12. Let the Colors Run


On February 6, Cedric goes to Slater Junior High School for the first time to sit in on Mr. Fleming's eighth grade mathematics class for his Fieldwork and Seminar in High School Education class. An older white man at a school with a largely lower-class African American student population, Fleming does not realize Cedric attended a similarly deficient high school before Brown. Cedric watches as Fleming speaks abusively to students during the first class session, then grows infuriated when Fleming states afterwards that he can tell which students will die when they leave the school. In his journal, Cedric notes that Slater felt like home.

Back in Washington, D.C., Barbara Jennings rebukes a co-worker at the Department of Agriculture who asks if Cedric is at Brown on an athletic scholarship. Barbara then jokes with another co-worker about making a slave museum at their office, which once used to be slave quarters and transport station but now houses government employees who are primarily African American women in support roles. She goes to church that night in a new dress, and contemplates other lavish purchases for herself, including a possible vacation. Returning home from church, she finds a Notice of Eviction and thinks about how her debts are piling up. She considers how Cedric had complained to her about Rob: she advised that Robert is a test God placed before him. In that light, she considers the back rent her own test from God.

One morning, Rob asks Cedric to join him for breakfast; they've been mending their relationship a little at a time and this is the latest step. At the end of the meal, Rob invites Cedric to Cafe Paragon that night for his nineteenth birthday. Cedric compares their talks to the ones he used to have with Zayd, which were more advanced in content and intimacy. Zayd and Cedric remain estranged, however, which is unfortunate as Cedric could use his support, seeing other people cluster according to sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity while he continues to keep to himself. He goes to Cafe Paragon that night to join Rob's birthday party, leaving when the group starts to buy beer. He returns to the dorm and sees Zayd, who pays no attention to him. He feels confused and tries to write in his Education class journal, but cannot locate the fury to do so.

At the Fieldwork and Seminar in High School Education seminar, instructor Larry Wakeford argues with his students about the format for their midterm paper. Wakeford is unusual at the college: his career was in high school education and he now holds a non-tenure track position at Brown. When he stresses the importance of the midterm in developing expository writing and analysis, Cedric answers that what he observes at Slater brings out anger and passion in him. One of the more contentious students in the class, Leslie, then jokes that he should write a poem about it. Wakeford allows for the possibility of creative approaches to the assignment.

When the midterm papers are due several Fridays later, Wakeford is surprised to find Cedric had indeed written a poem. He isn't sure what to make of this, though he witnessed similar inventiveness among inner city kids he taught in Cincinnati. Monday he returns the midterms to the students, but leaves no comments or grade on Cedric's, instead asking they meet during office hours on Thursday. Wakeford does not come to a decision on how to grade the midterm poem until he actually meets with Cedric, giving him a B for the paper then warning him that his final research paper must follow the assignment and will have more weight than normal in his overall grade. Wakeford also advises Cedric that to do well in Brown, he has to figure out a way to find some distance between himself and what he's been through. Cedric assures his teacher that he understands, which lifts Wakeford's doubts about him.


There is a strong irony in Cedric going to an Ivy League university such as Brown only to wind up returning to a school much like Ballou as part of his studies. His time at Slater Junior High School re-ignites the anger he'd felt in high school, embodied in the crude opinions of Mr. Fleming. Though Cedric notes that Slater felt like coming home, he is afforded a certain degree of distance as he is now a student at Brown. He may remember what it was like in high school and feels great empathy for the students at Slater - the poem he writes assures us this - but is also reminded explicitly by Wakeford that he is expected to be impartial when needed. To fulfill his role as a Brown student, he has to be able to set his own experiences aside at times, to be objective and analytical.

The interlude with Barbara Jennings further illustrates the downward spiral she faces in the wake of Cedric's absence. She no longer lives for her son, no longer has to protect and care for him; as a result, she tries comforting herself but loses the moral firmness that helped guide both Cedric and herself when he was younger. The events at the end of the book are foreshadowed during her interlude, as she faces eviction notices and ever-mounting debt. While Barbara advises that Rob is Cedric's test, the more important test in relationship is between mother and son and how much they can trust one another for support as Cedric grows into manhood.

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Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Long Way Gone". TheBestNotes.com.