Knowing the material cold is Cedric’s best antidote to the uncertainty that sometimes wells up inside him, the doubts about whether any amount of work will be enough to propel him to a new life” (Chpt. 1, p. 9).
Cedric Jennings is in an advanced math class at Ballou High School, trying to study his way out of the ghetto. He feels best when he is working, but sometimes he fears he is behind students in other high schools, no matter how hard he works.
Inside his room is the only place he can really relax” (Chpt. 1, p. 13).
Cedric is living in a dangerous ghetto in southeast Washington, D. C. where there are murders and drug use all around him. In school there are constant fights and tension. His mother has many problems to deal with to keep a roof over their heads. In his room he can study, watch TV, or listen to music in peace.
People will see that you’re special” (Chpt. 1, p. 14).
Barbara Jennings, Cedric’s mother, is his constant coach. She sets him on the course of academics early in life and continually encourages him that he can succeed and get into an Ivy League college.
Reaching out to any fellow ghetto kids is an act he puts in the same category as doing drugs: the initial rush of warmth and euphoria puts you on a path to ruin” (Chpt. 1, p. 18).
Cedric has had to exile himself from other kids to save himself from being influenced and pulled off his strict and monkish routine. His pride makes him appear stuck up and distant, and the other students give him a hard time. The other students scorn academics because it is like being white. They are controlled largely by the gangs and drug dealers.
He was Barbara’s little partner, sticking close to the trinity of school, church, and the locked apartment” (Chpt. 2, p. 33).
As a child, Cedric sticks close to his mother for survival. She brings him up in the church, and it gives him a strong sense of values, an alternative to the street.
Always careful not to part the curtains more than a crack, Cedric would watch the dealers, guns sometimes visible, stash drugs in the alley beneath his window” (Chpt. 2, p. 35).
Cedric is virtually a prisoner in his apartment. His mother insists he go home immediately after school and double lock himself in.
I want to make it to MIT or wherever for me, too. I know it’s crazy, but I believe that’s where I belong” (Chpt. 3, p. 49).
Cedric’s chemistry teacher, Mr. Taylor, thinks Cedric is obsessed with going to a prestigious school to prove something to other people. Cedric denies this, claiming he belongs in those places.
Standing among them, breathing in the cool, electric air of New England and MIT, Cedric feels reconstituted—bigger, somehow, than who he was before” (Chpt. 4, p. 77).
Cedric is accepted to the summer program at MIT and immediately feels expanded, though he fails to compete with the other students because of his poor background.
You can’t hate everyone because of what some people do” (Chpt. 10, p. 246).
Zayd Dohrn, Cedric’s white friend at Brown University, tells Cedric that he attended a tough school near Harlem and was beat up by a black kid. Cedric asks Zayd why he doesn’t hate blacks, and Zayd says it isn’t the skin color; everyone is an individual.
“ . . . she forces herself to recognize that Cedric Jennings really doesn’t live here anymore. He’s just passing through” (Chpt. 11, p. 272).
Cedric goes home for Christmas break and goes out with his Ballou friend, La Tisha, but they end up arguing, and La Tisha feels that Cedric has changed. He feels sympathetic to her problems but wants to put distance between his Brown life and his ghetto life.