A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind is a moving and at once uplifting and depressing story. Suskind, a class A journalist and writer, follows Cedric Jennings, a black high school student living in poverty in a gang invested D.C. neighborhood. It may sound cliche, but Cedric perseveres through all kinds of obstacles, eventually gaining admission to Brown University, becoming one of the few to even go to college, let alone the Ivy League. It is eye-opening, as it should be, for a white, privileged kid like myself.
When Cedric was admitted to a summer camp at MIT for high achieving minority students, he learned that affirmative action was really helping middle and upperclass minority students, not lower class students like himself.
When he arrives at Brown, his interactions with his white, rich roommate are fascinating. Whereas Cedric built a hard shell, a firm exterior to survive in the D.C. ghetto, he finds his wealthy, white classmates openly flaunt their vulnerabilities and questions, since they have an underlying confidence in in their future that never came easy to Cedric. His blackness underlies almost all of his interactions on campus. Also, Cedric and his mom (his Dad was in jail) are both incredibly loyal to the church. On the one hand, it shows how important faith can be to impoverished families…as an unquestionable positive force. On the other hand, watching Cedric’s mom give her last $10 in her checking account to the church (instead of food) made me cringe.
Suskind, who won a Pulitzer for his series in the Journal on Cedric, does a great job at never bringing himself into the narrative. Years of research and notes produce a powerful, thought-provoking story.