horner residents become more comfortable. Pharoah dances freely to the music, making LaJoe laugh, while Rickey, James, and Lafeyette stay to the side. Lafeyette has come to accept Rickey, and Pharoah and he have begun to spend time with him. They sometimes play basketball together, and Rickey occasionally buys them something if he has money.
The lack of violence seems to draw the community together, allow people to forget about their problems, and make everyone feel that they can finally relax—and that they can, as Pharoah demonstrates, fully behave as children, at least for a short amount of time.
Rochelle insists that Lafeyette dance. As everyone encourages him, Lafeyette reluctantly begins to dance but is ultimately able to enjoy a few minutes of peace and freedom, as he lets his body follow the rhythm of the music. Lafeyette looks up at Craig, whom he idolizes and considers a true friend, not an “associate,” but when Craig smiles back at him, he becomes self-conscious and stops dancing, watching people from the sidelines with his friends. Most people remember the nights when Craig DJs as the most carefree fun they have had at Horner.
Lafeyette’s ability to enjoy a few minutes of freedom contrasts starkly with his usually stoic attitude, showing that he secretly desires to behave like a child and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. However, as his later self-consciousness demonstrates, Lafeyette would have to develop an openness to being vulnerable and connecting with other people before finding such happiness in his ordinary life. Of course, this happiness and freedom would ultimately require the suspension of violence, insecurity, and fear, too.
In the meantime, public defender Audrey Natcone feels sorry for her client Terence, who looks young and nervous and will probably be deeply affected by spending time in prison. After working as a lawyer for three years, she has decided that she wants to start teaching instead. She finds that she is overworked, has too little time to spend on cases, and that trials usually destroy her clients—whether or not they are actually guilty.
Audrey’s mix of compassion and cynicism shows that even lawyers know the legal system is imperfect and often unjust. This illustrates that the problems within the system are not due to the staff’s lack of competence or good will, but to structural problems seemingly beyond individuals’ reach.
In this case, Audrey is particularly impressed by Terence’s relationship with his family. Unlike most of her clients, LaJoe is always present on Terence’s court dates. Terence’s seemingly sincere insistence that he is innocent, combined with LaJoe’s devotion to her son, slowly convince Audrey that Terence may be innocent after all. The fact that the police has still not provided the photographs from which the tavern owner identified Terence further convinces Audrey that something suspicious is happening, and that the photographs might prove that Terence is not guilty. While the young man who planned the robbery could have testified that Terence was innocent, such an act would have indicted him, and the law of the streets requires him to protect himself before family and friends. Audrey, though, feels confident about winning the case.
Audrey’s surprise at Terence’s strong family bonds paints a gloomy picture of family tension and potential abandonment in so many other families—factors that may also contribute to young people’s misbehavior in the first place. The police’s suspicious behavior suggests that not all law enforcement institutions or personnel are necessarily dedicated to protecting justice and truth, and that they can have hidden, potentially self-interested motives.
At Horner, things begin to seem more hopeful. LaJoe begins to feel more optimistic about Terence’s case. She also reapplies for welfare benefits and, in light of Paul’s recent unemployment, sees her welfare restored. In addition, Craig Davis serves as a positive influence on Lafeyette, someone whom he can look up to as a role model. Most importantly, though, LaJoe’s beloved niece, Dawn, has recently graduated from high school—a feat that nine other children of her generation in the Anderson family have failed to achieve. To celebrate this, LaJoe organizes a party in her apartment. Dawn’s achievement is even more extraordinary given that she already has four children, whom she raises with the help of her devoted boyfriend, Demetrius.
Even though Terence’s case is not yet resolved, LaJoe receives justice through the restoration of her welfare benefits, which proves that the system is not entirely ineffective. Meanwhile, Dawn’s graduation is a celebration of her hard work, but also highlights the sad reality that most children in the Rivers family—and, probably, in the neighborhood as a whole—fail to complete their high school education.
Lafeyette and Pharoah are amazed by Dawn’s success, and both of them want to work hard to become like her. They also note that they never want to go to Dawn’s high school, Crane, which is notorious for being overcrowded, having extremely low success rates, and having serious security problems. In addition, other students have criticized Dawn for being part of the honors course. On various occasions, she has wanted to drop out, but LaJoe has always encouraged her to stay strong and trust that investing in her school work will bring her a bright future. A short article comes out a month later in the Chicago Sun-Times, relating Dawn and Demetrius’s surprising success story, as they have overcome obstacles such as Dawn’s four pregnancies and the difficulties of living in inner-city public housing and now want a better life for themselves.
Dawn’s success is all the more impressive given the tremendous obstacles she has had to overcome. In that light, her success is only partly the result of her talent and intelligence. Another important factor was mere grit—the willingness and capacity to work hard despite important setbacks. Family has played a crucial role in Dawn’s success, through LaJoe’s encouragements. This shows that although a family might not be able to shield its children from all troubles, it can give children the self-confidence and motivation necessary for them to overcome such troubles on their own.