Having taught in the inner city of Chicago for 12 years, I took a few walks on the wild side. I taught in dangerous neighborhoods. I worked in schools that were deigned as failing, visited homes that were crumbling and communities that were imploding. I saw young children become bread winners by illegal means and grandmothers serve as mothers, mothers who sold their bodies and souls, and fathers who were unknown or locked away for some crime in places people like to forget about. At the end of the day, there were always glimmers of goodness, there was love and laughter, there was gratefulness for the simple things like markers, paper and books. There were dreams and inspiration and there was talent. Talent abounded in Englewood and West Logandale. There was preaching, dancing, singing, writing poetry, flipping in the air, building amazing things, math whizzes, bookworms and all the stuff people like to celebrate. Much of it went uncelebrated or soft-celebrated at best. Graduation day was the biggest day of the year for families. 8th grade graduation may have been the last graduation for children of the families on the other side of the tracks. This issue of Bookisshh examines a story from the other side of the tracks written by someone who doesn’t live there but details the dangers for readers to squirrel away within the safe solitude of their warm, well-stocked homes.
“Dodgers” by Bill Beverly 🖊 🖊 🖊 Three Pens
Kind of a Cain and Abel story in that it is about brothers, sibling rivalry and how station in life is decided upon by a Godlike figure. Kind of an “On the Road” story except this one is about four African American boys wearing Dodgers jerseys on a mission to kill, each armed with a different aspect of the plan barely shared between them. They go from LA to the Midwest not knowing all along why they need to murder a judge. As groups like this would, the group fell apart and East, the main character, 14 years old, lands in Ohio where he creates and discovers a sense of place and purpose. Kind of a “Native Son” story in that a black boy is being hunted and persecuted and how he views his options (though this author barely grazes the surface in how things have barely changed for the American Black community). Kind of an “Always Running”, “The Outsiders” and “Maniac Magee” story, as it covers gang life, parentless family life, and the sacrifice of ethics in the face of survival.
“Dodgers” reveals characters from the outside. This being so causes this story to lose heart. Readers barely get to see East, Ty, Finn and this trinity leave a shadow of impression in our mind. This reader would like to see them up close and gain a sense of their rage and fear. The dialogue lacked authenticity and reads the way a substitute teacher may hear his class while reading his paper as they throw airplanes around the room. He misses the play on words, he misses where words drop out and fill in, he misses the remnants of the South and the intrusions of the city as they color and shape language and communication.
If we want to hear stories from the other side of the tracks or down the alley, then we should put pens and keyboards into the hands of those who have survived to tell them. Too much emphasis on the kindness of back country white folks for this reader. A tale told from the North Star–people follow it for some sense of direction and ultimate truth and this falls short of delivering it.