A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind

Images-1 I'm not great with the non-fiction books.  I either get a portion of the way in and give up or read them, love them and then completely forget what I read.  I read Truman and can't recall a damn thing.  Funny how people's brains work. 

I was reading 3 non-fiction books at the same time, A Hope in the Unseen is one of them.  I told Debbie Stier about the book and she said she was involved with the book when it came out so I became determined to finish it.  So very glad I did.  

A remarkable book that gives the reader an insight into kids living in inner cities who are smart and driven.  It isn't just about going to college.  We follow Cedric through his last 18 months of High School in probably the worst High School in South East DC.  He is top of his class but struggles with a mother barely keeping her head above water who is committed to seeing Cedric succeed.  She finds her comfort in the church where she gives money on a weekly basis although she can't afford to.  Cedric struggles with the kids in school who think he is a total nerd trying to be a white person.  Cedric gets accepted to a summer program at MIT the summer of his junior year and is thrilled.  He is looking forward to connecting with other kids like him from other inner cities who see things that no adult should see let alone kids.  The dirty little secret that nobody talks about is the African American kids that are accepted into those programs generally come through groups like Prep for Prep who help middle income kids excel not inner city kids like Cedric.  Their parents are plumbers, secretaries, supers, etc., where Cedric's mother is about to be evicted from an apartment where gunfire is the nightly noise on the street and his father ( who was never part of the scene ) is incarcerated.  The reason for that is there is a higher rate of success with kids who had two parents at home with low-middle incomes. 

Cedric ends up at Brown.  Great, right?  Not so easy.  His education is missing some fundamental gaps of knowledge that we take for granted.  He doesn't connect with the all-black dorm on campus because none of these kids came from what he has.  He has very little in terms of funds and hanging out in a world of well-off kids who take vacations, have spending money and are here to learn and party is overwhelming.  He is scared to party or let loose growing up in a strict religious household. He finds himself angry and frustrated.  It is hard to connect with his peers so he finds himself lonely, disconnected and struggling to get through.

The story ends well because he does graduate and goes on to create a good life for himself.  Here is a kid who did awful on his SAT's (compared to most of the kids at Brown )but top of his class and was accepted to Brown because the University want to change the lives of more kids like Cedrics.  He was a success story but there are many others that aren't. 

When I went to college, I worked all the way through.  Even washed dishes in the cafeteria at one point.  I grew up in a upper middle class neighborhood.  My parents got divorced and we went from shopping at Saks to shopping at Loehmanns overnight.  I had a very good friend in college that went to MIT.  He came from a good family but not a lot of cash.  The smartest guy in the room, hands down, but he struggled with his lack of funds.  Once he left college, he literally left all of us.  It was a comfort level.

I look at my kids where one is in college and two more to go.  They have the luxury of having cash, connections and a solid education.  Although they know many people, through their school, who don't have their means and access, it creates a divide.  This divide is one of the reasons I have been involved with MOUSE for so many years.  How do we close a divide when it is about more than just income.  I certainly don't have the answers but reading A Hope in the Unseen gives you a glimpse into the hardships that kids who want to go college, create a career for themselves, have a family and move away from the life they grew up in, isn't so easy as getting accepted to Brown. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Debbie Stier

    Love this book. Love the author, and Cedric too. Memorable after all these years (rare). How on earth did you come across this book? It has to be 13 years old, right? (remembering by the age of my kids as markers!)

    1. Gotham Gal

      My father’s wife sent it to Jessica to read when she was thinking of Brown.I read it and nobody else did.

  2. TanyaMonteiro

    I’d love to ask Cedric my question, are you surviving or are you Thriving?Thank you, sounds like a great read, I’ll be picking it up soon

    1. Gotham Gal

      Perfect question

  3. Rebecca

    I’m working on recruiting community art docents to be volunteers in the schools on our island that have low parent volunteerism.

    1. Gotham Gal

      That is a great idea. Community efforts are key particularly in schools.