The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is a biography written by Jeff Hobbs that tells a messy story about a young man who went to Yale and succeeded- but was stuck in the orbit that he grew up in. Robert Peace grows up in East Orange, Newark, a neighborhood saturated with poverty, drug dealers, and gangs.
His mother and father both play important, but different roles in his childhood. His father, Skeet, is a man with a brilliant mind, but sells drugs. His mother, Jackie, works long hours at low paying jobs to support her family, but sacrifices even more to send Rob to private school. His parents live apart- they’re in a relationship but aren’t married. At a year old, Rob can read, at two, he memorizes sentences after he hears them.
Rob has a strong affinity for reading as a child, which Jackie nurtures. Skeet takes him around the neighborhood, introducing him to people, teaching him social skills, and how to be a man. Jackie sees a genuine curiosity in Rob to understand the world and the people in it. Skeet and Jackie have conflicting aspirations for their son.When Rob starts elementary school, Skeet buys him clothes, rap music, and a punching dummy. Skeet often helps Rob with his homework, emphasizing particulars such as memory.When Rob is seven, Skeet is arrested for the murder of two young women in the apartment near his, convicted, and sent to prison. There is no hope for Skeet’s case because he doesn’t have access to good lawyers.
Jackie doesn’t have the will to tell Rob what happened for a year.Rob wholeheartedly believes in Skeet’s innocence, and visits him often in prison. A few months after school starts, Rob starts to gain weight and act lazy. Rob has his first fistfight in first grade.
Jackie wants to protect Rob from the life around him, and starts night school to be a kitchen supervisor and gets a job with a raise. She spends a third of her income on Rob’s tuition, and Rob is enrolled in private school, where he stands apart from other students, wearing a constant glower and untied shoes, but still receiving? straight A’s. When Rob is 13, he’s goaded into smoking and drinking by the guys he hangs out with , and he likes it.In high school, Rob gloweres his way through the first year until he is befriended by Tavarus Hester. Tavarus is a freshman on the water polo team who senses the same anger in Rob that he had and pushes Rob to join the water polo team. He meets the four friends that would be integral to his life until the end there. He goes on a hiking trip that lights a spark in him for travel.
He’s chosen for the most important student leadership position, wins the most prestigious achievement award, has a 3.97 GPA, and gets up at 4:30 every morning to work as a lifeguard- all while visiting his father in prison and working on the appeal of his conviction. Rob is smart and successful, but he handles his emotions by drinking and smoking marijuana regularly.After high school, Rob is sponsored to attend Yale. Rob is different from a lot of the other students.
At first, he’s closer to the dining hall staff than the students. But due to his genuine interest in most people he meets, he becomes popular among a diverse group of students, even joining a prestigious secret society during his senior year. Rob still smokes and drinks. By the time he graduates, he has $100,000 in cash from selling weed. Rob graduates in 2002, with honors from Yale.Upon graduation, instead of pursuing a career in science, he returns to Newark without a plan.
Not much happens in these following years, Rob dreams, he stalls, he dates. Rob teaches biology at his high school for five years. Skeet dies of cancer in 2006. He then leaves to work as a baggage handler at the airport due to the free flights that allow him to travel and look at properties lacking promise.He talks about applying to graduate school, but his life is less like a Yale graduate and more like the men in East Orange- making big plans and becoming a small-time marijuana dealer. Jackie gets frustrated with him, and Rob tries to drum up money for his mother, to buy her a new house which she doesn’t feel the need for.
Rob continues to pursue unusual business ventures. He displays an inability to focus on any goals in his life, losing some ambition and open-mindedness that make him such a successful young man. Rob’s close friends begin to see that Rob is underachieving, but are unable to give him any input because Rob is the one who went to Yale. Rob gets fired from his job due to a careless error.
Jackie and Rob rarely spend time together, but he still provides for her.Rob starts applying to graduate college, but doesn’t accept edits on his essay due to his hardheadedness. He starts deal more drugs, while pursuing real jobs and a graduate degree.
Rob becomes infatuated with selling a large amount of marijuana and making a big profit all at once. Rob ruins an old friendship to get money for the drugs. He seems to overlook the risk, and in the end, his core group of friends each puts up money to buy 50 pounds of marijuana, which he was to convert to “designer weed” in the basement. The large amounts require additional help, and one of their hirees goes rogue and spreads rumors about Rob. While Rob is selling, someone breaks into the basement and shoots Rob.Rob died on May 24, 2011, and no one is charged.Afterwards, Jackie seems calm. Later, she is summoned to the morgue to view Rob’s body, but instead of going home, drives straight to work.
Jackie’s life has been dedicated to Rob, but now that he’s dead, she doesn’t seem to know what to do besides work.At Rob’s funeral, there are many people from many places, all mourning. Jackie requests his high school friends not to come, Rob is buried in Rosedale Cemetery, next to his father.Was his life wasted? Oswaldo, one Rob’s friends at Yale who escaped from a similar background to become a psychiatrist, said after the funeral, “Peace was so … smart, but so … dumb.
” The man who sponsored Rob noted that, “not all the choices had been his to make.”Following Rob’s death, very little changes in Newark. Drugs are sold throughout Robert’s old neighborhood, crime continues to ravage the community, Jackie keeps working.Rob Peace is a black man who grows up in poverty, works his way to Yale, and does what everyone tells him not to do.
He comes back to East Orange, and he teaches high school, and he stays with his family, and he travels, and he loves, and he hustles marijuana, and he stumbles through life, figuring it out, as everyone does. He eventually gets stuck in the gravity of poverty and crime. It’s a messy story, because life is messy and being a person is messy.