24 pages 48 minutes read

Toni Cade Bambara

Raymond's Run

Fiction | Short Story | Middle Grade | Published in 24

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Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “Raymond’s Run”

American author, educator, filmmaker, and civil rights activist Toni Cade Bambara published her short story “Raymond’s Run” in 1971. It first appeared in a collection edited by Bambara, Tales and Short Stories for Black Folks, and later in her first short story collection, Gorilla, My Love in 1972. During this time, Bambara became prominent in the contemporary Black women’s literature space, emerging as a notable writer and editor alongside contemporaries such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. In 1970, Bambara (at this time publishing under the name Toni Cade) broke new ground by editing The Black Woman, an anthology that explored issues of race, sex, politics, and more in the context of Black womanhood and femininity. The collection boasted original poems, essays, and short stories by the industry’s most celebrated Black women writers, including influential writers and activists such as Audre Lorde and Grace Lee Boggs.

“Raymond’s Run” is told from the first-person perspective of Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, who is known in her community as “Squeaky.” Squeaky—a name that references her signature squeaky voice—is a young Black girl growing up in Harlem in the 1970s. In her family of five, every person has a job. Squeaky’s sole responsibility is to look after her older brother, Raymond, “which is enough” (Paragraph 1). Raymond has an intellectual disability.

Aside from being Raymond’s caregiver and protector, Squeaky is a passionate and confident runner. When it comes to competition, “no one can beat me and that’s all there is to it” (Paragraph 3). Unlike her classmate, Cynthia Proctor, who never wants anyone to know how hard she works to be good at things, Squeaky is proud of the effort she puts into being a runner.

On the day before the May Day Festival—where she will compete in the quarter meter relay as part of the festivities—Squeaky balances her caregiving duties and her passion by practicing her breathing exercises while strolling down the streets of Harlem with excitable Raymond in tow.

During their journey, Squeaky bumps into Gretchen, a rival from school who will also compete in the relay, and Gretchen’s two friends who used to be close to Squeaky. Squeaky is unwilling to give in to their attempts at distracting her and insists that Gretchen will eat her dust in the race.

On the day of the race, Squeaky deliberately shows up to the festival late, opting to skip the May Pole dancing portion, an event that her mother always wants her to participate in with the other girls, but that Squeaky acknowledges is not for her.

When Squeaky checks into the race with her teacher Mr. Pearson, she insists that he call her by her real name, Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, instead of her nickname. Mr. Pearson implies that Gretchen is a worthy opponent and suggests that Squeaky allow her to win this year. However, Squeaky refuses to consider this proposal; she has worked hard to win this race and that is exactly what she intends to do.

In the middle of the race, Squeaky notices Raymond on the other side of the fence running along with the competitors. Squeaky is so captivated by the sight of her brother running that it nearly stops her in her tracks.

While the judges deliberate to determine who will take first place, Squeaky is greeted by Raymond. She realizes that he has potential to be a decent runner, and that if running does not work out for her, she would happily train him instead.

Squeaky wins first place, and Gretchen comes in at a close second. Despite their differences, they share a moment of mutual respect, each flashing a genuine smile at the other after the announcement.

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