On May 24, 2011, police responded to calls reporting gunfire on a quiet street in Newark, New Jersey. Inside the basement apartment, they found a young man slumped over with several fatal gunshot wounds. His name was Robert DeShaun Peace (1971-2011). He was thirty years old. Following his death, friend and former college roommate Jeff Hobbs published this memoir of the time he spent with Peace at Yale University. On October 6, 2014, Antoine Fuqua, the director of the award-winning ‘Training Day’, announced plans to direct a biopic about Peace.
But just who was Robert DeShaun Peace? Well, he was born in East Orange, New Jersey and defied the odds, leaving the inner-city to graduate with a degree in molecular biochemistry from Yale University. He was raised by a single mother and struggled with his feelings toward his father, who was incarcerated for the majority of his son’s life. Fate and luck combined to give the young man from East Orange a golden opportunity. And it was at Yale that he and Hobbs formed the friendship that produced this interesting yet tragic story of a brilliant mind taken far too soon. Peace has been described as genius in the things that he did. Doors continued to open for him and life took him as far away as Croatia which produces some amusing anecdotes in the book. As I read through it, I felt that the sky truly was the limit for him. Post-graduation, he makes a fateful decision that sadly changes everything. Robert decided to return to the very neighborhood he sought to escape.
The life of Robert Peace is a story that is tragically replicated in cities across America. Millions of young black men fall victim to the very streets from which they come. Some of them will progress and leave the inner city but others will not be so lucky. The description of Robert’s early life reads like a typical report of the broken homes that plagued African-American households beginning in the 1970s. His mother worked a variety of jobs and the absence of his father, cast over them a dark cloud from which Robert is unable to fully escape. By all accounts the odds are not in his favor but fate always has a way of intervening in our lives. Perseverance, fortune and a brilliant mind transformed this young man’s life which held high promise.
Peace’s return to Newark and the actions that lead to his death force us to question why is it that an Ivy league graduate returned to the very streets which threatened his daily existence and engaged in activities that are prone to end in incarceration or even death? Typically, graduates of Yale move on to cushy jobs in corporate America with well-paying salaries. And molecular biochemistry is far from a layman’s trade. There will remain many what if questions surrouding his life. He is no longer with us to explain his actions so we can only speculate as to where he saw his life heading. Had he lived, perhaps he would have eventually earned the Noble Peace Prize or possibly much more.
This biography is without a doubt one of the most moving I have read. I felt that I could relate to Peace, coming from a similar neighborhood. However, I was forntunate to have both of my parents at home. I do believe that if Peace’s father had been there, then perhaps some parts of his life may have turned out differently. Jeff Hobbs has produced a book that will remain with you long after you have finished it. No matter how much time has passed, one of the first books I recommend to friends is always this story about the short and tragic life of Robert Peace.