Four D.C. college students must face their own demons while fighting to save an inner-city community center in a first novel addressing the challenges faced by young black men.
Set in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood, where drug dealers are king, the story begins in the protagonists’ senior year at Highland University. Terrance Davidson, Brandon Bailey, Larry Whitaker, and Oscar “O.J.” Peters come from different backgrounds, but they share a commitment to preserving the Ellis Community Center, where they mentor neighborhood children. Raised by a grandmother who couldn’t prevent his younger brother from becoming a drug dealer, Terrance struggles to pay his fees. Larry wants to emulate Dad—a success at work and with women. Doctor’s son Brandon is bound for medical school and, scarred by a tragic first romance, has vowed to remain celibate until marriage, though he finds the choice to be a lonely one. O.J., a charismatic preacher like his father, cynically uses his gifts to seduce the young women who come to hear his sermons. When the Ellis Center loses its funding, the four friends successfully tap wealthy alumni to keep it open. But not everyone wants Ellis to remain alive. Drug dealer Nico Lane, who resents the center for turning potential colleagues and clients into good citizens, is involved in a crooked real-estate deal with a near-insolvent white developer and a has-been former politician and current Ellis trustee who needs money. As the students work to save Ellis, find new loves, and achieve greater self-knowledge, they’re threatened by Nico and his gang. Terrance loses his part-time job, O.J. is stabbed by a former girlfriend, and Larry’s race for student-council president is undone by false rumors. But these good and resourceful guys are soon fighting back in a vivid (if wordy) narrative slightly marred by an excess of brand-name mentions.
A refreshing variety of characters in a low-key redemptive tale.