Early last week, TMA 11th and 12th graders spent the morning engaging with award-winning author Jeff Hobbs as he shared excerpts and passages from his New York Times bestseller “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League.” The story documents the 30-year-life of his college roommate, Robert Peace, who was brutally murdered—a violent killing that Hobbs says was “pointless.” During an emotional question-and-answer segment with students, Hobbs, who calls Peace his “best friend,” recounted the testimonies of Peace’s loved ones whose reflections gave the book a raw truth that nurtured Peace’s love for learning and genuine nature.
As the question-and-answer segment progressed, TMA students discovered many common factors that they shared with Peace, a Black student who grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood outside of Newark, New Jersey. The area that Peace called ‘home’ was a city where college graduation rates are among the lowest in the country, much like the District’s Wards 7 and 8, where more than 85% of Thurgood Marshall Academy students reside. In spite of his zip code, however, Peace defied the odds, graduated high school, and attended Yale University. Since 2005, Thurgood Marshall Academy has graduated more than 500 alumni, all of whom were accepted to college, and in 2014, one student made history as Thurgood Marshall Academy’s first senior to be accepted into an Ivy League institution—Yale University, Peace’s alma mater.
Peace graduated after four years at Yale, where he double-majored in biochemistry and biophysics. “Aside from being Black, he was a typical Yale student. Rob [Peace] was smart. At Yale, not everyone will like a Black male who will debate you and win. He’d usually win,” said Hobbs. As Hobbs delved deeper into Peace’s story, students were surprised to learn that Yale University was, in fact, Peace’s ‘safety school.’ His first choice was Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“On behalf of myself and the student body, I want to thank you for sharing this inspiring read with the world,” said one student to Hobbs, who read the 400-page novel in three days. “It has taught us that in spite of someone’s background and situations that they can still aim for and go to college.” Each student received a copy of the book, which Hobbs later signed during a meet-and-greet with each student.
“I hope that all of you [students] will go home and read this book,” said Richard Pohlman, Executive Director of Thurgood Marshall Academy. After he thanked Hobbs for leading the dynamic discussion and visiting the school, he told students that “when you read someone’s story, you, somehow, feel connected to and can relate to a character. And that inspires a change in you.”
In addition to documenting Peace’s life, the story outlines common college experiences. This month, TMA seniors, most of whom are first generation college-goers, will begin the college application process. While the majority of students enter Thurgood Marshall Academy with reading and math skills below grade level, all graduating seniors are accepted to college and are earning degrees at higher rates than their peers nationally.