Learn from your past and be better because of your past,” she would say, “but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.

In Chapter 5 we learn that Patricia’s parents divorced when she was young, and at age 9 she left her mother’s home to live with her father. Instead of taking her in, he sent her to live in a hut with her aunt and 14 cousins. When Trevor is young, Patricia shares snippets of information with him about what it was like to grow up in that village, fighting over scraps of food and trying to avoid being raped by strange men. She shares these stories with him so that Trevor will know more about perseverance. It is Patricia’s greatest hope that Trevor will create his own future, just as she did. Given her past, she knows that bitterness will only hold him back and that he will need courage to move ahead.

"Because," she would say, "even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough."

Noah ends Chapter 5 with these words from his mother, who is explaining to her relatives why she bothers to teach a Black child about white customs. Noah points out that when she became pregnant with him, she had no way of knowing if apartheid would ever end. Nonetheless, she persevered in teaching him about the things that awaited him should he ever become free.

Though Patricia’s money is scarce, she takes Trevor ice skating and to drive-in movies. Patricia thinks it is ridiculous that Black people never go to these places and refuses to believe that she and her son should not go either. Their outings to the white suburbs embolden Trevor and grant him the courage to dream.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Noah includes this quote from Nelson Mandela in Chapter 17. An enormous Tsonga man, whom Trevor refers to as the Hulk, has just joined the other men in jail. Trevor has been there long enough to see new guys come in and try to appear threatening to avoid trouble, but every one of them is terrified of this large newcomer. Trevor hears the cops asking the man questions in Zulu, which the Hulk does not understand. Drawing on his courage, Trevor speaks to the man in his Tsonga tongue. He feared this man to be a murderer, but his courage allows him to discover that the man is in fact very gentle and has been arrested for a nonviolent offense. Language allows Trevor to reveal information and connect with the man in a way that would be impossible if he only spoke English.