We Beat the Street Summary

Sharon M. Draper

We Beat the Street

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We Beat the Street Summary

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The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream told the story of Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt. We Beat The Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success, is another telling of their story, but for a younger audience.

David, Jenkins, and Hunt were three young African Americans growing up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Newark, New Jersey. It was a bleak reality where the chances of going to prison were often higher than those of getting an education. The world of We Beat the Street is largely devoid of male role models, which makes the pact that the boys form with each other all the more striking. They had no one to model their behavior after.

One day, they promise each other that they will each become doctors. It does not happen with any inspiring pyrotechnics or pulling of heartstrings. As one of the authors relates: “We didn’t lock hands in some kind of empty, symbolic gesture… We just took one another at his word and headed back to class, without even a hint of how much our lives were about to change.”

As is apparent from the title, the young men eventually succeed and all three of them eventually practice medicine. It is the story of how they grew up, made the promise, the challenges they faced before and after, that make it such a striking and inspiring book.

Newark was a neighborhood where gunshots were a familiar sound. Arguments were solved with violence. Respect was valued above all us, and disrespect was met with yet more violence. Drug use, particularly crack, was rampant, and the streets on which the authors were raised were hotbeds of drug dealing activity. Two of the boys had drug abuse occurring in their own homes. There was no way to ensure their safety and little reason to think they would be able to escape the life that entraps so many urban youths.

There were two primary factors that lead them to the hope for something better. The first is that they each tested and were accepted into University High. University was one of Newark’s three magnet schools, which had higher standards and a specialized curriculum. The second was that they met each other and bonded quickly. None of the boys had ever had a big problem staying out of trouble, although they were often in dangerous situations. But meeting each other made it easier for them to avoid problems as they now had a built-in support system. This is one of the tragedies of their youth. None of their homes offer as much stability or encouragement as they are able to offer each other.

We Beat the Street is a memoir. Each chapter is told in the first person by one of the authors, which rotate throughout the book. At the beginning of each chapter, the reader is given an anecdote from childhood. After the chapter, the adult doctor in modern day reflects on the story and tells the reader what it means and how it informed (or hampered) his progress.

We Beat the Street is an inspiring story of lessons learned and dreams achieved. However, while the story is uplifting and the outcome is never in doubt, given the format, the path from the streets to practicing medicine is not easy. The stories that the authors relate do not always paint them as driven do-gooders who only want to help people. They are honest about their actions. Hunt, for instance, tells a story about helping his friends beat a homeless man and then serves a weekend in a youth detention facility. It is only after the act that he makes a commitment to a better future for himself.

The book is never vague about having an agenda. The authors believed in themselves, took the necessary steps to becomes doctors, and say it through while relying on each other. Any young person will be able to relate to their story of triumph, and also to their occasional failures and lapses in judgment.

The book may be of even more interest to minority youth. Again, the theme of fatherless children turning to crime is a sad, old story, but it is a reality. Youths who find themselves in neighborhoods and situation similar to those of the author may see more of their lives in the story than more privileged, protected kids.

The Pact received great critical acclaim, with its authors being chosen by Essence magazine as three of the most influential African Americans. We Beat the Street has enjoyed similar success and positive reviews.

Ultimately, We Beat the Street is an accessible meditation on the themes of friendship, striving, self-belief, and insists that there are always more options than people are aware of, no matter how limited they believe their choices may be.