The recession may have caused people to question the notion of a college degree as the ticket to success, but another true barrier is often forgotten. In his book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs shows that the effects of growing up in a poor, violent neighborhood run much deeper than what can be solved by any degree.
Peace was raised in East Orange, New Jersey, by a mother who struggled financially. When Peace was a child, his father was sent to prison. Despite these challenges, Peace excelled in school and attended Yale University. But the drive to provide for those in his life followed him through college and well after graduation. He sold marijuana off and on throughout the years and at age 30, was shot dead.
Hobbs (who was Peace’s friend and college roommate) uses the events of Peace’s life to remind us how the education, housing, and criminal justice systems apply differently to low-income people and how poverty has insidious effects on mental and emotional well-being. As brilliant as Peace was, intellect was not enough to overcome the influences that ultimately contributed to his death.
(Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of STAND, the ACLU magazine)