Summary: Chapter 18
That Sunday, Lisa and Maverick bring Starr, Seven, and Sekani to a neighborhood called Brook Falls. The neighborhood looks like Uncle Carlos’s, but it’s not gated and more diverse. They arrive at a house, and Maverick and Lisa announce that once the mortgage is approved, this house will be theirs. Sekani asks Maverick if he’s OK living in the suburbs with the “fake” people, as Maverick calls them. Maverick has decided that being “real” is not about where they live, and the most important thing he can do is protect his family.
The family eats lunch on the floor of the kitchen. Lisa tells Seven she wants him to make his room his own for when he’s home from college. Sekani tattles that Seven is planning to go to Central Community. Maverick and Lisa are furious, telling him he cannot miss out on the opportunities he would get from the prestigious schools that offered him scholarships. Maverick insists that Kenya and Lyric are not Seven’s responsibility, but that Seven is his responsibility. He says Seven should choose a college he wants to attend, not one he feels obligated to attend.
Back in Garden Heights, gunshots interrupt the family watching television. Maverick grabs his gun. Starr worries that Maverick will get shot, but he returns unharmed. The gunmen shoot through the front of the house and throw a brick through the front window.
Lisa calls Uncle Carlos. Neighbors come to check on them, but no one knows who fired the shots. Starr feels sick, realizing that this is a message for her. When Uncle Carlos arrives, he asks whether Maverick called the police. Maverick insists that the police may have been the ones who shot at them. Uncle Carlos insists it had to have been the King Lords. Lisa argues that no matter who shot at them, Starr’s safety supersedes everything. Starr insists she will protect the family by not testifying. Maverick orders her to recite part of the Black Panthers’ Ten-Point Program and Malcolm X’s objective and asks why she wants to be quiet when armed with those words.
Inwardly, Starr still worries. The Black Panthers disbanded and Malcolm X was murdered. Goon, a member of the Cedar Grove King Lords, arrives. Maverick asked him and others to provide security for the family over the next two days. Uncle Carlos threatens not to come to the courthouse if gang members are accompanying them. Maverick accuses him of refusing to protect Starr because he’s afraid of being seen with gang members. Uncle Carlos reminds Maverick of how he cared for Starr and Seven while Maverick was in prison. He storms out of the house.
Summary: Chapter 19
Starr awakens to the smell of bacon and a feeling of dread. Today is the day she will try to secure justice for Khalil. The kitchen is full of Cedar Grove King Lords. Lisa, Aunt Pam, and Nana cook breakfast. After Starr takes her plate, Lisa asks her to bring food out to Maverick and Uncle Carlos. Starr is shocked to find they’ve talked out their differences. Nana calls Starr to come and get ready.
Uncle Carlos drives Starr, Lisa, and Maverick to the courthouse. Their car is followed by two cars of Cedar Grove King Lords. Starr remembers going to the courthouse for Maverick’s sentencing when she was three years old. She told Maverick that she liked his jumpsuit because orange was her favorite color, and Maverick told her she should never wear a jumpsuit like that. Since then, she hates the courthouse. Reporters line up across the street. People pray for justice on the courthouse lawn.
Ms. Ofrah greets Starr with a hug. Lisa tells Starr how brave she is. Starr insists that she’s not brave, but Lisa says that being scared and doing something anyhow is brave. Maverick hugs them both. With the support and love of her family, Starr finally feels ready to face the grand jury.
Starr enters the courtroom and swears on the Bible to tell the truth. Privately, she promises Khalil to tell the truth, too. When the District Attorney asks Starr to confirm that she knows that she is not the focus of criminal charges, Starr says yes, but internally comments that she and Khalil have been on trial since the murder. The DA asks if Starr is ready to tell the grand jury what happened. Starr feels terrified and wants to hide, but refuses to let the people praying, her parents, or Khalil down. She announces that she is ready.
Analysis: Chapters 18 & 19
Maverick’s changed attitude toward moving means that he has reconciled his love of his family and his Black Power philosophy. Significantly, he says protecting his family is the “realest” thing he can do, using the same phrasing he used to talk about living in Garden Heights, which signifies that he sees the move as being in line with his ideals, not compromising them. For one thing, Brook Falls has more black people living there than Uncle Carlos’s suburbs, which means that their family will not have to assimilate into the customs of an entirely white neighborhood. In addition, with King’s threat, Maverick has fully understood the danger his children face in Garden Heights. Because his children are as central to his worldview as the Black Power philosophers, Maverick deciding to move for them follows his ideals instead of compromising them. Finally, we can read this choice as a shift in Maverick’s definition of authentic blackness. Instead of believing that authenticity comes from where he lives, Maverick decides that his actions—keeping the store going and protecting his children—make him real.
Maverick and Lisa’s insistence that Seven go to a four-year college highlights the difference a responsible parent makes in a teen’s life. Just like DeVante and Khalil, Seven often finds himself forced into a parenting role because Iesha does not take on the responsibility of keeping her children safe. Seven’s idea of going to community college instead of the prestigious schools that offered him scholarships follows a similar (though less drastic) path as DeVante and Khalil in that Seven considers making a rash decision that could diminish his opportunities. Fortunately for Seven, Maverick and Lisa provide a support network that keeps him from shouldering this burden. Maverick’s reminder that Seven’s role, even when dealing with Iesha, is that of a child and not an adult encourages Seven to prioritize his own future, and distinguishes his relational support from that received by his Garden Heights peers.
The ambiguity of whether the police or the King Lords attacked the Carter house emphasizes that both groups benefit from Starr’s silence and the Thug Life cycle. The police do not want Starr to testify because her testimony holds One-Fifteen accountable for his actions, and therefore holds law enforcement accountable for the murderous consequences of their racism. Indicting One-Fifteen would force them to examine uncomfortable truths about their role in Garden Heights and take responsibility. King wants to profit off his hold on the drug dealings in the community. Starr not testifying keeps him out of jail and stops her from chipping away at a system that both helps King financially and forces young men to do the most dangerous parts of drug dealing for him. Therefore, which of these forces attacked the Carter house almost doesn’t matter because they both stand against Starr and her mission of justice.
In doubting Maverick’s Black Power icons, Starr shows the enormity of the forces she faces by testifying and the inherent dangers of heroism. Although Maverick brings up the Black Panthers and Malcolm X to inspire her, their grisly ends remind Starr of the unfortunate reality that fighting for justice is inspiring in part because it is dangerous. Although Starr believes in Maverick’s philosophy, she understands that their righteousness does not make them safe. Maverick’s idols met terrible ends because they threatened the status quo, which made them the targets of powerful people, as demonstrated by the U.S. government itself going after the Black Panthers. Starr realizes now that because fighting for Khalil and Garden Heights means fighting against structural injustice, she has put herself and her family in grave danger, just like Maverick’s heroes.
Starr’s testimony before the grand jury marks the climax of the novel because this is when Starr speaks out against the injustice of Khalil’s murder due to systemic racism. Starr testifies to Khalil’s personhood by telling the truth of what happened that night. When she’s sworn in as a witness, Starr silently promises Khalil to tell the truth, which signifies that she testifies for him more than anyone else, affirming that his life mattered enough for her to fight for it. Starr follows both Maverick and Lisa in her actions because she does the right thing despite the very real dangers she faces from both the police and the King Lords. At this moment, Starr has done all she can to fight for Khalil, and has no control over whether it will work. Starr’s anecdote about Maverick’s sentencing and her resulting hatred of the courthouse casts doubt on the justice system’s ability to account for racialized poverty and the violence that results. Her actions here follow Lisa’s advice to always do right, even if the outcome is uncertain or doubtful.