By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Jeff Hobbs
Narration by: George Newbern
A fickle ingredient in life is expectation. Jeff Hobbs’ story of Robert Peace shows that innate ability opens and closes doors for all human beings. Loyalties, interests, and affections ebb and flow in every life but expectation magnifies highs and lows when one is gifted with extraordinary ability.
Robert Peace is born in New Jersey and mostly raised by a mother and his grandparents in a rundown neighborhood in the Oranges, a suburban area west of Newark. During Peace’s grade school years, Peace’s father is serving life in prison for conviction in the murder of two women. Before being arrested Skeet, Peace’s father, sold drugs.
From Hobbs’ story, one understands Skeet is a smart guy; affably sociable and well-known in his community. Before conviction as a murderer, Skeet proudly introduces his son to the community. It becomes part of Robert Peace’s early education.
Peace’s mother never marries or moves-in with Skeet because of the life he leads but allows Rob’s excursions with his father because she knows Skeet loves his son and would protect him from any physical harm. Rob’s mother works two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. Rob is either with his grandparents or father when his mother works. The author’s story shows Rob inherits the genetics of both father and mother. Rob is smart and driven.
Rob’s mother, Jackie, insists on Rob being educated in private schools because of Newark’s poor public school system. With intelligence, drive, and the help of a benefactor’s money, Rob attends and graduates from Yale University. During Rob’s college education, he supplements his income by selling marijuana. Rob’s education as a research biochemist becomes an avenue for both legal and illegal gain. Hobbs suggests Rob’s income from drug sales, during his four years at Yale, is $100,000.
As most graduates with a four-year college degree, Rob is unsure of what he wants to do. He accepts a research internship at Yale but continues to sell marijuana. Rob returns to Newark in the summer and becomes more deeply connected to a dangerous environment of gangs and drugs. A Yale degree is a badge of accomplishment among many of Rob’s friends but also a badge of disdain to neighborhood thugs and wannabes. Rob begins to hide his education to fit into the seedier side of Newark life.
Rob maintains a close relationship with his family, including his incarcerated father. Whether his father is guilty or innocent of murder is unknown but Rob steadfastly pursues his father’s release. Rob reviews the trial record and hires lawyers to contest Skeet’s guilt. However, Skeet dies in prison from cancer.
Rob decides to get a real estate license and start his own business. He buys a house in Newark as his first investment. The house is renovated and begins to pay for itself but Rob realizes Newark is not a good investment location. Rob goes to work for Continental Airlines as a baggage handler; not because of a change in career, but as a way to explore the real estate market in other cities and countries. Rob seems to have a plan. He temporarily quits the marijuana sales business and appears to be moving on. However, Newark remains Rob’s home.
Rob is fired from Continental for a mistake he makes in loading a plane before takeoff and then refusing to take a drug test when the mistake is discovered. To compound Rob’s difficulties, the 2007-2008 mortgage financing debacle cripples his ability to buy real estate. Rob chooses to use his biochemistry education to cultivate a unique strain of marijuana and return, in a big way, to the drug business. In the spring of 2011, Rob is murdered in a basement apartment by unknown assailants.
On the one hand, the author of “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” returns life to Rob as a Shakespearean American tragedy. On the other hand, it is a white man’s exploitation of a black man’s incomprehensible life.
A quote near the end of Hobbs book is “He was so f…ing smart, and he was so f…ing stupid.” Robert Peace was incredibly smart but one doubts a privileged white guy (the author and Rob’s fellow Yale alumni) has any idea of what is stupid when you are black, poor, and living in the Oranges of New Jersey. A privileged white guy has no f…ing way of knowing what that means. Expectation comes from our genetics and environment, neither of which can be fully understood by another. Robert Peace’s life is a tragedy and an opportunity for Jeff Hobbs. To a listener, it is only a tragedy.
Jeff Hobbs comments-copy and paste to your website, if interested. https://youtu.be/GmsyKtmwBQw