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All You Have To Do

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Hardcover
$19.99 US
5.75"W x 8.5"H x 1.3"D  
On sale Aug 29, 2023 | 432 Pages | 978-0-593-61904-9
| Grade 7 & Up
Reading Level: Lexile HL640L
Powerful, thought-provoking, and heartfelt, this debut YA novel by author Autumn Allen is a gripping look at what it takes (and takes and takes) for two Black students to succeed in prestigious academic institutions in America.

In ALL YOU HAVE TO DO, two Black young men attend prestigious schools nearly thirty years apart, and yet both navigate similar forms of insidious racism.

In April 1968, in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, Kevin joins a protest that shuts down his Ivy League campus...

In September 1995, amidst controversy over the Million Man March, Gibran challenges the “See No Color” hypocrisy of his prestigious New England prep school...

As the two students, whose lives overlap in powerful ways, risk losing the opportunities their parents worked hard to provide, they move closer to discovering who they want to be instead of accepting as fact who society and family tell them they are.
Autumn Allen teaches literature and writing workshops for young people and edits picture books as a senior editor at Barefoot Books. She teaches children’s literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and holds graduate degrees in education, children's literature and writing for children from Harvard and Simmons Universities. Her forthcoming picture books, Step On Board: Sculpting a Memorial to Harriet Tubman, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and Answered Prayers, will be published by Knopf. All You Have to Do is her debut novel. Autumn grew up in Boston and lives in Massachusetts with her family. Visit her website at autumnallenbooks.com. View titles by Autumn Allen
1
GIBRAN
Massachusetts | September 1995
The bass is thumping. I can feel it in my bones. It’s begging me to bob my head, laugh, and shout. In another place, I would get up, my boys in step with me, rush the stage, dance. But in Thatcher Hall, at Lakeside Academy, I freeze.
Three white boys—­two seniors and a junior—­bounce onto the stage, smirking. The bass becomes a warped noise as my eyes take in every inch of their costumes.
Six pairs of sneakers, all mixed up on three pairs of feet. Yellow and red. Red and black. Black and green.
They’re high-­top sneakers—­good ones. Expensive ones. And they’re brand-­new. No doubt bought on their parents’ credit cards, just for this one stunt.
They march back and forth, pretending to warm up to the music, acting like they’re going to rhyme. I watch those sneakers, obsessed with the fact that they’ll never wear them again.
They wear baggy jeans so new, they’re creased and saturated with dye.
Crisp white T-­shirts, extra extra large.
The jeans, the shirts—­they won’t wear those again either.
They got the brands right mostly, but their ignorance shows in the details.
Their Red Sox caps betray them. Faded all over and frayed at the edges. If they knew anything about us, they’d know you can’t perform in that. The contrast is almost funny.
But those mismatched shoes. And the walk. An exaggerated pimp walk. Dip, hop, dip, hop. Arms swinging, greedy grins on their faces, swaying to a rhythm that doesn’t match the beat still rattling my bones. Mics held to their thin lips, their mouths move, but I can’t hear the words they’re lip-­synching. I can barely hear the muffled laughter of the other white students who watch.
I tear my eyes away from the stage and scan the audience. The boys’ friends crack up and cheer them on. Other white students cover their smiles with one hand, wide-­eyed, not sure if they should find this funny.
The boys onstage are laughing. Their blue, green, hazel eyes gleam with something that feels sinister. They wear a confidence that was never taken from them. I want to steal it now.
What can I do? Stop the show? Bash the speakers? Slap the microphones out of their hands? I savor the fantasy, but there are too many witnesses. To be the aggressor in front of the whole school—­that would guarantee my expulsion. I wouldn’t mind; it could be worth it. If only it weren’t for my mother’s tears. My family’s pleas.You’re almost there, Gibran. Just graduate. Finish your last year.
Like it’s easy. No. The longer I’m here, the harder it gets.
On my right, James’s dark eyes are narrowed, following the boys across the stage, trying to figure out if this is for real. 
On my left, David glares at the wall behind them, expressionless, holding himself together. 
The three of us make eye contact and exchange thoughts silently.
Here we go.
These dudes.
Are they serious right now?
I check for the other Black students. The new ones are surprised and confused. The student-­of-­color orientation ended today—­that blissful week of brown and Black faces making this place our own. Now, this “talent show,” the first all-­school event of the year, reveals what Lakeside is really like. 
The rest of the Black students stare—­at the stage, at the floor, some at the wall—­determined not to be provoked. Not to put their emotions on display. They wear their discomfort, disbelief, and disgust as lightly as possible, trying not to offend. They wait. Wait for it to be over.
None of these white people—­students or faculty—­can see what we see. The boys onstage commit the offense, but we’re the ones being careful.
I can’t do it anymore.
I get up. I’m thinking I’ll go outside, get some air, wait ’til this insult is over, and come back. It’s not much—­barely a protest—­but it’s something. At least I can liberate myself. I walk toward the auditorium door. But I slow down as something catches my eye.
The speaker is plugged into an extension cord that runs by the door to the hallway. It’s an old building in an old boarding school—­several hundred years old. Its prestige comes from age and pedigree. My eyes travel the length of the wire.
People accuse me of acting without thinking. The thing is, though, I’malways thinking. I just calculate differently. I think one thing: Right or wrong?
Is it right for me to let everyone else sit here, subjected to this nonsense, while I go get some air? No.
Is it right for me to stop this show if I can do it without damaging any property or injuring any bodies? Hell yeah.
So I continue out the door. And as I go, I bend down and yank the cord out of the wall. The music stops. The roaring in my ears stops. My back feels lighter, and my chest opens up. I can breathe.
There is a sweet moment of silence. 
Then the reactions begin.
Gasps. Murmurs. A boy calls from the low stage, “Hey, what the—­”
A voice from the Black students: “Ohhh snap!”
I let the door swing behind me.
I cut swiftly through the hallway, where the old stuffy white guys on the walls stare down at me. I resist the urge to give them the finger:How ya like me now? I act casual, just in case. I could maybe pretend it was an accident.
I reach the door to outside and shove the brass bar to open it. It creaks and falls closed behind me with a clang. The night is warm, and the stone steps glow silver gray. I take a deep breath and smile.

I’m slurping instant oatmeal and bobbing my head to Mobb Deep when Mom rushes into the kitchen. Her soft suede jacket and boots meet at her knees, layered over jeans and a blouse. She caresses my head as she passes me. She opens the fridge, scans its contents, checks her watch, and closes the fridge. She never eats breakfast. I don’t know why she pretends to consider it every morning.
I finish scraping the bottom of my bowl and then find Mom looking at me. I reach to pull off my headphones, but she beats me to it. She shakes them at me, her silver bracelets jingling, and then drops them in my lap.
“These things are the death of the family unit.”
“Sorry,” I say, suppressing a smirk. I only wear headphones at home when I’m playing music with “explicit lyrics.” Which is most of my music. But that’s not why she calls them “the death of the family.” She thinks I don’t listen  to her. But it’s not the headphones. “What’s up?” I ask.
“Isaid, are you going to make your bus?”
“Oh yeah. I got plenty of time.”
“Famous last words.”
I stand up. “I’m heading out right now. Don’t worry.”
She exhales. “Okay.” She squares her hips and points her finger. This is her lecturing stance.
“Be careful,” I recite for her. “Follow the rules.” I turn and rinse my bowl in the sink.
She pulls me around to face her with surprising strength for her petite frame. The concern in her eyes makes me shift my gaze to her freckled nose, her soft curls, her beaded earrings.
“Listen,” she says. “You are there for one reason and one reason only.”
“I know—­”
“I said listen. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does or says. Don’t let it bother you. You have to work—­”
“Twice as hard to get half as far,” I chime in.
She raises her face to the ceiling. “I tried, God.”
I wonder if she thinks she failed. But then she gazes at my face, puts her arms around my middle, and squeezes. “I hate being at separate schools,” she says into my chest.
Until high school, I went to White Oak School, where she teaches. In my earliest memories, the four of us rode to school together after a mad rush to get everyone out the door, backpacks in one hand and egg sandwiches in the other. Now the house is quiet. Ava at college and Ashanta married. We usually have someone who’s down on their luck staying in one of our extra rooms for however long they need, but right now it’s just me and Mom.
At first I was excited to go to a bigger school with more Black kids, but it didn’t take long to realize Lakeside is just another prep school full of rich white kids. The few students of color are supposed to try to blend in. Without Mom as a buffer between me and the faculty, it’s even harder to stay out of trouble. I don’t miss her chasing me down the hallways. I do miss knowing she was in the building—­that someone who believed in me had my back.
Mom finally releases me. “My baby,” she says. Her eyes crease with worry. “Almost a man. I can’t believe you’re about to be eighteen.” Another sigh, then she pokes my chest with each command. “Be good. Be careful. Take those off your head the moment you step onto campus.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I joke.
When I started at Lakeside, Mom dropped me off and picked me up every day. I decided getting myself there and back could give her one less thing to stress about, so now I take two buses. She was relieved in a way, but now that she doesn’t have the car ride to lecture me, she has to check me before we’re out the door.
She inspects me from my hairline to my shoes.
“Yeah, you know I’m lookin fly.” I grin and flip up the collar of my sports shirt.
She’s finally smiling. “Okay. I’m late.” As she backs out of the kitchen, she calls out, “One more year. Nine months.”
“Yup.” I send my voice out behind her. “I got this.”
Maybe.

What I don’t say
Every year on the first day of classes, I remember our very first day in private school: you as new faculty, us as new students. The memory isn’t real, but it’s real to me. Like something alive, it changes and grows. Instead of fading with time, it brightens. A black-­and-­white photograph developing slowly, then touched up in color. It’s a created memory. An origin story, a myth, a legend of you, my mother.
You were baby-­faced, and your summer glow was fading. Petite and slender, you wore your typical uniform: tall leather boots, soft suede jacket, and dangling earrings made of beads. You held my hand and Ava’s in your strong artist’s hands. Ashanta ambled alongside, lost in her own thoughts, her backpack stuffed for third grade. You walked us from the faculty parking lot through the sprawling, impeccably landscaped grounds. We felt free in the expanse, and we longed to run, but your firm grip kept us close.
A blond woman with aggressively tanned skin came out of the building and started to hold the door for us, but you slowed down and stopped far from the entrance. The woman let it close and walked past us with a cheerful, “Good morning!” You shaped your face into a performative smile, trembling with the effort.
Other children skipped past us. Parents shrieked at each other, “OhmyGod, hiiiii, look at you!” They hugged and chatted about their summers and their families before returning to their shiny cars with a wave.
You knelt in front of us and fiddled with us for the thousandth time that morning. You smoothed Ava’s bangs, creased my collar, folded Ava’s lace socks, and tugged on my plain ones. You straightened the straps of Ashanta’s backpack. You looked at the building with its sparkling glass doors.
“Listen,” you said, your voice low, almost conspiratorial. “You are not here to make friends.” You glanced at the families going in and out, laughing together. “I mean . . . they don’t have to like you. They may not like you. But it doesn’t matter. You’re only here to learn. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Okay? Do you understand?” You looked at each of our faces.
We said nothing. We did not understand. It would take years for us to understand. For a long time, we would think there was something wrong with you.
You pulled us close for a hug and breathed us in: our hair grease and our new off-­brand clothes. I squeezed you back, hoping somehow to restore the mom I knew from home. The mom who taught us to draw and paint. The magical mom who took us to Brigham’s for ice cream and had all of our friends over at the same time and treated every child like her own and gave until there was nothing left.
Before you let us go, you whispered something so softly that I’m not sure you really said it.
“Don’t trust them.”
A warning to us, a reminder for yourself, or both? It echoed in my ears, knocking at the back of my mind until the days became years and the years dragged on and the long, long years finally taught me what it meant.

First day of classes, senior year. Mr. Wheatley, my advisor, looks pained to see me. The feeling is mutual, but I might be better at hiding it than he is. In his office, sunlight streams in through the old wooden window, highlighting his sparse hair, peeling sunburn, and the dust on his elbow-­patched tweed jacket. He closes a folder and rests it on his lap, crosses his legs, and adjusts his brown-­framed glasses.
“Welcome back,” he says without a hint of warmth in his voice. “I hope you had a nice summer.”
I don’t have a chance to respond before he continues.
“We’ve got a few important notes to discuss. You are aware that your disruption at the talent show last week goes into your permanent disciplinary record?”
I let that sink in. “Now I am.”
“Now you are. So you are also aware that one more appear­ance before the discipline committee will earn you not suspension but expulsion from school?”
My mouth goes dry. “Okay.”
“Two more small strikes like the talent show or one big strike such as inappropriate conduct with another student, and your final year will be cut short. Is that understood?”
I attempt to smile. “Got it.”
“Good.” He folds his hands together like he’s about to say grace. “Gibran, I would hate to see you waste this wonderful opportunity—­”
Blah, blah, blah. I tune him out. I can recite this speech from memory. I’ve heard it so many times from so many people with different intentions. As if he personally knows my family and what sacrifices were made to get me here. Please.
The funny part is when people like Mr. Wheatley say I can talk to them about anything. Yeah, right.
What if I tried to explain why I pulled the plug at the talent show? What if I told him I did it for all the Black kids? I can predict how that would go.
Everything isn’t always about race, Gibran.
They didn’t mean to offend anyone.
I don’t want to hear all that.
And they don’t want to hear me either. If they did, they would have asked me why I did it before they went and put it in my record.
When he takes a breath, I interject. “Are we all set here, Mr. Wheatley?”
He sinks in his chair and looks deflated. Maybe he thought I’d have some big moment of enlightenment. “Well . . . I suppose we are. Unless you have any questions about your schedule or college counseling or—­”
“I don’t.” He’s already told me everything I need to know.
He rubs the arm of his chair, annoyed. “All right, then.” He pulls out a sheet of paper and an envelope. “This is your schedule, and this letter goes to your parents. I presume I can trust you to deliver it.”
“Of course.”
I fold the envelope and put it in the back pocket of my jeans before throwing my backpack over my shoulder and leaving his office.
The hallway is lined with students holding recommendation forms and other papers in their hands. Their meetings will go differently. Mr. Wheatley will smile when they walk in, genuinely happy to see them. He’ll ask how their summer vacations were—­what internships they completed and where they traveled overseas—­before discussing their schedules with them, making sure they’re happy with their courses. He’ll encourage them to keep up their strong academics and extracurriculars. He’ll want details about their college visits and application plans.
I don’t know if he knows that I’m already going to Howard. With my test scores, I only had to write a few essays to qualify for early admission with a nice scholarship for their business administration program. I’m not sure I’ll like business, but I figure it could help me be more in control of making my music. I’m not even sure I want to spend four more years in school after this, but it’s what my mom and her parents expect, so it’s the path of least resistance.
My admission and scholarship depend on my su­ccessful high school graduation, of course. For anyone else, that should be easy. But for me, with one strike left? It’s like they’re holding the door open, waiting for me to walk right out.

My schedule is filled with the usual—­honors calculus, physics, AP English, Spanish—­but I do have one class to look forward to.
Lakeside is proud of its elective seminars, and the teachers love them. They offer topics they’re passionate about, going deep into niche subjects like social persuasion or Hamlet with juniors and seniors. I’ve heard about Mr. Adrian’s African American history seminar since freshman year. Older Black students hyped it up, so most of us take it when we can.
My mom’s generation fought to have Black studies in colleges. She used to tell me the stories of the Black students taking over the administration building at Boston University to get the school’s attention to their demands. She would laugh when she remembered how they answered the main phone line during their occupation: “Black BU!” She stopped telling me those stories when she saw that I had a rebellious streak in me too.
I bet they thought by now Black studies would be included in the required curriculum. Instead, we’re still supposed to feel grateful to have this one elective class about ourselves while “Western civilization” gets twelve years.
By the time I enter the classroom, I’m almost resentful. I can’t help it—­whenever I sense that gratitude is expected and not deserved, I go hard in the opposite direction. But Mr. Adrian’s open smile disarms me. I am the last to arrive, and instead of checking the clock, he looks at me, excited, like I’m the person he’s been waiting for.
“Gibran! Welcome.”
He seems sincere. I have to give it to him: He’s the only teacher who doesn’t shrink or avert his eyes when he sees me. He’s a full head shorter than me too. His bright blond hair wisps around his balding head.
The large oval oak table is lined with students sitting in heavy wooden armchairs, crisp notebooks open in front of them. I take a seat next to James, who wears his favorite Champion sweatshirt and baggy jeans. I lift my chin to nod whassup to David, who sits across from us, next to another soccer player. There are more brown faces in here than I’ve seen in any of my classes ever. It’s nice. Comfortable. Though it’d also be nice if more than five white kids cared enough to be here.
Mr. Adrian leans on the tabletop, his fingers spread like a runner’s getting ready to race.
“Welcome, everyone.” His voice sounds like tires on gravel, but in a warm, relaxed way. “Let’s discuss what we expect from a course on African American history. What is the relationship between African American history and American history in general?”
Does he want my real answer? African American history is what you learn at home, when Moms drops names over dinner or when you go through your parents’ and grandparents’ bookshelves. So-­called American history is the white his-­story you learn at school for twelve years until, if you’re lucky, you get one “special seminar” to throw some color in there. Black history messes up the hero narrative of white history, so for the most part, Black history is left out.
James is the first to raise his hand. Let’s see how diplomatic he’ll be. “I mean, they’re supposed to be one and the same, right?” he says. “Like, without African Americans, there would be no America. And without America, there would be no African Americans. So they shouldn’t really be divided.”
“Yeah,” Lisa says, pushing her glasses up her nose. Her tight curls are pulled back in a puffy ponytail, and her dimples dig deep into her cheeks as she talks. “They’re totally interdependent. But people treat African American history like it’s . . . supplemental.”
“Okay.” Mr. Adrian turns to the blackboard and writesinterdependent. Then he leans on the table again. “Other thoughts?”
A white boy named Eric cocks his head. “I guess I thought of American history as including African American history,” he says. “American history is general. Then when you focus on African American history, it’s more . . . specialized? Or exclusive, I guess?”
“Pfff.” I can’t help myself.
Mr. Adrian and the other students turn my way.
“I’m sorry,” I say to Mr. Adrian.
“Please,” he says, “respond.”
I clear my throat. “I mean, when you say it’s exclusive, that’s kind of funny to me, because really, it’s American history that’s exclusive. Black people and Native Americans are like a footnote or a sidebar in most American history books. The fact that there’s a separate class for African American history kind of proves that the general curriculum focuses on white people. Everything that was skipped over gets squeezed into these special seminars that aren’t even required.”
Some of the Black kids nod. Eric frowns and fiddles with his pen.
“So you’re saying,” Mr. Adrian responds slowly, “that African American history is not separate or exclusive, but separated and excluded. In curricula. In classrooms.”
“Yeah, even in the culture overall. Schools just reflect society and reproduce the same old systems.”
He writesseparated and excluded on the blackboard and turns back to the class, one hand in the pocket of his khakis and the other twirling the piece of chalk. White dust covers his fingers.
Kate, a white girl wearing a faded Dartmouth T-­shirt, speaks next. “I don’t think of them as separate. Or separated or whatever.” She pulls at the ends of her auburn hair. “We have learned about, like, African Americans before. We read The Bluest Eye in English last year.”
I take a deep breath.
Mr. Adrian blinks. He opens his mouth and then shuts it.
David says, “Yeah, we also readHuckleberry Finn in eighth grade.”
“Exactly!” Kate says as if he’s proving her point.
David, James, and I glance at each other and then back at Kate.
“Did y’all readUncle Tom’s Cabin too?” I ask, keeping a straight face.
“What?” Kate asks, confused.
The other Black kids stifle laughter. Lisa tries to hide it, but her dimples give her away.
Kate turns red and frowns at me.
“Well,” Mr. Adrian says, scratching his neck. “We can at least agree that there’s more to learn about African American history than what’s been included in the general history curriculum. That’s why we’re here today, right?”
Kate trains her eyes on him.
Mr. Adrian lets a silence stretch for almost a minute. Eric looks like he wants to say something, but he just twists his mouth. Finally, Mr. Adrian continues. “Well, we won’t have time to dive deep into every era this semester. Your research project will give you a chance to go deeper into a topic of interest to you.”
He straightens a stack of papers and hands it to the student on his left, who takes a sheet and passes on the stack.
“I want you to really bring your creativity to this project. You can work alone or in pairs. You can meet with me anytime to talk about your ideas. Your project should pose a big question about African American history: the presence, contributions, and/or struggles of Black people in this country. It’s entirely possible you won’t find an answer or resolution. I’d like you to focus on presenting your questions and your research in a way that is thought-­provoking and engaging.”
Mr. Adrian fields questions about the project and about the syllabus. For the last fifteen minutes, he gives a mini lecture about the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the colonies. When class ends, notebooks slap shut and chairs scrape the floor. Students shuffle out of the room.
I walk with David and James toward the dining hall. It felt good to talk about our history in class for once. It feels easier to speak up when more of us are in the room too. I wonder how much further we’d get if we didn’t have to wait for the white kids to catch up.

At home, I leave the letter from the school on Mom’s dresser. Between her overflowing jewelry boxes and her art supplies, there’s a chance it’ll go unnoticed for a few days.
Wrong. She hasn’t been home for ten minutes when she bursts into my bedroom, pulling the letter out of the envelope.
“What’s this?” She lowers herself onto my bed. Worry lines form all over her face. “What . . . What did you do?”
“Nothing.”
She glares at me.
I shrug. “I guess I kinda, like, tripped over the extension cord in the middle of the talent show? The cord came out of the wall and—­”
“Boy. You can’t even get that lie out your mouth with a straight face. Tell me what happened.”
I drop my head. “Aight, I didn’t trip. I kinda did it on purpose. But, Ma, it was ridiculous. They deserved it. These white boys—­”
“Of course they deserved it,” she snaps. “That is not the question. The question is, do you deserve the punishmentyou’re going to get for giving them what they deserve?”
I suck my teeth.
“Don’t suck your teeth at me.”
“I’m not.”
She holds the letter so tight she might rip it. “Jesus,” she whispers. She shoves the letter back into its envelope and stares at the floor. “This is not good. You know what this means, don’t you?”
“Yeah.”
She grinds her teeth. “Don’t give them another excuse, Gibran.”

On Thursday, we have our Brother Bonding meeting. After school, I wait for James outside of Thatcher Hall, pacing across the wide stone steps from one oversized Roman column to the other. I practice some new lyrics while I wait.

I wake up in the morning, I give thanks for living,
Then leave the house wit my mind focused on banking riches
I handle business
and still I witness
my people dying
The sun keep shining
It’s adding to the heated climate

Other students push open the heavy doors and bounce outside. I laugh to myself as they make a wide arc around me, parting for me like the sea for Moses. They cross the street to the library or to the snack bar, or race to the campus green. As the flood of students slows to a trickle, I stop pacing and rhyming and watch the door. Maybe James forgot we were walking over together and went out a different way. I scratch my scalp with my cap and start missing my locks again. Mom made me cut them off for high school, but I don’t even need my dreads to scare white people anymore.
I’m about to start strolling toward the meeting when the door flies open and James jogs out.
“Sup, G?” We clasp hands and pull away with a snap.
“What’s up with you? Had a brother standin out here all day.”
“Pshh. Five minutes. My bad. I had to ask Mr. Murphy for a recommendation. You don’t know about that life though.”
“Nope.”
It’s a good thing I don’t. I can’t think of a single faculty member here who would write me an enthusiastic recommendation. Maybe Mr. Adrian, but this is my first class with him. Moms was more relieved than I was when I got admitted to Howard. For her, it seemed like the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. A weight lifted. Until she saw that letter from my advisor.
We follow a concrete path through the grass toward Carroll House, a two-­story brick building built in the early days of the school. In the grass, boys throw Frisbees and girls tuck up their sleeves, hoping the sun burns strong enough to give them one last tan.
“So you wrote some new lyrics?” James says. “Lemme hear what you got.”
“You sure you’re ready for this?”
“Oh, you got jokes? Aight, bet, let’s go.” He gives me a beat, and I flow.

We do the knowledge, speak the wisdom so you see the science
The power structure full of demons so we be defiant
Mental warfare ain’t for the likes of the feeble-­minded
The truth is all around you just have to seek and find it
I hear your silence
That’s how we move cause the mind a weapon
And find our blessings
In the weed cause we high as heaven
I’m a teacher
I give my shorties a private lesson

“Oooooh!!!” James laughs, then cups his hands around his mouth and plays the crowd of astonished fans. “Word, you got that, you got that.”
It’s my turn to make a beat, and he freestyles. We take turns spitting rhymes and egging each other on.
“Aight,” I say as we reach the path to the dorm where the Brother Bonding meeting has started. “Those lyrics were nice, but you gotta admit defeat.”
“What? You buggin.”
“I mean, we can take it to a third party to judge if you really wanna embarrass yourself. . . .”
“Whatever!”
We open the door to Carroll House and pause for a second to let our vision adjust to the dim indoor light. In the common room, ten brown boys sit on couches and chairs, chatting. My shoulders relax as soon as I walk in.
“Whaddup, y’all,” I say, nice and loud to everybody. I make the rounds, dapping everybody up.
David’s wearing his soccer shorts and shin guards so he can run over to practice from the meeting.
“What’s up?” he says. “Nice of y’all to join us.”
“His fault,” I say, pointing at James.
“Anyway,” James says. “We miss anything?”
“Not really. We’re introducing ourselves to the freshmen and assigning mentors for the new boarding students.” ­David picks up a piece of paper from a table by the door and runs his finger down a list. “Gibran, you have Chris, who is . . .” He scans the room. “Right over there.” He points at a scrawny, wide-­eyed boy in a striped polo shirt. He’s sitting in the corner with his hands folded in his lap, listening to the other boys.
“Aight, cool.”
“And James, you have Zeke.” David points out a tall boy with dark skin and thick glasses. “You know the drill. Check in with them, let ’em know how to get in touch with you and all that.”
“No doubt,” James says.
I pull up a chair across from Chris. “Chris! My man!”
“Hi!” he says. “Nice to meet you.” He looks like I’m the latest in a series of surprises that have come at him since he arrived at Lakeside.
“I’m Gibran.”
“I know.”
“Oh, word? I hope you’ve only heard good things.”
His eyes go wide as golf balls. 
“I’m just messing with you, man. Relax. I know if it was white kids talking, you probably thought I was the boogeyman. Anyway, the good news is, I’m your senior mentor. That means nobody should be messing with you, ’cause they know I’ll handle it, nahmsayin?”
Chris blinks.
“I’m not trying to scare you,” I say. “I’m just sayin, white kids have a habit of stepping out of line. So you gotta nip it in the bud from jump. Let ’em know you’re not the one.”
Chris shifts in his seat and sits on his hands, looking down at his knees. He’s so open and vulnerable. That makes him an easy target. I can protect him this year, but next year I won’t be around. I have nine months to teach him how to hold his own. Operation Man Up begins right here and now.
“Where you from?” I ask.
“Chicago.”
“Dang, that’s far! I think you’re the only student I’ve met who’s from outside the Northeast. Well, I live twenty minutes from campus, right in Boston. Definitely let me know if there’s anything you need anytime. I got you.”
“Okay. Thanks. They also gave me a . . . host family? Like, a day student who can host me when I want to get off campus or something?”
“Right, right,” I say. “They white?”
“Well . . . yeah.”
“Mm. They like to adopt us. Like pets, nahmsayin. It makes ’em feel good. They may smile in your face, but that don’t mean they have your back. Remember that.”
Chris kicks the legs of his chair.
“You know what though,” I say, “don’t worry ’bout all that yet. Be cool, be comfortable. Just lemme know if anybody bothers you.”
“’Kay.” I can barely hear him over the voices around us.
“You play any sports?”
We chat for a few minutes, and I learn that Chris is not an athlete either, but that he’s into science and math and is thinking of joining the debate club. Soon David calls for everyone’s attention.
“Aight, listen up. Some of us have to get to sports practice, so before people leave, anyone want to put stuff on the agenda for this year?”
I raise my hand. “The Million Man March.”
Sounds of surprise, interest, and trepidation break out around the room. I wait for the voices to die down.
“We should do something,” I say.
“That’d be tight,” David says. “Like what?” He twists his torso, then bends his knees to get warmed up before his jog down to the field.
“I mean, ideally, we should go.”
“What?” Trey squints at me. He’s a junior who’s been here since middle school. He’s built like a footballer but acts like a little kid.
“Yeah, in our dreams,” James says. He pulls his cap off his head and puts it on his knee.
“Hold up,” I say. “They got a French trip, a Spanish trip, a freakin national debate competition in a different state every year. Why’s it so crazy to think we could go to DC? Anything for a Black man is outta the question?”
Silence.
“I mean, I feel you,” James says. “I’m just sayin. It’s not the kind of event the school would support. So we’d be on our own.”
“Plus, it’s coming up soon, right?” Trey asks.
“Yeah, it is,” David says. “Middle of October.”
“That might be enough time to propose an off-­campus trip,” I say.
James and David look skeptical.
“Well, let’s find out,” I say. “Show of hands, how many of us would be interested if we could actually go?”
David and James raise their hands high. Everyone else looks around like it’s a trick question.
“Yo, it’s not a promise! Damn,” I say. “Aight, raise your hand if you would potentially, maybe, possibly be interested.”
One at a time, five more boys raise their hands, two of them twisting their hands in the universal “maybe” signal. The freshmen, including Chris, are still too surprised to consider the question.
I chuckle. “Aight, cool. We’ll look into it, find out what kinda rules we’d be up against.”
“Sounds good,” David says. “We could also think about hosting something on that day. Like, take the day off and do something together. Maybe with Black students from other schools or something.”
“Yeah,” James says, “aren’t they saying that people who can’t go are doing a Day of Absence–­type thing? Like, don’t go to work or school?”
“Okay, now I’m listening,” Trey says, rubbing his hands together.
Everyone laughs.
“That could definitely work,” I say.
“Cool,” David says. “Let’s talk more about it before next meeting and come up with a plan.” He checks the clock above the fireplace. “All right, we’ll see everyone here next week, same time, same place. And we’ll see you around campus too.” He heaves his gym bag onto his shoulder and gives his mentee daps before turning to me and James.
“What y’all doing this weekend?” James asks. He’s a boarder and usually spends at least one night at my place or David’s each weekend, just to get off campus.
“Colin’s having a party on Saturday,” David says.
“That’s right,” James says.
“Oh, word?” I feign shock. “Someone’s having a party and didn’t invite moi?”
“Yeah—­actually,” David says, “he specifically asked me not to bring you.”
“Me too!” James says.
“For real?”
We crack up.
I do my best nasal voice: “ ‘Oh yeah, and, um, your friend, the troublemaker, please don’t bring him, he’s a little too Black for us?’ ”
“Yup,” James says. “They scared of you, nigga.”
“Bet,” I say. “I can’t wait to go check out Colin and his lil party now. It’s on!”

On Friday during a free period, I go to the library to ask Mrs. Johnson what she thinks about us proposing a trip to the march. Other than the principal, Mr. Clarke, one staff member, and the dining hall and maintenance crew, Mrs. Johnson is the only Black adult on campus. You might think having a Black principal would be great for us, but not really. It’s like he has something to prove, so it ends up being almost worse than having a white principal and knowing what we’re up against from jump. We’ve gotten over the disappointment by now, but we still get caught off guard from time to time. Mrs. Johnson is cool though. She’s typically the go-­to person for stuff we need.
Mrs. Johnson is helping a student with the card catalog when I come in, so I stand by the desk. The other two librarians look up, smile skittishly, and go back to sorting books. Fine with me.
“Hello, Gibran,” Mrs. Johnson says as she walks around to the other side of the desk. She adjusts her tortoiseshell glasses and pushes her thick bangs to the side.
“Hi, Mrs. Johnson, how you doing?”
“I’m all right, thanks. How’s your senior year going so far?”
“Not too bad,” I say. I’m guessing she knows about my disciplinary status, but even though I’m relieved that I stayed out of “trouble” all week, I don’t bring it up. I put my backpack at my feet. “I have a question for you.”
“Sure, what is it?” She leans her forearms on the desk.
“If a group of students wanted to take a short trip out of state—­like either a day trip or overnight—­how would we get approval for that?”
“Ooh,” she says. “Out of state, huh? This would be on a weekend, right?”
“Well, actually, we might need one day off school.”
“Oh, I see. That might be tough—­but it’s been done before. The Office of Extracurricular Activities has the application forms for trips. Of course, you’d need a faculty sponsor as a chaperone, and that person has to sign the application.”
“Okay.” I drum my fingers on the desk, considering.
She tilts her head. “Can I ask what the trip is about?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Actually, maybe you can tell me if you think we should bother proposing it. We were talking about trying to go to the Million Man March next month.”
She straightens her shoulders and raises her eyebrows. “Oh! Hmm.”
“You think we have a chance of getting approved?”
“Well,” she says. “I haven’t served on the committee before, but . . . I suppose it would be a hard sell.”
“Yeah, that’s what we figured. But it’s a historic event. I mean, didn’t people skip work and school to go to, like, the March on Washington and stuff like that?”
“Well, yes, they did. But that wasn’t exactly mainstream either. They were actually seen as pretty radical at the time.”
“For real?”
“Oh yes. Now they teach it as if everyone loved Dr. King and what he stood for. But it was quite divisive. Some people thought it was too much, too pushy. And that was a pretty tame event. Whereas the Million Man March . . .” She smiles. “Actually, it’s funny, part of what offended some people about the March on Washington was that it was integrated, and now we have the opposite. The Million Man March is controversial in part because it’s specifically for Black men.”
“See, that’s the thing. People always want to tell us how to protest. If those same people were helping correct society, we wouldn’t have to protest in the first place.” The march isn’t even a protest, really, and that’s part of why I want to go. It’s not for other people to hear our message. It’s for us to come together. Something I never get to do.
She looks sympathetic. She must be used to these barriers. Maybe she doesn’t even think about it much.
She glances behind me. Another student is waiting. One of the other librarians who didn’t offer to help me bounces over to help him.
“Well, I really want to try and go. But we can’t think of a sponsor who would take us there.”
“I wish I could help you with that,” she says, “but I don’t do long-­distance trips with students.”
“No, I understand. We wouldn’t ask that of you.” I bite my lip. “Our other idea was, if we can’t go, maybe we could plan our own Day of Absence. Organize an event for Black students on that day or attend something in Boston.”
“That might be easier to get approved,” she says. “Although you’d still have to make a strong argument for why it’s important. How it enhances your education.”
“Right. I can do that.” I’m not thrilled with this compromise, but it’s probably the easiest way to participate. “Well, I appreciate your help, Mrs. Johnson. We’ll let you know what happens.”
“Anytime, Gibran. Good luck.”
I pick up an application at the Office of Extracurricular Activities. Five pages full of red tape. I spend the rest of my free period thinking about our options for getting to the March.
My uncle Kevin lives in DC. He’s invited me down a few times when I’ve seen him at my grandparents’ house for holidays. But whenever I asked my mom about going down to see him, she shook her head like he wasn’t serious or it wasn’t a good idea. She never explained, and after a while, I stopped asking. He never visits us either. It seems like Mom’s always making some excuse not to invite him up.
I’m sure Uncle Kevin will be going to the march. Anything having to do with Black people, he’s all about it. I’m old enough to get to DC by myself. The school may not approve, but if I could convince Mom to let me go and stay with Uncle Kevin, maybe some friends could come with me. Instead of a school-­sponsored trip, we could sign them out to my house and go from there.
It’s a long shot, but it’s worth a try. The Day of Absence is a decent plan B, but I want to be at the march.

2
KEVIN
New York City | Thursday, April 4, 1968
At five thirty, the other Columbia undergrads close their books and ask their tutees if they’re all set, in that tone that leaves them no room to say anything butyes and thank you for spending your precious time with me. Assured that they’ve done their good deed for the week, they pick up their own books and shuffle off to their other activities or to their dorm rooms, to the library or to the dining hall for an early dinner.
Valerie and I stay in our seats.
Mike, my assigned tutee, is working so much faster than he was in the fall. I wait until he finishes the last problem on his math homework, and then I stand and applaud. 
“Mike finished mathbefore leaving today!” I shout.
He ducks his head and twists his mouth to hide a grin as other students join in the applause.
“Seriously—­this is cause for celebration, man,” I say, punching his shoulder lightly. “Good job.”
“Thanks.” He shuts his notebook and joins the other students who are joking, laughing, and debating.
Jerome sits across from me. “Kevin, could you help me with this essay question?”
“Of course,” I say. “Let’s see.”
After another half hour, the homework is done and we’ve moved on to talking about the students’ families, their neighborhoods, their schools. Their love for Harlem and the work they’re doing to hold on to it. Their hopes for the future. I wish I had their focus when I was in high school.
When it’s too dark inside to see by the light of the windows, we straighten up the room instead of turning the lights on, a rule Valerie and I came up with after some parents got upset about their kids coming home late. We leave as a group and walk each student home, covering half of Harlem. The students talk about an upcoming rally for tenants’ rights and compete over who’s invited more people.
“You’re coming, right?” Sandra asks me and Valerie.
“If you want us, we’re there,” Valerie says.
“Definitely,” I agree.
Sandra lists the community groups that are organizing the rally and the people in power who they hope will pay attention. The second list includes the entire administration at our university.
By the time we’ve said goodbye to the last student, the streetlights have flickered on, illuminating the city streets. Valerie and I walk back up toward our sparkling campus on the hill. We pass by Morningside Park, one of Harlem’s only green spaces. Behind a chain-­link fence, the construction site of Columbia’s new gym threatens to swallow the park whole.
The neighborhood protested to save the park from being taken over by Columbia. Almost everyone objects to the construction of the gym—­militants to conservatives. Only the white athletes and the administration are for it. The administration says it will benefit Harlem residents, but only the bottom two floors of seven would be accessible to community members unaffiliated with Columbia—­and they would use a separate entrance at the bottom of the hill. The racist, elitist design is how it earned the nickname Gym Crow. Despite the continued protests, they broke ground in February. My jaw tightens as I survey the darkness beyond the fence.
“This is the part of the walk that I hate,” I tell Valerie.
“Am I too boring for you?” I can hear her smiling without seeing it.
“Please,” I say. “You make it tolerable. It’s the dread of getting back to campus. If it weren’t for you, I might not come back.”
“You have somewhere else to go? I can walk you there.” She stops midstride, calling my bluff.
“I wish.”
We continue on, her boots echoing on the concrete.
“How’d that exam go?” she asks. “Western civ?”
I groan. “I haven’t gotten it back yet. But I can guess how he’ll react to my answers about our so-­called democracy.”
“Hmm.”
“What?” I ask.
“What what?” she says.
“You have an opinion,” I say. “Spill it.” When I see the golden crown on the campus gate, I pick up a stone and throw it. It pings off the crown without leaving a mark.
“Eh. I’m not gonna waste my breath.” She zips her lips with her hand and throws away the invisible key.
I lower my eyelids. “Fine. Where are you studying tonight?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Why not?”
“Remember last time you came to ‘study’ with us? No one could concentrate. All your debating. We almost got kicked out of the library.”
“Oh, come on. You were into it too.”
“I know,” she says. “That’s how I learned my lesson. Kevin and studying do not mix.”
“I see. So that’s how it is.”
“That’s exactly how it is.”
“Well, I have something with me that might make you change your mind,” I say.
We stop at the entrance to Barnard’s courtyard. I pull out a brand-­new, first edition copy ofBlack Power.
Her jaw drops. “Ohhh—­ Where did you—­ Micheaux’s?”
“Of course.”
She reaches for the book. I hand it to her, and she opens it reverently, holding it up to the dim light to pore over the table of contents. She smiles so eagerly I have to smile too. “Right on,” she says.
I let her enjoy it for a minute, and then I ask, “Now can I study with you?”
She laughs. “No. But you can lend this to me when you’re done.”
“Using a brother for his books.”
“You know that’s right.”
“Well, if that’s all I’m good for,” I say, reaching into my bag, “you can keep that copy.”
She looks up at me, and I show her the other copy I bought.
“Really?” she asks.
“Yeah. I need my partner to stay on her toes. My debate partner, that is.”
It sounds corny, but her eyes truly sparkle. I love that she’s as excited as I am about the book. She’ll probably finish reading it tonight too. I put my copy back in my bag and shove my hands in my jacket pockets. “I can’t believe it’s already April.”
“Yeah,” she says, hugging her new book. “It’ll be finals and then summer before we know it.”
“You know,” I say, “I keep thinking about the mentorship we’ve been talking about.”
“Me too,” she says.
“I think we should tell the students about it before the end of the school year. We can test it out now and roll it out in the fall. What do you think?”
“I guess so,” she says. “I’m excited to start, only . . . I still wonder if we should run it by the other Black tutors.”
“You know what they’ll say. They’re so proud of giving their time as tutors. They don’t have the vision.”
“True.” But still she hesitates.
“I say we go for it. Full speed ahead. The other tutors can join if they want to once they see how to really make a difference. Besides, it’s a separate thing, if anyone asks. We may have met most of the kids through Columbia’s tutoring program, but our mentoring program is separate.”
“Right.” She nods. “Okay. Let’s meet on Saturday to finish up our proposal.”
“All right, sistah. That’s what I’m talkin about.”
She laughs.
“And our proposal is for information, not asking permission.”
“Oh Lord,” she says. “You’re a mess.”
“Part of my charm, right?” I offer my handsome-­movie-­star smile.
“Fool. We’re gonna miss dinner.”
“Right. Better hustle. Hey, if there’s nothing good left, come throw a rock at my window. I’ll be happy to run back to Harlem to get us some real food.”
“You would too.”
“Of course I would!”
“Don’t tempt me. Bye, Kevin.”
“Be cool, sister.”
She heads to the women’s dining hall at Barnard, and I break into a light jog to make it to John Jay Dining Hall.
For the hundredth time, I think how nice it would be for my sister to meet Valerie. And for the hundredth time, I remember that my sister isn’t interested in anything I’m doing now.

Charles rushes into the dining hall just before dinner service ends, probably coming from an intense study session at the library. He spots me and heads my way. When he sees my nearly empty plate, he keeps his book bag on his shoulder.
“Go ahead and put your stuff down, brother,” I say, marking my page in my book.
“Aren’t you getting ready to leave?”
“I’m not in a rush.”
“Don’t you have finals to study for? Papers to write?”
I wave those thoughts away. “We have a month until finals. I’d rather be reading this.” I hold up my copy ofBlack Power proudly.
His shoulders sag dramatically. “For your sake,” he says, dropping his bag in the seat opposite mine, “I hope you do get your Black studies courses created before you graduate. You need to get credit for all this extra­curricular reading.”
Leave it to Charles to not be excited about a first edition hardcover of Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton’s brand-­new book.
“Why do you say ‘your,’ ” I ask him, “as if you’re not one of us? It doesn’t make a difference to you that this entire university doesn’t have a single class about our people?”
“I’m a science major,” he says as if that answers my question.
“And? Do they talk about the work of George Washington Carver in your science classes?”
“I studied Black folks for twelve years before I got here,” he says. “Probably the one benefit of going to a segregated one-­room school. I bet I know more about Black history than all of your political science professors combined.”
He pops a leftover meatball from my plate into his mouth and maneuvers his way through rows of tables and chairs to get food.
“You don’t act like it,” I call after him, sulking a little as I turn back to my book.
When he returns, I flip back to the preface and read aloud to him.
“ ‘This book is about why, where and in what manner Black people in America must get themselves together. It is about Black people taking care of business—­the business of and for Black people. The stakes are really very simple: if we fail to do this, we face continued subjection to a white society that has no intention of giving up willingly or easily its position of priority and authority. If we succeed, we will exercise control over our lives, politically, economically and psychically.’ ”
“Mm,” Charles mumbles, glancing around at other tables between bites.
“Oh—­am I making you nervous?” I joke, raising my voice. “What’s wrong? You don’t want to be seen listening to radical militant propaganda?”
“Nope.” He keeps eating.
“Man, you’re ridiculous.”
He chuckles. “And you’re funny. I still think you should have gone to a Black college.”
“Ha. No thanks. My parents went to Howard. It’s no better than Columbia or Harvard or anywhere else. Maybe worse. They’re trying so hard to imitate these places. I bet they’re still using the paper bag test.”
“Hmm.” He chews and swallows, then points at me with his fork. “You’d pass it though. They’d love you there.”
Charles is probably the only person who can get away with saying something like that to me. He knows I don’t like being so light-­skinned. I know in some ways my life would have been even harder if I had Charles’s dark brown complexion. But you couldn’t tell me that when I was eight years old hearing kids count “eenie, meenie, minie, moe, catch a nigger by the toe.” 
“Anyway,” I say. “You know anyone who graduated from a Black college with a Black studies major?”
He leans back in his seat, looking at me.
Of course he hasn’t. He’s the first person from his small town to go to college.
“Well,” I mumble, “they don’t exist. So-­called Black colleges are about preparing Negroes for the white man’s world. That’s where they train up the Black bourgeoisie. We need to change the white man’s world, not just join it.”
“Right,” Charles says. “That’s why you’re here at Columbia. To change it. And if you don’t pass your classes, you won’t be changing much. So maybe you should study . . . a little bit?”
“You sound like my parents.”
“I like your parents.”
I throw a balled-­up napkin at him. “Man, get outta here.”
He laughs, dodging it, and gets up, saying, “I do have to go.I have studying to do.”
“Mm-­hmm.”
He stacks my tray underneath his.
“Thanks, man,” I say. “I’ll finish reading this to you later.”
“I’m sure you will.” He sounds less than thrilled.

Hours later, in my dorm room, I resist the urge to finish my new book. I save the last two chapters for later and open an old favorite, The Mis-­Education of the Negro.
When a Negro has finished his education in our schools, then, he has been equipped to begin the life of an Americanized or Europeanized white man, but before he steps from the threshold of his alma mater he is told by his teachers that he must go back to his own people from whom he has been estranged by a vision of ideals which in his disillusionment he will realize that he cannot attain.
Voices in the hallway startle me, and I lose my place on the page. People are yelling. Shrieking? What the hell is going on? Are people drinking already? It sounds like everyone on our floor. I stay still and listen.
The voices build and gather, like a flock of geese approaching.
I put my book facedown and listen for a moment from behind my closed door.
“This can’t be happening. . . .”
Is someone crying?
“It’s because he spoke out against the war, man. . . .”
“. . . that radical talk . . .”
I crack my door open and peek out. A crowd of students fills the hallway, and more come to join them. Their faces are pale or red and blotchy, streaked with tears. They pace or stand still. They rake fingers through their hair or lean their hands against the wall. Eyes are bloodshot or staring in shock. They are all white.
When I enter the hallway, they see me and go silent. They look from me to one another, and the air between us fills with what they won’t say. A chill runs through me.
I walk in the opposite direction, toward Charles’s room, and knock on his door. Waiting for a response almost brings me to a panic. Then I remember I never knock on Charles’s door. Charles doesn’t want to be distracted. He knows I’ll walk in whether he answers or not.
Inside, Charles sits at his desk, hunched over books and notebooks, a lamp shining on his papers. The sight of him studying is a momentary relief. I look back at the crowd in the hallway. They talk in low voices now. I shut the door firmly behind me.
“Hey,” I say, my voice almost a whisper.
He holds a finger up in the air while he writes. Finally, he puts his pencil down. “What’s happening? You want to go to the library?”
“No—­there’s something going on out there. Didn’t you hear those voices in the hallway?”
He looks at the door, listening.
“People were yelling and stuff.”
His face is blank.
“I went out there, but they didn’t talk to me. . . .”
“No surprise there.”
“I’m serious. It’s something big.”
A knock on the door makes me jump. My heart thumps hard in my chest.
Charles eyes me like I brought trouble. I’m just glad we’re together.
He gets up slowly and pauses with his hand on the knob before opening it.
Richard, an upperclassman, stands there in his collared shirt and sweater-­vest, with two other brothers behind him. Sweat gathers at Richard’s temples, and his wingmen look up and down the hall like bodyguards.
“We’re checking on people,” Richard says. “You two all right?”
Dread fills my belly. We stare at him, and his face changes.
“You haven’t heard?”
Neither Charles nor I can speak.
“It’s Dr. King. He’s been shot.”
Charles stumbles backward as if he’s been shoved. I gulp for air.
“No.”
“In the neck,” Richard adds.
“Is he—­”
“We don’t know yet. He’s in the hospital.” He reaches out and grabs each of us by the shoulder. It steadies me. I feel the solid ground beneath my feet.
“There’ll be an emergency meeting tomorrow morning to talk about what to do. Some brothers are gathering in Melvin’s room tonight.”
A shout moves through the crowd of people down the hall. Someone turns a radio up full blast.
Again, this just in. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was being treated for a bullet wound at St. Joseph’s Hospital after being shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, has been pronounced dead. . . .
Educator Guide for All You Have To Do

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Praise for All You Have To Do By Autumn Allen:

Black Caucus American Library Association Best of the Best 2023
Kirkus The Best Young Adult Books of 2023
2024 Texas Tayshas Reading List


All You Have To Do is a tutorial in time. We don't simply travel through time here; we travel with time through the bending and breaking of power and tradition. Autumn Allen has created a book that counts its readers as its most important characters while examining how we fight for dignity in different, but very similar generations. Incredible art-making!” – Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir, winner of the Andrew Carnegie medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
 
All You Had To Do beautifully immerses the reader in the stories of two young Black student activists and their shared personal struggles that transcend decades. It is a stunning debut novel.”  – Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning, winner of the National Book Award

"Autumn Allen has offered a rare and refreshing glimpse into Black boyhood in elite schools on the precipice of two vital moments in American history. All You Have To Do is a profound and empathetic statement on the costs of striving for excellence against all odds. Allen is a writer to watch!" – Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street, a National Book Award Finalist

★ "Allen constructs a vivid narrative that balances both timelines seamlessly and pointedly highlights often overlooked history. The crisp, succinct prose and fully realized characters make this a shining example of how principled research in lock step with exceptional writing creates an unforgettable reading experience. An electric debut: a must-read for all." – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

★ ". . . Allen highlights two Black teens’ parallel struggles for racial justice, 27 years apart, in this powerful debut. Through Gibran and Kevin’s individual exploits of equality and accountability, fully fleshed-out characters, and skillfully cultivated narrative tension, Allen creates a layered debut that is timely and resonant." – Publisher's Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

★ “This intense debut novel connects two young Black men struggling for acceptance and equality. Allen expertly integrates historical civil rights figures and events into a character-driven narrative that communicates how it feels to be transformed by a powerful speech, to face violence, and to stand tall every day in the face of injustice and racism. She ends with a moment of triumphant unity in a struggle that continues.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

A compelling portrait of the intersectionality of race, class, and intergenerational change that features two Black young adults, Kevin and Gibran, living through two different time periods.  An important addition to the canon of YA historical fiction and especially recommended for readers who are invested in the history of racism and the struggle for freedom.” 
School Library Journal

About

Powerful, thought-provoking, and heartfelt, this debut YA novel by author Autumn Allen is a gripping look at what it takes (and takes and takes) for two Black students to succeed in prestigious academic institutions in America.

In ALL YOU HAVE TO DO, two Black young men attend prestigious schools nearly thirty years apart, and yet both navigate similar forms of insidious racism.

In April 1968, in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, Kevin joins a protest that shuts down his Ivy League campus...

In September 1995, amidst controversy over the Million Man March, Gibran challenges the “See No Color” hypocrisy of his prestigious New England prep school...

As the two students, whose lives overlap in powerful ways, risk losing the opportunities their parents worked hard to provide, they move closer to discovering who they want to be instead of accepting as fact who society and family tell them they are.

Author

Autumn Allen teaches literature and writing workshops for young people and edits picture books as a senior editor at Barefoot Books. She teaches children’s literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and holds graduate degrees in education, children's literature and writing for children from Harvard and Simmons Universities. Her forthcoming picture books, Step On Board: Sculpting a Memorial to Harriet Tubman, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and Answered Prayers, will be published by Knopf. All You Have to Do is her debut novel. Autumn grew up in Boston and lives in Massachusetts with her family. Visit her website at autumnallenbooks.com. View titles by Autumn Allen

Excerpt

1
GIBRAN
Massachusetts | September 1995
The bass is thumping. I can feel it in my bones. It’s begging me to bob my head, laugh, and shout. In another place, I would get up, my boys in step with me, rush the stage, dance. But in Thatcher Hall, at Lakeside Academy, I freeze.
Three white boys—­two seniors and a junior—­bounce onto the stage, smirking. The bass becomes a warped noise as my eyes take in every inch of their costumes.
Six pairs of sneakers, all mixed up on three pairs of feet. Yellow and red. Red and black. Black and green.
They’re high-­top sneakers—­good ones. Expensive ones. And they’re brand-­new. No doubt bought on their parents’ credit cards, just for this one stunt.
They march back and forth, pretending to warm up to the music, acting like they’re going to rhyme. I watch those sneakers, obsessed with the fact that they’ll never wear them again.
They wear baggy jeans so new, they’re creased and saturated with dye.
Crisp white T-­shirts, extra extra large.
The jeans, the shirts—­they won’t wear those again either.
They got the brands right mostly, but their ignorance shows in the details.
Their Red Sox caps betray them. Faded all over and frayed at the edges. If they knew anything about us, they’d know you can’t perform in that. The contrast is almost funny.
But those mismatched shoes. And the walk. An exaggerated pimp walk. Dip, hop, dip, hop. Arms swinging, greedy grins on their faces, swaying to a rhythm that doesn’t match the beat still rattling my bones. Mics held to their thin lips, their mouths move, but I can’t hear the words they’re lip-­synching. I can barely hear the muffled laughter of the other white students who watch.
I tear my eyes away from the stage and scan the audience. The boys’ friends crack up and cheer them on. Other white students cover their smiles with one hand, wide-­eyed, not sure if they should find this funny.
The boys onstage are laughing. Their blue, green, hazel eyes gleam with something that feels sinister. They wear a confidence that was never taken from them. I want to steal it now.
What can I do? Stop the show? Bash the speakers? Slap the microphones out of their hands? I savor the fantasy, but there are too many witnesses. To be the aggressor in front of the whole school—­that would guarantee my expulsion. I wouldn’t mind; it could be worth it. If only it weren’t for my mother’s tears. My family’s pleas.You’re almost there, Gibran. Just graduate. Finish your last year.
Like it’s easy. No. The longer I’m here, the harder it gets.
On my right, James’s dark eyes are narrowed, following the boys across the stage, trying to figure out if this is for real. 
On my left, David glares at the wall behind them, expressionless, holding himself together. 
The three of us make eye contact and exchange thoughts silently.
Here we go.
These dudes.
Are they serious right now?
I check for the other Black students. The new ones are surprised and confused. The student-­of-­color orientation ended today—­that blissful week of brown and Black faces making this place our own. Now, this “talent show,” the first all-­school event of the year, reveals what Lakeside is really like. 
The rest of the Black students stare—­at the stage, at the floor, some at the wall—­determined not to be provoked. Not to put their emotions on display. They wear their discomfort, disbelief, and disgust as lightly as possible, trying not to offend. They wait. Wait for it to be over.
None of these white people—­students or faculty—­can see what we see. The boys onstage commit the offense, but we’re the ones being careful.
I can’t do it anymore.
I get up. I’m thinking I’ll go outside, get some air, wait ’til this insult is over, and come back. It’s not much—­barely a protest—­but it’s something. At least I can liberate myself. I walk toward the auditorium door. But I slow down as something catches my eye.
The speaker is plugged into an extension cord that runs by the door to the hallway. It’s an old building in an old boarding school—­several hundred years old. Its prestige comes from age and pedigree. My eyes travel the length of the wire.
People accuse me of acting without thinking. The thing is, though, I’malways thinking. I just calculate differently. I think one thing: Right or wrong?
Is it right for me to let everyone else sit here, subjected to this nonsense, while I go get some air? No.
Is it right for me to stop this show if I can do it without damaging any property or injuring any bodies? Hell yeah.
So I continue out the door. And as I go, I bend down and yank the cord out of the wall. The music stops. The roaring in my ears stops. My back feels lighter, and my chest opens up. I can breathe.
There is a sweet moment of silence. 
Then the reactions begin.
Gasps. Murmurs. A boy calls from the low stage, “Hey, what the—­”
A voice from the Black students: “Ohhh snap!”
I let the door swing behind me.
I cut swiftly through the hallway, where the old stuffy white guys on the walls stare down at me. I resist the urge to give them the finger:How ya like me now? I act casual, just in case. I could maybe pretend it was an accident.
I reach the door to outside and shove the brass bar to open it. It creaks and falls closed behind me with a clang. The night is warm, and the stone steps glow silver gray. I take a deep breath and smile.

I’m slurping instant oatmeal and bobbing my head to Mobb Deep when Mom rushes into the kitchen. Her soft suede jacket and boots meet at her knees, layered over jeans and a blouse. She caresses my head as she passes me. She opens the fridge, scans its contents, checks her watch, and closes the fridge. She never eats breakfast. I don’t know why she pretends to consider it every morning.
I finish scraping the bottom of my bowl and then find Mom looking at me. I reach to pull off my headphones, but she beats me to it. She shakes them at me, her silver bracelets jingling, and then drops them in my lap.
“These things are the death of the family unit.”
“Sorry,” I say, suppressing a smirk. I only wear headphones at home when I’m playing music with “explicit lyrics.” Which is most of my music. But that’s not why she calls them “the death of the family.” She thinks I don’t listen  to her. But it’s not the headphones. “What’s up?” I ask.
“Isaid, are you going to make your bus?”
“Oh yeah. I got plenty of time.”
“Famous last words.”
I stand up. “I’m heading out right now. Don’t worry.”
She exhales. “Okay.” She squares her hips and points her finger. This is her lecturing stance.
“Be careful,” I recite for her. “Follow the rules.” I turn and rinse my bowl in the sink.
She pulls me around to face her with surprising strength for her petite frame. The concern in her eyes makes me shift my gaze to her freckled nose, her soft curls, her beaded earrings.
“Listen,” she says. “You are there for one reason and one reason only.”
“I know—­”
“I said listen. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does or says. Don’t let it bother you. You have to work—­”
“Twice as hard to get half as far,” I chime in.
She raises her face to the ceiling. “I tried, God.”
I wonder if she thinks she failed. But then she gazes at my face, puts her arms around my middle, and squeezes. “I hate being at separate schools,” she says into my chest.
Until high school, I went to White Oak School, where she teaches. In my earliest memories, the four of us rode to school together after a mad rush to get everyone out the door, backpacks in one hand and egg sandwiches in the other. Now the house is quiet. Ava at college and Ashanta married. We usually have someone who’s down on their luck staying in one of our extra rooms for however long they need, but right now it’s just me and Mom.
At first I was excited to go to a bigger school with more Black kids, but it didn’t take long to realize Lakeside is just another prep school full of rich white kids. The few students of color are supposed to try to blend in. Without Mom as a buffer between me and the faculty, it’s even harder to stay out of trouble. I don’t miss her chasing me down the hallways. I do miss knowing she was in the building—­that someone who believed in me had my back.
Mom finally releases me. “My baby,” she says. Her eyes crease with worry. “Almost a man. I can’t believe you’re about to be eighteen.” Another sigh, then she pokes my chest with each command. “Be good. Be careful. Take those off your head the moment you step onto campus.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I joke.
When I started at Lakeside, Mom dropped me off and picked me up every day. I decided getting myself there and back could give her one less thing to stress about, so now I take two buses. She was relieved in a way, but now that she doesn’t have the car ride to lecture me, she has to check me before we’re out the door.
She inspects me from my hairline to my shoes.
“Yeah, you know I’m lookin fly.” I grin and flip up the collar of my sports shirt.
She’s finally smiling. “Okay. I’m late.” As she backs out of the kitchen, she calls out, “One more year. Nine months.”
“Yup.” I send my voice out behind her. “I got this.”
Maybe.

What I don’t say
Every year on the first day of classes, I remember our very first day in private school: you as new faculty, us as new students. The memory isn’t real, but it’s real to me. Like something alive, it changes and grows. Instead of fading with time, it brightens. A black-­and-­white photograph developing slowly, then touched up in color. It’s a created memory. An origin story, a myth, a legend of you, my mother.
You were baby-­faced, and your summer glow was fading. Petite and slender, you wore your typical uniform: tall leather boots, soft suede jacket, and dangling earrings made of beads. You held my hand and Ava’s in your strong artist’s hands. Ashanta ambled alongside, lost in her own thoughts, her backpack stuffed for third grade. You walked us from the faculty parking lot through the sprawling, impeccably landscaped grounds. We felt free in the expanse, and we longed to run, but your firm grip kept us close.
A blond woman with aggressively tanned skin came out of the building and started to hold the door for us, but you slowed down and stopped far from the entrance. The woman let it close and walked past us with a cheerful, “Good morning!” You shaped your face into a performative smile, trembling with the effort.
Other children skipped past us. Parents shrieked at each other, “OhmyGod, hiiiii, look at you!” They hugged and chatted about their summers and their families before returning to their shiny cars with a wave.
You knelt in front of us and fiddled with us for the thousandth time that morning. You smoothed Ava’s bangs, creased my collar, folded Ava’s lace socks, and tugged on my plain ones. You straightened the straps of Ashanta’s backpack. You looked at the building with its sparkling glass doors.
“Listen,” you said, your voice low, almost conspiratorial. “You are not here to make friends.” You glanced at the families going in and out, laughing together. “I mean . . . they don’t have to like you. They may not like you. But it doesn’t matter. You’re only here to learn. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Okay? Do you understand?” You looked at each of our faces.
We said nothing. We did not understand. It would take years for us to understand. For a long time, we would think there was something wrong with you.
You pulled us close for a hug and breathed us in: our hair grease and our new off-­brand clothes. I squeezed you back, hoping somehow to restore the mom I knew from home. The mom who taught us to draw and paint. The magical mom who took us to Brigham’s for ice cream and had all of our friends over at the same time and treated every child like her own and gave until there was nothing left.
Before you let us go, you whispered something so softly that I’m not sure you really said it.
“Don’t trust them.”
A warning to us, a reminder for yourself, or both? It echoed in my ears, knocking at the back of my mind until the days became years and the years dragged on and the long, long years finally taught me what it meant.

First day of classes, senior year. Mr. Wheatley, my advisor, looks pained to see me. The feeling is mutual, but I might be better at hiding it than he is. In his office, sunlight streams in through the old wooden window, highlighting his sparse hair, peeling sunburn, and the dust on his elbow-­patched tweed jacket. He closes a folder and rests it on his lap, crosses his legs, and adjusts his brown-­framed glasses.
“Welcome back,” he says without a hint of warmth in his voice. “I hope you had a nice summer.”
I don’t have a chance to respond before he continues.
“We’ve got a few important notes to discuss. You are aware that your disruption at the talent show last week goes into your permanent disciplinary record?”
I let that sink in. “Now I am.”
“Now you are. So you are also aware that one more appear­ance before the discipline committee will earn you not suspension but expulsion from school?”
My mouth goes dry. “Okay.”
“Two more small strikes like the talent show or one big strike such as inappropriate conduct with another student, and your final year will be cut short. Is that understood?”
I attempt to smile. “Got it.”
“Good.” He folds his hands together like he’s about to say grace. “Gibran, I would hate to see you waste this wonderful opportunity—­”
Blah, blah, blah. I tune him out. I can recite this speech from memory. I’ve heard it so many times from so many people with different intentions. As if he personally knows my family and what sacrifices were made to get me here. Please.
The funny part is when people like Mr. Wheatley say I can talk to them about anything. Yeah, right.
What if I tried to explain why I pulled the plug at the talent show? What if I told him I did it for all the Black kids? I can predict how that would go.
Everything isn’t always about race, Gibran.
They didn’t mean to offend anyone.
I don’t want to hear all that.
And they don’t want to hear me either. If they did, they would have asked me why I did it before they went and put it in my record.
When he takes a breath, I interject. “Are we all set here, Mr. Wheatley?”
He sinks in his chair and looks deflated. Maybe he thought I’d have some big moment of enlightenment. “Well . . . I suppose we are. Unless you have any questions about your schedule or college counseling or—­”
“I don’t.” He’s already told me everything I need to know.
He rubs the arm of his chair, annoyed. “All right, then.” He pulls out a sheet of paper and an envelope. “This is your schedule, and this letter goes to your parents. I presume I can trust you to deliver it.”
“Of course.”
I fold the envelope and put it in the back pocket of my jeans before throwing my backpack over my shoulder and leaving his office.
The hallway is lined with students holding recommendation forms and other papers in their hands. Their meetings will go differently. Mr. Wheatley will smile when they walk in, genuinely happy to see them. He’ll ask how their summer vacations were—­what internships they completed and where they traveled overseas—­before discussing their schedules with them, making sure they’re happy with their courses. He’ll encourage them to keep up their strong academics and extracurriculars. He’ll want details about their college visits and application plans.
I don’t know if he knows that I’m already going to Howard. With my test scores, I only had to write a few essays to qualify for early admission with a nice scholarship for their business administration program. I’m not sure I’ll like business, but I figure it could help me be more in control of making my music. I’m not even sure I want to spend four more years in school after this, but it’s what my mom and her parents expect, so it’s the path of least resistance.
My admission and scholarship depend on my su­ccessful high school graduation, of course. For anyone else, that should be easy. But for me, with one strike left? It’s like they’re holding the door open, waiting for me to walk right out.

My schedule is filled with the usual—­honors calculus, physics, AP English, Spanish—­but I do have one class to look forward to.
Lakeside is proud of its elective seminars, and the teachers love them. They offer topics they’re passionate about, going deep into niche subjects like social persuasion or Hamlet with juniors and seniors. I’ve heard about Mr. Adrian’s African American history seminar since freshman year. Older Black students hyped it up, so most of us take it when we can.
My mom’s generation fought to have Black studies in colleges. She used to tell me the stories of the Black students taking over the administration building at Boston University to get the school’s attention to their demands. She would laugh when she remembered how they answered the main phone line during their occupation: “Black BU!” She stopped telling me those stories when she saw that I had a rebellious streak in me too.
I bet they thought by now Black studies would be included in the required curriculum. Instead, we’re still supposed to feel grateful to have this one elective class about ourselves while “Western civilization” gets twelve years.
By the time I enter the classroom, I’m almost resentful. I can’t help it—­whenever I sense that gratitude is expected and not deserved, I go hard in the opposite direction. But Mr. Adrian’s open smile disarms me. I am the last to arrive, and instead of checking the clock, he looks at me, excited, like I’m the person he’s been waiting for.
“Gibran! Welcome.”
He seems sincere. I have to give it to him: He’s the only teacher who doesn’t shrink or avert his eyes when he sees me. He’s a full head shorter than me too. His bright blond hair wisps around his balding head.
The large oval oak table is lined with students sitting in heavy wooden armchairs, crisp notebooks open in front of them. I take a seat next to James, who wears his favorite Champion sweatshirt and baggy jeans. I lift my chin to nod whassup to David, who sits across from us, next to another soccer player. There are more brown faces in here than I’ve seen in any of my classes ever. It’s nice. Comfortable. Though it’d also be nice if more than five white kids cared enough to be here.
Mr. Adrian leans on the tabletop, his fingers spread like a runner’s getting ready to race.
“Welcome, everyone.” His voice sounds like tires on gravel, but in a warm, relaxed way. “Let’s discuss what we expect from a course on African American history. What is the relationship between African American history and American history in general?”
Does he want my real answer? African American history is what you learn at home, when Moms drops names over dinner or when you go through your parents’ and grandparents’ bookshelves. So-­called American history is the white his-­story you learn at school for twelve years until, if you’re lucky, you get one “special seminar” to throw some color in there. Black history messes up the hero narrative of white history, so for the most part, Black history is left out.
James is the first to raise his hand. Let’s see how diplomatic he’ll be. “I mean, they’re supposed to be one and the same, right?” he says. “Like, without African Americans, there would be no America. And without America, there would be no African Americans. So they shouldn’t really be divided.”
“Yeah,” Lisa says, pushing her glasses up her nose. Her tight curls are pulled back in a puffy ponytail, and her dimples dig deep into her cheeks as she talks. “They’re totally interdependent. But people treat African American history like it’s . . . supplemental.”
“Okay.” Mr. Adrian turns to the blackboard and writesinterdependent. Then he leans on the table again. “Other thoughts?”
A white boy named Eric cocks his head. “I guess I thought of American history as including African American history,” he says. “American history is general. Then when you focus on African American history, it’s more . . . specialized? Or exclusive, I guess?”
“Pfff.” I can’t help myself.
Mr. Adrian and the other students turn my way.
“I’m sorry,” I say to Mr. Adrian.
“Please,” he says, “respond.”
I clear my throat. “I mean, when you say it’s exclusive, that’s kind of funny to me, because really, it’s American history that’s exclusive. Black people and Native Americans are like a footnote or a sidebar in most American history books. The fact that there’s a separate class for African American history kind of proves that the general curriculum focuses on white people. Everything that was skipped over gets squeezed into these special seminars that aren’t even required.”
Some of the Black kids nod. Eric frowns and fiddles with his pen.
“So you’re saying,” Mr. Adrian responds slowly, “that African American history is not separate or exclusive, but separated and excluded. In curricula. In classrooms.”
“Yeah, even in the culture overall. Schools just reflect society and reproduce the same old systems.”
He writesseparated and excluded on the blackboard and turns back to the class, one hand in the pocket of his khakis and the other twirling the piece of chalk. White dust covers his fingers.
Kate, a white girl wearing a faded Dartmouth T-­shirt, speaks next. “I don’t think of them as separate. Or separated or whatever.” She pulls at the ends of her auburn hair. “We have learned about, like, African Americans before. We read The Bluest Eye in English last year.”
I take a deep breath.
Mr. Adrian blinks. He opens his mouth and then shuts it.
David says, “Yeah, we also readHuckleberry Finn in eighth grade.”
“Exactly!” Kate says as if he’s proving her point.
David, James, and I glance at each other and then back at Kate.
“Did y’all readUncle Tom’s Cabin too?” I ask, keeping a straight face.
“What?” Kate asks, confused.
The other Black kids stifle laughter. Lisa tries to hide it, but her dimples give her away.
Kate turns red and frowns at me.
“Well,” Mr. Adrian says, scratching his neck. “We can at least agree that there’s more to learn about African American history than what’s been included in the general history curriculum. That’s why we’re here today, right?”
Kate trains her eyes on him.
Mr. Adrian lets a silence stretch for almost a minute. Eric looks like he wants to say something, but he just twists his mouth. Finally, Mr. Adrian continues. “Well, we won’t have time to dive deep into every era this semester. Your research project will give you a chance to go deeper into a topic of interest to you.”
He straightens a stack of papers and hands it to the student on his left, who takes a sheet and passes on the stack.
“I want you to really bring your creativity to this project. You can work alone or in pairs. You can meet with me anytime to talk about your ideas. Your project should pose a big question about African American history: the presence, contributions, and/or struggles of Black people in this country. It’s entirely possible you won’t find an answer or resolution. I’d like you to focus on presenting your questions and your research in a way that is thought-­provoking and engaging.”
Mr. Adrian fields questions about the project and about the syllabus. For the last fifteen minutes, he gives a mini lecture about the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the colonies. When class ends, notebooks slap shut and chairs scrape the floor. Students shuffle out of the room.
I walk with David and James toward the dining hall. It felt good to talk about our history in class for once. It feels easier to speak up when more of us are in the room too. I wonder how much further we’d get if we didn’t have to wait for the white kids to catch up.

At home, I leave the letter from the school on Mom’s dresser. Between her overflowing jewelry boxes and her art supplies, there’s a chance it’ll go unnoticed for a few days.
Wrong. She hasn’t been home for ten minutes when she bursts into my bedroom, pulling the letter out of the envelope.
“What’s this?” She lowers herself onto my bed. Worry lines form all over her face. “What . . . What did you do?”
“Nothing.”
She glares at me.
I shrug. “I guess I kinda, like, tripped over the extension cord in the middle of the talent show? The cord came out of the wall and—­”
“Boy. You can’t even get that lie out your mouth with a straight face. Tell me what happened.”
I drop my head. “Aight, I didn’t trip. I kinda did it on purpose. But, Ma, it was ridiculous. They deserved it. These white boys—­”
“Of course they deserved it,” she snaps. “That is not the question. The question is, do you deserve the punishmentyou’re going to get for giving them what they deserve?”
I suck my teeth.
“Don’t suck your teeth at me.”
“I’m not.”
She holds the letter so tight she might rip it. “Jesus,” she whispers. She shoves the letter back into its envelope and stares at the floor. “This is not good. You know what this means, don’t you?”
“Yeah.”
She grinds her teeth. “Don’t give them another excuse, Gibran.”

On Thursday, we have our Brother Bonding meeting. After school, I wait for James outside of Thatcher Hall, pacing across the wide stone steps from one oversized Roman column to the other. I practice some new lyrics while I wait.

I wake up in the morning, I give thanks for living,
Then leave the house wit my mind focused on banking riches
I handle business
and still I witness
my people dying
The sun keep shining
It’s adding to the heated climate

Other students push open the heavy doors and bounce outside. I laugh to myself as they make a wide arc around me, parting for me like the sea for Moses. They cross the street to the library or to the snack bar, or race to the campus green. As the flood of students slows to a trickle, I stop pacing and rhyming and watch the door. Maybe James forgot we were walking over together and went out a different way. I scratch my scalp with my cap and start missing my locks again. Mom made me cut them off for high school, but I don’t even need my dreads to scare white people anymore.
I’m about to start strolling toward the meeting when the door flies open and James jogs out.
“Sup, G?” We clasp hands and pull away with a snap.
“What’s up with you? Had a brother standin out here all day.”
“Pshh. Five minutes. My bad. I had to ask Mr. Murphy for a recommendation. You don’t know about that life though.”
“Nope.”
It’s a good thing I don’t. I can’t think of a single faculty member here who would write me an enthusiastic recommendation. Maybe Mr. Adrian, but this is my first class with him. Moms was more relieved than I was when I got admitted to Howard. For her, it seemed like the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. A weight lifted. Until she saw that letter from my advisor.
We follow a concrete path through the grass toward Carroll House, a two-­story brick building built in the early days of the school. In the grass, boys throw Frisbees and girls tuck up their sleeves, hoping the sun burns strong enough to give them one last tan.
“So you wrote some new lyrics?” James says. “Lemme hear what you got.”
“You sure you’re ready for this?”
“Oh, you got jokes? Aight, bet, let’s go.” He gives me a beat, and I flow.

We do the knowledge, speak the wisdom so you see the science
The power structure full of demons so we be defiant
Mental warfare ain’t for the likes of the feeble-­minded
The truth is all around you just have to seek and find it
I hear your silence
That’s how we move cause the mind a weapon
And find our blessings
In the weed cause we high as heaven
I’m a teacher
I give my shorties a private lesson

“Oooooh!!!” James laughs, then cups his hands around his mouth and plays the crowd of astonished fans. “Word, you got that, you got that.”
It’s my turn to make a beat, and he freestyles. We take turns spitting rhymes and egging each other on.
“Aight,” I say as we reach the path to the dorm where the Brother Bonding meeting has started. “Those lyrics were nice, but you gotta admit defeat.”
“What? You buggin.”
“I mean, we can take it to a third party to judge if you really wanna embarrass yourself. . . .”
“Whatever!”
We open the door to Carroll House and pause for a second to let our vision adjust to the dim indoor light. In the common room, ten brown boys sit on couches and chairs, chatting. My shoulders relax as soon as I walk in.
“Whaddup, y’all,” I say, nice and loud to everybody. I make the rounds, dapping everybody up.
David’s wearing his soccer shorts and shin guards so he can run over to practice from the meeting.
“What’s up?” he says. “Nice of y’all to join us.”
“His fault,” I say, pointing at James.
“Anyway,” James says. “We miss anything?”
“Not really. We’re introducing ourselves to the freshmen and assigning mentors for the new boarding students.” ­David picks up a piece of paper from a table by the door and runs his finger down a list. “Gibran, you have Chris, who is . . .” He scans the room. “Right over there.” He points at a scrawny, wide-­eyed boy in a striped polo shirt. He’s sitting in the corner with his hands folded in his lap, listening to the other boys.
“Aight, cool.”
“And James, you have Zeke.” David points out a tall boy with dark skin and thick glasses. “You know the drill. Check in with them, let ’em know how to get in touch with you and all that.”
“No doubt,” James says.
I pull up a chair across from Chris. “Chris! My man!”
“Hi!” he says. “Nice to meet you.” He looks like I’m the latest in a series of surprises that have come at him since he arrived at Lakeside.
“I’m Gibran.”
“I know.”
“Oh, word? I hope you’ve only heard good things.”
His eyes go wide as golf balls. 
“I’m just messing with you, man. Relax. I know if it was white kids talking, you probably thought I was the boogeyman. Anyway, the good news is, I’m your senior mentor. That means nobody should be messing with you, ’cause they know I’ll handle it, nahmsayin?”
Chris blinks.
“I’m not trying to scare you,” I say. “I’m just sayin, white kids have a habit of stepping out of line. So you gotta nip it in the bud from jump. Let ’em know you’re not the one.”
Chris shifts in his seat and sits on his hands, looking down at his knees. He’s so open and vulnerable. That makes him an easy target. I can protect him this year, but next year I won’t be around. I have nine months to teach him how to hold his own. Operation Man Up begins right here and now.
“Where you from?” I ask.
“Chicago.”
“Dang, that’s far! I think you’re the only student I’ve met who’s from outside the Northeast. Well, I live twenty minutes from campus, right in Boston. Definitely let me know if there’s anything you need anytime. I got you.”
“Okay. Thanks. They also gave me a . . . host family? Like, a day student who can host me when I want to get off campus or something?”
“Right, right,” I say. “They white?”
“Well . . . yeah.”
“Mm. They like to adopt us. Like pets, nahmsayin. It makes ’em feel good. They may smile in your face, but that don’t mean they have your back. Remember that.”
Chris kicks the legs of his chair.
“You know what though,” I say, “don’t worry ’bout all that yet. Be cool, be comfortable. Just lemme know if anybody bothers you.”
“’Kay.” I can barely hear him over the voices around us.
“You play any sports?”
We chat for a few minutes, and I learn that Chris is not an athlete either, but that he’s into science and math and is thinking of joining the debate club. Soon David calls for everyone’s attention.
“Aight, listen up. Some of us have to get to sports practice, so before people leave, anyone want to put stuff on the agenda for this year?”
I raise my hand. “The Million Man March.”
Sounds of surprise, interest, and trepidation break out around the room. I wait for the voices to die down.
“We should do something,” I say.
“That’d be tight,” David says. “Like what?” He twists his torso, then bends his knees to get warmed up before his jog down to the field.
“I mean, ideally, we should go.”
“What?” Trey squints at me. He’s a junior who’s been here since middle school. He’s built like a footballer but acts like a little kid.
“Yeah, in our dreams,” James says. He pulls his cap off his head and puts it on his knee.
“Hold up,” I say. “They got a French trip, a Spanish trip, a freakin national debate competition in a different state every year. Why’s it so crazy to think we could go to DC? Anything for a Black man is outta the question?”
Silence.
“I mean, I feel you,” James says. “I’m just sayin. It’s not the kind of event the school would support. So we’d be on our own.”
“Plus, it’s coming up soon, right?” Trey asks.
“Yeah, it is,” David says. “Middle of October.”
“That might be enough time to propose an off-­campus trip,” I say.
James and David look skeptical.
“Well, let’s find out,” I say. “Show of hands, how many of us would be interested if we could actually go?”
David and James raise their hands high. Everyone else looks around like it’s a trick question.
“Yo, it’s not a promise! Damn,” I say. “Aight, raise your hand if you would potentially, maybe, possibly be interested.”
One at a time, five more boys raise their hands, two of them twisting their hands in the universal “maybe” signal. The freshmen, including Chris, are still too surprised to consider the question.
I chuckle. “Aight, cool. We’ll look into it, find out what kinda rules we’d be up against.”
“Sounds good,” David says. “We could also think about hosting something on that day. Like, take the day off and do something together. Maybe with Black students from other schools or something.”
“Yeah,” James says, “aren’t they saying that people who can’t go are doing a Day of Absence–­type thing? Like, don’t go to work or school?”
“Okay, now I’m listening,” Trey says, rubbing his hands together.
Everyone laughs.
“That could definitely work,” I say.
“Cool,” David says. “Let’s talk more about it before next meeting and come up with a plan.” He checks the clock above the fireplace. “All right, we’ll see everyone here next week, same time, same place. And we’ll see you around campus too.” He heaves his gym bag onto his shoulder and gives his mentee daps before turning to me and James.
“What y’all doing this weekend?” James asks. He’s a boarder and usually spends at least one night at my place or David’s each weekend, just to get off campus.
“Colin’s having a party on Saturday,” David says.
“That’s right,” James says.
“Oh, word?” I feign shock. “Someone’s having a party and didn’t invite moi?”
“Yeah—­actually,” David says, “he specifically asked me not to bring you.”
“Me too!” James says.
“For real?”
We crack up.
I do my best nasal voice: “ ‘Oh yeah, and, um, your friend, the troublemaker, please don’t bring him, he’s a little too Black for us?’ ”
“Yup,” James says. “They scared of you, nigga.”
“Bet,” I say. “I can’t wait to go check out Colin and his lil party now. It’s on!”

On Friday during a free period, I go to the library to ask Mrs. Johnson what she thinks about us proposing a trip to the march. Other than the principal, Mr. Clarke, one staff member, and the dining hall and maintenance crew, Mrs. Johnson is the only Black adult on campus. You might think having a Black principal would be great for us, but not really. It’s like he has something to prove, so it ends up being almost worse than having a white principal and knowing what we’re up against from jump. We’ve gotten over the disappointment by now, but we still get caught off guard from time to time. Mrs. Johnson is cool though. She’s typically the go-­to person for stuff we need.
Mrs. Johnson is helping a student with the card catalog when I come in, so I stand by the desk. The other two librarians look up, smile skittishly, and go back to sorting books. Fine with me.
“Hello, Gibran,” Mrs. Johnson says as she walks around to the other side of the desk. She adjusts her tortoiseshell glasses and pushes her thick bangs to the side.
“Hi, Mrs. Johnson, how you doing?”
“I’m all right, thanks. How’s your senior year going so far?”
“Not too bad,” I say. I’m guessing she knows about my disciplinary status, but even though I’m relieved that I stayed out of “trouble” all week, I don’t bring it up. I put my backpack at my feet. “I have a question for you.”
“Sure, what is it?” She leans her forearms on the desk.
“If a group of students wanted to take a short trip out of state—­like either a day trip or overnight—­how would we get approval for that?”
“Ooh,” she says. “Out of state, huh? This would be on a weekend, right?”
“Well, actually, we might need one day off school.”
“Oh, I see. That might be tough—­but it’s been done before. The Office of Extracurricular Activities has the application forms for trips. Of course, you’d need a faculty sponsor as a chaperone, and that person has to sign the application.”
“Okay.” I drum my fingers on the desk, considering.
She tilts her head. “Can I ask what the trip is about?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Actually, maybe you can tell me if you think we should bother proposing it. We were talking about trying to go to the Million Man March next month.”
She straightens her shoulders and raises her eyebrows. “Oh! Hmm.”
“You think we have a chance of getting approved?”
“Well,” she says. “I haven’t served on the committee before, but . . . I suppose it would be a hard sell.”
“Yeah, that’s what we figured. But it’s a historic event. I mean, didn’t people skip work and school to go to, like, the March on Washington and stuff like that?”
“Well, yes, they did. But that wasn’t exactly mainstream either. They were actually seen as pretty radical at the time.”
“For real?”
“Oh yes. Now they teach it as if everyone loved Dr. King and what he stood for. But it was quite divisive. Some people thought it was too much, too pushy. And that was a pretty tame event. Whereas the Million Man March . . .” She smiles. “Actually, it’s funny, part of what offended some people about the March on Washington was that it was integrated, and now we have the opposite. The Million Man March is controversial in part because it’s specifically for Black men.”
“See, that’s the thing. People always want to tell us how to protest. If those same people were helping correct society, we wouldn’t have to protest in the first place.” The march isn’t even a protest, really, and that’s part of why I want to go. It’s not for other people to hear our message. It’s for us to come together. Something I never get to do.
She looks sympathetic. She must be used to these barriers. Maybe she doesn’t even think about it much.
She glances behind me. Another student is waiting. One of the other librarians who didn’t offer to help me bounces over to help him.
“Well, I really want to try and go. But we can’t think of a sponsor who would take us there.”
“I wish I could help you with that,” she says, “but I don’t do long-­distance trips with students.”
“No, I understand. We wouldn’t ask that of you.” I bite my lip. “Our other idea was, if we can’t go, maybe we could plan our own Day of Absence. Organize an event for Black students on that day or attend something in Boston.”
“That might be easier to get approved,” she says. “Although you’d still have to make a strong argument for why it’s important. How it enhances your education.”
“Right. I can do that.” I’m not thrilled with this compromise, but it’s probably the easiest way to participate. “Well, I appreciate your help, Mrs. Johnson. We’ll let you know what happens.”
“Anytime, Gibran. Good luck.”
I pick up an application at the Office of Extracurricular Activities. Five pages full of red tape. I spend the rest of my free period thinking about our options for getting to the March.
My uncle Kevin lives in DC. He’s invited me down a few times when I’ve seen him at my grandparents’ house for holidays. But whenever I asked my mom about going down to see him, she shook her head like he wasn’t serious or it wasn’t a good idea. She never explained, and after a while, I stopped asking. He never visits us either. It seems like Mom’s always making some excuse not to invite him up.
I’m sure Uncle Kevin will be going to the march. Anything having to do with Black people, he’s all about it. I’m old enough to get to DC by myself. The school may not approve, but if I could convince Mom to let me go and stay with Uncle Kevin, maybe some friends could come with me. Instead of a school-­sponsored trip, we could sign them out to my house and go from there.
It’s a long shot, but it’s worth a try. The Day of Absence is a decent plan B, but I want to be at the march.

2
KEVIN
New York City | Thursday, April 4, 1968
At five thirty, the other Columbia undergrads close their books and ask their tutees if they’re all set, in that tone that leaves them no room to say anything butyes and thank you for spending your precious time with me. Assured that they’ve done their good deed for the week, they pick up their own books and shuffle off to their other activities or to their dorm rooms, to the library or to the dining hall for an early dinner.
Valerie and I stay in our seats.
Mike, my assigned tutee, is working so much faster than he was in the fall. I wait until he finishes the last problem on his math homework, and then I stand and applaud. 
“Mike finished mathbefore leaving today!” I shout.
He ducks his head and twists his mouth to hide a grin as other students join in the applause.
“Seriously—­this is cause for celebration, man,” I say, punching his shoulder lightly. “Good job.”
“Thanks.” He shuts his notebook and joins the other students who are joking, laughing, and debating.
Jerome sits across from me. “Kevin, could you help me with this essay question?”
“Of course,” I say. “Let’s see.”
After another half hour, the homework is done and we’ve moved on to talking about the students’ families, their neighborhoods, their schools. Their love for Harlem and the work they’re doing to hold on to it. Their hopes for the future. I wish I had their focus when I was in high school.
When it’s too dark inside to see by the light of the windows, we straighten up the room instead of turning the lights on, a rule Valerie and I came up with after some parents got upset about their kids coming home late. We leave as a group and walk each student home, covering half of Harlem. The students talk about an upcoming rally for tenants’ rights and compete over who’s invited more people.
“You’re coming, right?” Sandra asks me and Valerie.
“If you want us, we’re there,” Valerie says.
“Definitely,” I agree.
Sandra lists the community groups that are organizing the rally and the people in power who they hope will pay attention. The second list includes the entire administration at our university.
By the time we’ve said goodbye to the last student, the streetlights have flickered on, illuminating the city streets. Valerie and I walk back up toward our sparkling campus on the hill. We pass by Morningside Park, one of Harlem’s only green spaces. Behind a chain-­link fence, the construction site of Columbia’s new gym threatens to swallow the park whole.
The neighborhood protested to save the park from being taken over by Columbia. Almost everyone objects to the construction of the gym—­militants to conservatives. Only the white athletes and the administration are for it. The administration says it will benefit Harlem residents, but only the bottom two floors of seven would be accessible to community members unaffiliated with Columbia—­and they would use a separate entrance at the bottom of the hill. The racist, elitist design is how it earned the nickname Gym Crow. Despite the continued protests, they broke ground in February. My jaw tightens as I survey the darkness beyond the fence.
“This is the part of the walk that I hate,” I tell Valerie.
“Am I too boring for you?” I can hear her smiling without seeing it.
“Please,” I say. “You make it tolerable. It’s the dread of getting back to campus. If it weren’t for you, I might not come back.”
“You have somewhere else to go? I can walk you there.” She stops midstride, calling my bluff.
“I wish.”
We continue on, her boots echoing on the concrete.
“How’d that exam go?” she asks. “Western civ?”
I groan. “I haven’t gotten it back yet. But I can guess how he’ll react to my answers about our so-­called democracy.”
“Hmm.”
“What?” I ask.
“What what?” she says.
“You have an opinion,” I say. “Spill it.” When I see the golden crown on the campus gate, I pick up a stone and throw it. It pings off the crown without leaving a mark.
“Eh. I’m not gonna waste my breath.” She zips her lips with her hand and throws away the invisible key.
I lower my eyelids. “Fine. Where are you studying tonight?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Why not?”
“Remember last time you came to ‘study’ with us? No one could concentrate. All your debating. We almost got kicked out of the library.”
“Oh, come on. You were into it too.”
“I know,” she says. “That’s how I learned my lesson. Kevin and studying do not mix.”
“I see. So that’s how it is.”
“That’s exactly how it is.”
“Well, I have something with me that might make you change your mind,” I say.
We stop at the entrance to Barnard’s courtyard. I pull out a brand-­new, first edition copy ofBlack Power.
Her jaw drops. “Ohhh—­ Where did you—­ Micheaux’s?”
“Of course.”
She reaches for the book. I hand it to her, and she opens it reverently, holding it up to the dim light to pore over the table of contents. She smiles so eagerly I have to smile too. “Right on,” she says.
I let her enjoy it for a minute, and then I ask, “Now can I study with you?”
She laughs. “No. But you can lend this to me when you’re done.”
“Using a brother for his books.”
“You know that’s right.”
“Well, if that’s all I’m good for,” I say, reaching into my bag, “you can keep that copy.”
She looks up at me, and I show her the other copy I bought.
“Really?” she asks.
“Yeah. I need my partner to stay on her toes. My debate partner, that is.”
It sounds corny, but her eyes truly sparkle. I love that she’s as excited as I am about the book. She’ll probably finish reading it tonight too. I put my copy back in my bag and shove my hands in my jacket pockets. “I can’t believe it’s already April.”
“Yeah,” she says, hugging her new book. “It’ll be finals and then summer before we know it.”
“You know,” I say, “I keep thinking about the mentorship we’ve been talking about.”
“Me too,” she says.
“I think we should tell the students about it before the end of the school year. We can test it out now and roll it out in the fall. What do you think?”
“I guess so,” she says. “I’m excited to start, only . . . I still wonder if we should run it by the other Black tutors.”
“You know what they’ll say. They’re so proud of giving their time as tutors. They don’t have the vision.”
“True.” But still she hesitates.
“I say we go for it. Full speed ahead. The other tutors can join if they want to once they see how to really make a difference. Besides, it’s a separate thing, if anyone asks. We may have met most of the kids through Columbia’s tutoring program, but our mentoring program is separate.”
“Right.” She nods. “Okay. Let’s meet on Saturday to finish up our proposal.”
“All right, sistah. That’s what I’m talkin about.”
She laughs.
“And our proposal is for information, not asking permission.”
“Oh Lord,” she says. “You’re a mess.”
“Part of my charm, right?” I offer my handsome-­movie-­star smile.
“Fool. We’re gonna miss dinner.”
“Right. Better hustle. Hey, if there’s nothing good left, come throw a rock at my window. I’ll be happy to run back to Harlem to get us some real food.”
“You would too.”
“Of course I would!”
“Don’t tempt me. Bye, Kevin.”
“Be cool, sister.”
She heads to the women’s dining hall at Barnard, and I break into a light jog to make it to John Jay Dining Hall.
For the hundredth time, I think how nice it would be for my sister to meet Valerie. And for the hundredth time, I remember that my sister isn’t interested in anything I’m doing now.

Charles rushes into the dining hall just before dinner service ends, probably coming from an intense study session at the library. He spots me and heads my way. When he sees my nearly empty plate, he keeps his book bag on his shoulder.
“Go ahead and put your stuff down, brother,” I say, marking my page in my book.
“Aren’t you getting ready to leave?”
“I’m not in a rush.”
“Don’t you have finals to study for? Papers to write?”
I wave those thoughts away. “We have a month until finals. I’d rather be reading this.” I hold up my copy ofBlack Power proudly.
His shoulders sag dramatically. “For your sake,” he says, dropping his bag in the seat opposite mine, “I hope you do get your Black studies courses created before you graduate. You need to get credit for all this extra­curricular reading.”
Leave it to Charles to not be excited about a first edition hardcover of Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton’s brand-­new book.
“Why do you say ‘your,’ ” I ask him, “as if you’re not one of us? It doesn’t make a difference to you that this entire university doesn’t have a single class about our people?”
“I’m a science major,” he says as if that answers my question.
“And? Do they talk about the work of George Washington Carver in your science classes?”
“I studied Black folks for twelve years before I got here,” he says. “Probably the one benefit of going to a segregated one-­room school. I bet I know more about Black history than all of your political science professors combined.”
He pops a leftover meatball from my plate into his mouth and maneuvers his way through rows of tables and chairs to get food.
“You don’t act like it,” I call after him, sulking a little as I turn back to my book.
When he returns, I flip back to the preface and read aloud to him.
“ ‘This book is about why, where and in what manner Black people in America must get themselves together. It is about Black people taking care of business—­the business of and for Black people. The stakes are really very simple: if we fail to do this, we face continued subjection to a white society that has no intention of giving up willingly or easily its position of priority and authority. If we succeed, we will exercise control over our lives, politically, economically and psychically.’ ”
“Mm,” Charles mumbles, glancing around at other tables between bites.
“Oh—­am I making you nervous?” I joke, raising my voice. “What’s wrong? You don’t want to be seen listening to radical militant propaganda?”
“Nope.” He keeps eating.
“Man, you’re ridiculous.”
He chuckles. “And you’re funny. I still think you should have gone to a Black college.”
“Ha. No thanks. My parents went to Howard. It’s no better than Columbia or Harvard or anywhere else. Maybe worse. They’re trying so hard to imitate these places. I bet they’re still using the paper bag test.”
“Hmm.” He chews and swallows, then points at me with his fork. “You’d pass it though. They’d love you there.”
Charles is probably the only person who can get away with saying something like that to me. He knows I don’t like being so light-­skinned. I know in some ways my life would have been even harder if I had Charles’s dark brown complexion. But you couldn’t tell me that when I was eight years old hearing kids count “eenie, meenie, minie, moe, catch a nigger by the toe.” 
“Anyway,” I say. “You know anyone who graduated from a Black college with a Black studies major?”
He leans back in his seat, looking at me.
Of course he hasn’t. He’s the first person from his small town to go to college.
“Well,” I mumble, “they don’t exist. So-­called Black colleges are about preparing Negroes for the white man’s world. That’s where they train up the Black bourgeoisie. We need to change the white man’s world, not just join it.”
“Right,” Charles says. “That’s why you’re here at Columbia. To change it. And if you don’t pass your classes, you won’t be changing much. So maybe you should study . . . a little bit?”
“You sound like my parents.”
“I like your parents.”
I throw a balled-­up napkin at him. “Man, get outta here.”
He laughs, dodging it, and gets up, saying, “I do have to go.I have studying to do.”
“Mm-­hmm.”
He stacks my tray underneath his.
“Thanks, man,” I say. “I’ll finish reading this to you later.”
“I’m sure you will.” He sounds less than thrilled.

Hours later, in my dorm room, I resist the urge to finish my new book. I save the last two chapters for later and open an old favorite, The Mis-­Education of the Negro.
When a Negro has finished his education in our schools, then, he has been equipped to begin the life of an Americanized or Europeanized white man, but before he steps from the threshold of his alma mater he is told by his teachers that he must go back to his own people from whom he has been estranged by a vision of ideals which in his disillusionment he will realize that he cannot attain.
Voices in the hallway startle me, and I lose my place on the page. People are yelling. Shrieking? What the hell is going on? Are people drinking already? It sounds like everyone on our floor. I stay still and listen.
The voices build and gather, like a flock of geese approaching.
I put my book facedown and listen for a moment from behind my closed door.
“This can’t be happening. . . .”
Is someone crying?
“It’s because he spoke out against the war, man. . . .”
“. . . that radical talk . . .”
I crack my door open and peek out. A crowd of students fills the hallway, and more come to join them. Their faces are pale or red and blotchy, streaked with tears. They pace or stand still. They rake fingers through their hair or lean their hands against the wall. Eyes are bloodshot or staring in shock. They are all white.
When I enter the hallway, they see me and go silent. They look from me to one another, and the air between us fills with what they won’t say. A chill runs through me.
I walk in the opposite direction, toward Charles’s room, and knock on his door. Waiting for a response almost brings me to a panic. Then I remember I never knock on Charles’s door. Charles doesn’t want to be distracted. He knows I’ll walk in whether he answers or not.
Inside, Charles sits at his desk, hunched over books and notebooks, a lamp shining on his papers. The sight of him studying is a momentary relief. I look back at the crowd in the hallway. They talk in low voices now. I shut the door firmly behind me.
“Hey,” I say, my voice almost a whisper.
He holds a finger up in the air while he writes. Finally, he puts his pencil down. “What’s happening? You want to go to the library?”
“No—­there’s something going on out there. Didn’t you hear those voices in the hallway?”
He looks at the door, listening.
“People were yelling and stuff.”
His face is blank.
“I went out there, but they didn’t talk to me. . . .”
“No surprise there.”
“I’m serious. It’s something big.”
A knock on the door makes me jump. My heart thumps hard in my chest.
Charles eyes me like I brought trouble. I’m just glad we’re together.
He gets up slowly and pauses with his hand on the knob before opening it.
Richard, an upperclassman, stands there in his collared shirt and sweater-­vest, with two other brothers behind him. Sweat gathers at Richard’s temples, and his wingmen look up and down the hall like bodyguards.
“We’re checking on people,” Richard says. “You two all right?”
Dread fills my belly. We stare at him, and his face changes.
“You haven’t heard?”
Neither Charles nor I can speak.
“It’s Dr. King. He’s been shot.”
Charles stumbles backward as if he’s been shoved. I gulp for air.
“No.”
“In the neck,” Richard adds.
“Is he—­”
“We don’t know yet. He’s in the hospital.” He reaches out and grabs each of us by the shoulder. It steadies me. I feel the solid ground beneath my feet.
“There’ll be an emergency meeting tomorrow morning to talk about what to do. Some brothers are gathering in Melvin’s room tonight.”
A shout moves through the crowd of people down the hall. Someone turns a radio up full blast.
Again, this just in. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was being treated for a bullet wound at St. Joseph’s Hospital after being shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, has been pronounced dead. . . .

Guides

Educator Guide for All You Have To Do

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Praise

Praise for All You Have To Do By Autumn Allen:

Black Caucus American Library Association Best of the Best 2023
Kirkus The Best Young Adult Books of 2023
2024 Texas Tayshas Reading List


All You Have To Do is a tutorial in time. We don't simply travel through time here; we travel with time through the bending and breaking of power and tradition. Autumn Allen has created a book that counts its readers as its most important characters while examining how we fight for dignity in different, but very similar generations. Incredible art-making!” – Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir, winner of the Andrew Carnegie medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
 
All You Had To Do beautifully immerses the reader in the stories of two young Black student activists and their shared personal struggles that transcend decades. It is a stunning debut novel.”  – Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning, winner of the National Book Award

"Autumn Allen has offered a rare and refreshing glimpse into Black boyhood in elite schools on the precipice of two vital moments in American history. All You Have To Do is a profound and empathetic statement on the costs of striving for excellence against all odds. Allen is a writer to watch!" – Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street, a National Book Award Finalist

★ "Allen constructs a vivid narrative that balances both timelines seamlessly and pointedly highlights often overlooked history. The crisp, succinct prose and fully realized characters make this a shining example of how principled research in lock step with exceptional writing creates an unforgettable reading experience. An electric debut: a must-read for all." – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

★ ". . . Allen highlights two Black teens’ parallel struggles for racial justice, 27 years apart, in this powerful debut. Through Gibran and Kevin’s individual exploits of equality and accountability, fully fleshed-out characters, and skillfully cultivated narrative tension, Allen creates a layered debut that is timely and resonant." – Publisher's Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

★ “This intense debut novel connects two young Black men struggling for acceptance and equality. Allen expertly integrates historical civil rights figures and events into a character-driven narrative that communicates how it feels to be transformed by a powerful speech, to face violence, and to stand tall every day in the face of injustice and racism. She ends with a moment of triumphant unity in a struggle that continues.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

A compelling portrait of the intersectionality of race, class, and intergenerational change that features two Black young adults, Kevin and Gibran, living through two different time periods.  An important addition to the canon of YA historical fiction and especially recommended for readers who are invested in the history of racism and the struggle for freedom.” 
School Library Journal

PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

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PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

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PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

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