You might have heard about The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, a biography of a young man who embodied some parts of the typical American rags-to-riches story: born into poverty, then accepted into an Ivy League college. Unfortunately, the “he became wealthy and successful” part was cut short, and the book’s author, Jeff Hobbs, attempts to examine why.
Robert Peace, the subject of this biography, seemed to be an inscrutable figure. He had many friends and was popular in Newark (his native city), Yale University, and elsewhere, but no one seemed to truly know him. Throughout the book, his motives are clouded, and although Peace spoke often about his big dreams of success in real estate, those dreams were constantly derailed by his forays back into drug dealing. It seems like the author wanted me to believe that poverty was the chain wrapped around Peace’s ankle, the anchor that kept him bound to the drugs that were ultimately the cause of his murder. Other readers of the book point to drug addiction/abuse/dependence as the main problem.
From my reading of the biography, poverty and addiction combined with a bunch of other factors to destroy Peace’s life. One of those factors might have been overhyped Ivy League schools, and the mistaken notion that if you get into Yale, you’re automatically going to be a great success, no matter what negative economic situation or chaotic family life you might return to once you graduate. Perhaps Peace was crushed under the weight of such high expectations, knowing that he could not share his success at Yale with his friends in Newark, who might believe he was being pretentious, and he could not share his life in Newark with his friends from Yale, who would believe he was destroying the potential he had gained at college. Peace’s double life fueled his inner confusion; he could not reconcile the world of opportunity at Yale with the world of success by illegitimate means in Newark. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and neither can the soul of a person.
There are two tragedies in this book, secondary to the main tragedy, the loss of the talented Robert Peace: (1) the tragedy of Peace’s mother, who sacrificed throughout her entire life so her only son could have a future apart from the drugs and depravity of the neighborhood in which he grew up, then in the end, came away with nothing, and (2) the tragedy that college/university is still being pushed and marketed to those who do not have the wherewithal to succeed there and who falsely believe that graduating from college is the golden ticket to a successful future. College is not an equalizer, no matter how often politicians and glossy admissions packets tell you it is.