North of the Grove by William Ashanti Hobbs

North of the Grove 
by William Ashanti Hobbs

Consider North of the Grove only if you seek to be enraged, charmed and uplifted all at once. Experience a story told through email, texts, instant messaging – as if you had hacked into a man’s computer – to find his hopes, dreams and fears over becoming the man his family and community must depend on.

North of the Grove revolves around Howard Capelton, a successful insurance agent. Howard yearns to make amends for a troubled past and prepare for impending fatherhood by mentoring David, an angry 9-year-old boy from a nearby housing project. Tensions in both Howard and David’s homes, as well as the gang culture in the streets, lead them to make decisions neither is prepared for. As a result, Howard finally comes to a bittersweet realization on what it means to be a man as he and David's lives are forever changed.

Message from the Author
North of the Grove was born out of my time as an in-house counselor while living in Virginia several years ago. I signed on to counsel a fourth grader who was more than his single mother could handle. Even with extended family pitching in when they could, it was obvious an older male’s influence was needed. I learned a lot about perseverance and faith after he began to trust me. I would come to his home aggravated because of traffic or the weather, only to sit wide-eyed and speechless from hearing about some of his experiences. I began to look forward to seeing him just to get a better perspective on my own challenges.Several family members had abused and let this young man down in ways I still have trouble putting into words. He managed to forgive them all, so much so that he indirectly showed older members of the family how to do so. This really got me to thinking about the power of forgiveness and redemption.

As a writer (I teach creative writing at Florida Memorial University), I found myself writing a story that was clearly inspired by my experience as an in-house counselor. Questions arose as I developed characters like Howard Capelton, the story’s educated, middle-class mentor: at what point does one draw a line between sustaining their own family and trying to save someone outside of it? Isn’t that question at the heart of the breakdown of so many communities today? The story became a novel, of which I've recently published recently to bring more awareness to the funding of the film. (Please see press release) Many have enjoyed the novel as it developed, all the while insisting it had the rhythm and sensibilities of a movie.

The message in North of the Grove is simple: we all need to reach out to one another - in spite of ourselves. With a shaky economy and an endless stream of tragic news stories, it seems perfectly understandable to go through life from your driveway straight to work and back. It makes sense to keep windows up and doors locked, in a sense, when others ask for help. This, however, narrows one’s vision to miss what one needs to feel like a complete human being. This movie is about the highs and lows of being distracted, selfish, flawed, and yet still trying to make a difference. In doing so, I seek to have the novel version of this project become a valued resource in prisoner advocacy and youth groups and have the project as a whole become part of a viable young male mentoring program in the Miami Gardens area. For more information, go to: 

EXCERPT: North of the Grove

I sat with David at the dinner table. Sharia began cooking and her boyfriend Roman, appearing to be in even more of a foul mood, went out on the front steps with a cell phone, slamming the door behind him. David appeared tense. I asked how everything was going with school and the after-school program. He said it was alright, stating that he “gets real close” to adults before he says all that “army slave mess” (ma’am, sir) I taught him to say. David spoke up and said he would never say that to Roman… Sharia went out of kitchen. David admitted that the “after-school people” were now listening to his “words” more, but he felt that they were only doing it because I would call up there and start asking questions instead of Sharia who would just… He lowered his voice and motioned a slap alongside his head.

David said he noticed Sharia says “army slave” words to important people. I asked him to hand me a napkin that was within his reach. I added please and a thank you, sir, to show him that he was important, too. David told me not to call him sir yet because he “was still just a boy” and that he “has to grow and do stuff that makes people want to say that to him.”

I asked how David and his friend Effrom were getting along. He said Effrom doesn’t like Roman either and cannot read very well. David said Effrom likes to talk in class when David is asked to read out loud by the teacher. He said Effrom is a little nicer and keeps asking him how he knows so many words. I said a lot of kids who are smart usually get teased that they are “acting white” when they do well in school, especially boys. David asked why kids make fun of smart kids. I said most kids are jealous that smart kids know and discuss things they can’t figure out. I also shared that many kids think that smart kids are trying too hard to make certain adults, whites especially, like them by simply doing what they are supposed to do in class in the first place. I assured David that he would start hearing kids get teased like this soon enough. I stressed that this is why people tend to judge people based on the friends they choose. I stated that people are usually friends with each other because they think and act a lot alike.

I presented David with paper and color pencils. I instructed David to draw his very own super-hero. He laughed nervously and stated he could “draw good, but not enough for a hero.” I assured him that he could. After several attempts, he came up with an amazing picture of Metal Man, a man that resembles a wrestler and an armored knight. Metal Man appears to wear Sunblocker-looking shades like “old people with bad eyes but these play ITunes and shoot lasers.” Metal Man has long metal claws on each hand because he and X-men hero Wolverine “have the same daddy.” He stated that Metal Man wears so much metal so he can’t be shot or stopped and that no one can ever hurt him again. I asked how Metal Man was hurt the first time. He said Metal Man will never tell. I asked why not. David asked if I told him everything that hurt me before. Checkmate.

Sharia came into the kitchen and began frying fish. I asked what would be Metal Man’s weakness. David thought long and hard. He eventually stated that he saw an old bike near his bus stop and that the chain on it was brown and crusty. He said he put his foot on the chain and it popped easily. I informed him that the chain was rusty, which was caused by rain or water. He stated that water would be Metal Man’s weakness; if he cried or sweated because something was hard to do, his armor and weapons would rust and he’d be helpless. He eyed Sharia cooking and then looked over to me warily.

David asked what I had done as a kid that would make my father not like me much anymore. I remembered having said something along those lines during the previous session. I shifted in the rickety chair and said I had done stupid things as a kid and would talk about it at some other time. I hugged David. I had to. I was passed the satisfaction of him needing me, of not always seeing me as the man with no street sense, the kid, in the relationship. Now, it was different, as if he’d respect me now no matter what he would ever learn about me. The way I dream of it being with you, Tiffany, with dad and mom. It must have been the same for David, too because he did not push my embrace away, yet did not hug back. I thanked him for such an awesome super-hero and asked if I could keep it. David gave it to me, said I was “like Metal Man a little bit,” and continued to watch Sharia.

( Continued... )

© 2014 All rights reserved. Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the author, William Ashanti Hobbs. Do not reproduce, copy or use without the author's written permission. This excerpt is used for promotional purposes only.

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