1. Something to Push Against
At a Frank W. Ballou High School assembly with guests D.C. mayor Marion Barry and singer Tevin Campbell, school principal Richard Washington surprises the students by handing out the one hundred dollar checks to students who managed at least a B average. In a school of 1,389 students with high dropout and transfer rates, there were only 79 students who made this level. Most of them do not want attention drawn to themselves, as they wish to avoid persecution and even physical harm for such an achievement, which is why Principal Washington has to make this award ceremony a surprise. He calls out Cedric Jennings' name, but Cedric is not at the assembly. Instead, he is taking a practice SAT test in the chemistry classroom of Clarence Taylor, having suspected the ceremony would take place and wishing to avoid the hassle.
When Taylor finds him there, he tries to provide encouragement for Cedric, whom he's taken under his wing. Taylor asks about his application to a summer program at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology for top minority high schools students; this program often helps pave the way for such students to attend MIT for college. Cedric assures Taylor he sent in the application and asks if he thinks he'll get in. The bell rings before Taylor can properly answer and Cedric heads to Unified Math class, getting teased along the way by students who noticed he wasn't present at the awards ceremony. At Unified Math, he becomes calm as he takes a test, enjoying the confidence and surety it gives him, and expressing his love of the course in the last question of the test.
A week after the assembly awards, Cedric decides to go to the Martin Luther King avenue bus stop and listens as two crack dealers discuss receiving sex in exchange for drugs. He sees other boys flirting with girls but purposely keeps his distance. He goes home to an apartment near the corner of 16th and V streets, and soon after his mother Barbara...