May 25, 2017

Novel helps campuses discuss racism and other issues faced by African American college students. Check out 3-Chapter Excerpts and decide for yourself

Educators know that one of the biggest challenges we face is getting our students to open up about uncomfortable issues like racism and discrimination on campus. I’m pleased to share information about my mystery-thriller novel- Lakeside University Cover Up that will make addressing that challenge a little less difficult.

The novel is being praised as a tool for discussing diversity and inclusion in a way that genuinely engages students. I invite you to include this book as part of your 2015 class readings or as a common read for your school. If there was ever a time that we needed a national dialogue on race, that time is now! It can start with your campus.

As Gloria, the main character shows, by finding the courage to be vulnerable and authentic, we can discover a common language to connect with each other on a deep emotional level as fellow human beings. I’ve included three chapters from the novel to allow you to decide for yourself. Thank you for your consideration and best wishes for 2015!

 

CHAPTER ONE

Enough was enough. Dean of Students, Todd Severson stormed into President David Horning’s office and slammed the door. “Sir, we need to do something!” Severson said,
lowering himself into the chair across from Horning’s antique desk. “Your divide and conquer strategy is backfiring—we have to do something and do it fast, or this university will explode!”
President Horning glanced up from his coffee. “That’s a bit dramatic, Todd, don’t you think?”
Severson leaned forward in his chair and pressed his palms against the desktop. “A black student has just been attacked!” he said. “Classes are being disrupted. The police are running themselves ragged, trying to keep everything under control. Now we have threats of a major civil rights demonstration being held on our campus!”
Horning looked at Severson and frowned. “Why don’t you just calm down,” he said. “We’ve weathered crises before. This isn’t any different.”
Severson stared back, his jaw askew. “Sir, I beg to disagree! We may have been able to smooth things over in the past, but this is very different. This could turn violent—even more violent than it already has become. And it’s just a matter of time before the media plasters this mess all over the front page.”
Before Horning could respond, his phone rang. As he reached to answer it, Severson stood up to leave. “Hold on Todd. Let me get this. This might be the call that will get us out of this damn mess,” Horning said, as Severson paced the floor.
***

Three Weeks Earlier
It was a cool, cloudy Sunday night in early autumn. Two figures huddled in the shadows next to a small house, near the Lakeside University campus. They set to work quickly, and soon a sharp chemical odor drifted through the air.
“Man, this shit really stinks,” said the first one, muffling a cough in his gloved hand. “Are you sure this will work?”
“It has to,” said the second. “You heard what they said. We’ve got to take care of this tonight.”
“Okay, okay,” said the first. “Just light the damn thing so I can make the call and we can get the hell out of here!”
***
Inside the small house, Lakeside University student Ashante Melashe was working on a recording for her broadcast engineering class. Just as she hit the record button, the shrill ring of the telephone echoed through the house. “Oh, no!” she moaned, “I forgot to turn off the ringer!” She pushed her chair back from the table. “Well, that’s another sound bite down the drain.”
“I’m coming,” she grumbled as the phone continued its loud summons. “Hello?”
“Look outside,” said a gruff, male voice. “You’ll see how we feel about niggers at Lakeside University.”
“What did you just say? Who is this?”
“Just look outside, bitch.”
“Is this some kind of joke?” Ashante asked, but the only answer was the dial tone.

Shaking her head in disgust, she took a deep breath and stepped out into the front yard. The shock of the flames sucked the air from her lungs in a choked gasp. A strange smell  burned her eyes and throat. She stood frozen, glaring at the blaze of bright red and orange fire burning against the cold, black starless night. Then the realization hit her with as much force as if someone had kicked her in the stomach. Suddenly she knew what she was staring at: a huge cross, whose wicked flames lit up the yard and filled her with soul wrenching horror.
“Oh, my God,” Ashante whispered.
***
Five miles away, Gloria Wilson stifled a yawn and tried to find a more comfortable position behind the wheel of her Corolla. The dashboard clock read 10:31 p.m. “Almost there,” she said aloud. “It’s a good thing,” she added with a laugh, “since I’ve been talking to myself for the last half hour. I swear this drive gets longer every time.”

She leaned forward to change the CD, and hummed along with Usher. The first sign announcing the Lakeside University exit loomed out of the darkness along the highway. She breathed a sigh of relief; she still had homework to finish for tomorrow, and she really didn’t want to be up all night. As much as Gloria dreaded this three‐hour drive, it was worth it for a weekend with her family. A weekend at home brought flavors of cornbread and greens, slow jams, oldtime
religious services, and talk that didn’t need explaining. Her family’s pride in her achievements always gave Gloria a boost in confidence. They didn’t always express their pride in words, but it showed in other ways.

Her momma insisted on doing Gloria’s laundry, fussed about whether she was getting enough to eat at college, and worried about the “bland cafeteria food.” Momma always had some words of advice, whether Gloria wanted to hear them or not. Her daddy would slip her twenty dollars and a wink as he told her goodbye. Her younger brother, Anthony, had steadily improved his grades in high school ever since Gloria had enrolled at Lakeside. Her mind wandered to thoughts of how she had ended up at Lakeside. Mr. Ed Brown, Lakeside’s lone black recruiter, visited her high school on a recruiting trip. Gloria met with him out of curiosity but was quickly impressed by his easy manner and willingness to answer her questions. He seemed to listen carefully to her jigsaw puzzle of concerns.

She told him that her dream was to become a college professor and that she had been told that a large research university was the best place to attend. He calmly discussed the advantages that a small school like Lakeside offered. He told her about Lakeside’s reputation for producing great teachers and how each student was carefully mentored during the senior year. For the first time Gloria found herself seriously considering Lakeside and after she toured the campus, she made the decision to enroll. Spending the weekend at home with family, reminded Gloria how alone she sometimes felt at Lakeside—where she was one of only 70 blacks, on a campus of more than 4,000 students.

When she decided to enroll at Lakeside, she thought being at a small school in a small town might force her to focus on her studies. She could hear her momma’s words; “booking” was what she was there for anyway. Her momma said if she was strong enough to leave home, she was strong enough to face the world head on. Gloria wasn’t as sure as her momma but she took comfort in knowing that with three of her friends attending, she would have a small but strong support network. But two of her friends transferred to other schools by the end of their freshman year. They thought Lakeside was ‘too rural, too redneck, and too white’.

If it hadn’t been for Ashante, Gloria knew she probably would have left Lakeside, too. She smiled when she thought of her roommate—so flashy and bold, where Gloria was bookish and uncertain. Where Ashante flirted, Gloria hid behind her wire‐frame glasses and loose‐fitting clothes. Gloria’s parents certainly didn’t mind that their naturally beautiful daughter seemed to find no interest in dating just yet, but Gloria knew Ashante loved to tease her for it.
Gloria signaled and took the first Westport exit ramp. She leaned forward in an unconscious effort to speed the car along. “Well, I finally made it back,” she said softly.

As she rounded the first corner into the neighborhood, she heard boxes shift in the backseat. The boxes were filled with African crafts, kinte cloth and beads. Ashante is gonna be surprised when she sees all the cool stuff I’ve brought back for the house, she thought. She and Ashante had just moved into the house a few weeks earlier, at the start of their junior year. In a town where rentals were hard to come by, they saw the ad and couldn’t believe their luck. That had been sight unseen however. When they’d stepped foot inside the place, they weren’t sure “luck” was the right word. The floors were strewn with empty beer cans and pizza boxes; the stove was caked with years’ worth of dried food; the matted carpeting smelled like stale beer.

All the landlord said about the previous tenants was that he’d evicted them. And the only question he really seemed to ask Gloria and Ashante was whether they were drug users. Ashante had bristled at that—“Is he asking because we’re black?” she’d whispered to Gloria through gritted teeth. They had been ready to give up on “the dump” as Ashante had called it, when the landlord promised that his cleaning crew would be in to fix it up. He also promised to replace the carpeting in all the rooms and to paint the interior of the house. The place had its redeeming qualities – a bedroom for each of them and plenty of storage space in the attic. Besides most rentals had already been taken for the fall. They crossed their fingers and signed the lease that day.

Gloria rounded the final corner. Almost there, she thought. And then she saw the flames. For an instant, she thought the house was on fire and nearly lost control of the car. Then reality hit her like a slap across the face – a cross burning in their yard lighting up the night, as if the sky itself were on fire. Gloria gasped. She slowed her car to a stop, barely noticing the neighbors and students who had gathered in their yard. The sight filled Gloria with a sudden dread—the kind of dread she didn’t yet have words for.

Suddenly, she saw Ashante emerge from the crowd, her face streaked with tears. Ashante ran up to the car. “G.W., G.W., look what they’ve done! Just look!” Ashante yelled through the window.
But Gloria couldn’t take her eyes off the flames. She parked her car at the curb and stumbled out. The air was filled with a thick, choking smoke. The heat from the blaze stung her cheeks as if she had been smacked. She looked at Ashante.

“Why us?” Gloria asked in a hoarse whisper. “Why?”
Ashante just shook her head because she had no answer.
Gloria pushed her way around the crowd and moved toward the driveway, oblivious to the murmured condolences and words of outrage and disbelief from the neighbors and students who had gathered there. She was too shocked to notice the sympathetic hands that reached for her, knowing only that she felt terribly, horribly sick.

A newspaper reporter pushed a tape recorder in front of Gloria’s face. “Is this your home?” he said. “Any idea who could have done this?”
Gloria shoved past him. The smoke burned her nose and throat, and a bitter taste filled her mouth. She sank to her knees on the driveway and vomited, as the reporter’s flashbulb flashed again and again nearby. All around her, people were talking, their faces illuminated by the light of the flames.

“Who would do such a thing?” a young woman kept asking. “Who?”
“How awful for G.W. and Ashante.”
“Shouldn’t someone call the fire department?”
“I told you they don’t like blacks here!”
“Where are the police?”
No one seemed to have any answers.

The police, Gloria thought, I need to call the campus police. She started toward the house, but Chuck Johnson, a black football star at Lakeside, blocked her path. Chuck was clutching the front of Chris Polaski’s shirt. Chris was a thin, redheaded, white student whom Gloria recognized from her sociology class.

“Cool it, Chuck, will you?” Chris was pleading, as he struggled to free himself from Chuck’s grip. “All I said was, ‘It was probably just a frat prank, nothing serious.’ I didn’t mean anything by that.” “It may not seem serious to you,” Chuck said, “but then you never have to worry about anyone calling you names or burning a cross in your yard, do you, cracker?”

Gloria cleared her throat. “What’s going on?” she said.
Chuck glared at him, before releasing his hold on Chris’s shirt. Chris gave Gloria a quick, grateful nod and disappeared into the crowd, leaving Gloria and Chuck standing at the edge of the driveway.

Chuck turned to Gloria and gave her a hug. “Hey sister, I’m really sorry,” he said, as Gloria felt tears well up in her eyes. “Don’t worry,” Chuck said. “They’ll catch the bastards who did this.”
Gloria nodded, though she felt anything but reassured. Instead, she scanned the crowd for Ashante. Where had she gone?

“Chuck,” she said, “I need to find Ashante. We need to call the police!”
“I think someone already—,” Chuck started to say, but a commotion erupted on the far side of the crowd, as they both turned to look. A tall, handsome, young man was shouldering his way across the yard, gripping a large, red fire extinguisher. The crowd parted to let him through and as he approached the burning cross, his dark skin glistened with sweat in the light from the flames. Even from a slight distance, Gloria could see the fury on his face.
He triggered the extinguisher and a spray of white foam hit the flames with a hiss. The crowd fell silent.

Gloria watched as the flames turned orange and black around the edges; at first the fire seemed to fight back—it curled away from the foam, dancing out of reach. Like the flames of Hell, Gloria thought to herself. But the man kept spraying and soon most of the flames died in a hiss of steam and smoke under the foamy onslaught. As the fire was being snuffed out, Gloria could see swaths of charred wood, dark as tar, some of the pieces already crumbling and falling away. Finally, only the very top of the cross still burned, a single flame licking at the cold, black sky.

All around her, the crowd seemed to hold its breath. And Gloria, despite the desperation she had felt to get away from all of this, suddenly felt glued to the spot. She waited and watched as the young man paused, then he raised his extinguisher and sprayed until the last flame went out. Ashante walked over and stood at Gloria’s side. Together, they watched as the young man pushed his way out through the crowd without a word, toward the street.
Gloria turned to Ashante. “Who was that?” she asked.
“Jamal Washington,” Ashante said.

Chuck Johnson, who was still standing on the driveway, leaned in. “They call him Little
Malcolm because Malcolm X is his hero,” Chuck said. “He’s head of the BSO—the Black Student Organization on campus.”
“Is he a friend of yours?” Gloria asked.

“He’s not really the social type,” Chuck said. “Jamal’s a race man. That brother ain’t got time for nobody unless they’re part of the cause, if you know what I’m sayin’.”
Suddenly, Gloria heard heavy footsteps coming up behind her. “Is this your house?” a gruff voice asked, and a hand encircled Gloria’s arm in a strong grip.

CHAPTER TWO

Gloria turned and found herself face‐to‐face with two police officers, one heavy‐set, the other tall and thin.
“I asked, ‘Do you live here’?” said the heavy‐set cop.
Gloria nodded.
“Do you live alone?”
“No, she’s my roommate,” Gloria said, nodding toward Ashante.

“I’m Sergeant George Thomas, and this is Sergeant Ralph Carlson. We need to ask you some questions. Can we go inside, away from this crowd?”
Gloria nodded and led the way, with a silent Ashante trailing behind. They walked past the smoldering remains of the cross. The house door was wide open as they stepped inside.
With one last look at the crowd, Gloria shut the door behind them.

“Now then, I’ll need both of your names for the record,” Sgt. Thomas said.
Gloria and Ashante glanced at each other.
“Gloria Wilson,” Gloria said.
“Ashante Melashe,” Ashante said.
Sgt. Thomas looked up from his notebook. “What is that, African or something?” he said. “How do you spell that?”
Ashante bit her lip, and then recited the letters, one by one.

“Okay, and how long have you lived here?” Sgt. Thomas asked them.
Gloria answered. “Just since the start of the semester,” she said. “Less than a month.”
“Were you both here at the time of the incident?” Sgt. Carlson asked.
Ashante shook her head. “I was here alone,” she said. “G.W.—I mean, Gloria—wasn’t back yet.”
Sgt. Carlson turned to Gloria. “Where were you?” he said.
“On my way back from visiting my parents for the weekend.”

Sgt. Carlson glanced at something in his notes, and then trained his eyes on Ashante.
“When did you first become aware of the incident?” he asked her.
“I got a phone call telling me to go look outside.”
“Do you know who called?” Sgt. Thomas asked.
Ashante shook her head. “He had the caller I.D. blocked. And I didn’t recognize his voice.”

“What exactly did the caller say?” Sgt. Carlson asked.
Ashante hesitated, and her eyes filled with tears. Gloria moved closer to her friend and gently squeezed her arm.
“He said, ‘Hey bitch, look outside and see how we feel about niggers at our college’.”
Ashante’s voice was barely more than a whisper. “Then he hung up.”
Gloria sucked in a sharp breath. “He said that?” she said.

But before Ashante could answer, Sgt. Carlson sighed impatiently. “When you got outside, the cross was already burning?” he asked.
Ashante nodded.
“Did you see anyone suspicious?”
“No,” Ashante said. “People were already starting to come because of the flames. I’m sure whoever started it was long gone.”
“How long were you outside?”
“Until you all got here—at least half an hour.”
“That’s about enough time,” Sgt. Thomas said to Sgt. Carlson.
“Enough time for what?” Gloria asked.

Sgt. Thomas shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. “We just need to know how much time passed between the call and the cross burning for the record. So has anything like this happened before?”
“No, like I said, we’ve only been renting this house for a few weeks,” Gloria answered.
She thought for a second, then glanced at her roommate. “But wait. A few days ago, Ashante caught a guy looking through our window. The campus police know about it. We reported it.”
Gloria and Ashante looked at each other, a startled expression on both of their faces.

“Speaking of the campus police,” Gloria said, “why aren’t they handling this? I thought this was still their jurisdiction.”
Sgt. Carlson cleared his throat. “Well, he said, “you’re right this isn’t our normal jurisdiction. We’re only helping out because they’re a little short‐handed tonight.” He closed his notebook and glanced around the living room, at the shelves of African art and framed pictures of high school friends. “So,” he said, “one more time. Do you know who did this?”
Gloria’s eyes widened. “What? Of course we don’t! Why aren’t you talking to the students outside? Somebody may have seen something!”

“We’ll get around to them,” Sgt. Carlson said, “but for now this looks like just another campus prank.”
For the first time since her arrival, anger replaced Gloria’s fear. “Prank!” Gloria said. “Are you serious? All that was missing was a rope and white robes. This was malicious! It was supposed to frighten us. My momma would say they knew
they were doing evil and they did it anyway.”

But when Sgt. Thomas spoke, his voice was hard and cold. “Are you sure you or your roommate haven’t done anything to provoke this type of incident?”
Gloria felt the blood rushing to her face, and she willed herself to stay calm. “Other than being born black, you mean?” she said. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Nothing justifies what happened tonight.”

“Have you made any enemies—you know what I mean,” Sgt. Thomas said.
“No, I don’t. And why do you keep saying ‘incident’, like using a clinical term can somehow make this less painful?” Gloria said, becoming increasingly upset. “They burned a cross in our yard! A cross! And they called us ‘niggers’!”

Sgt. Carlson took a step forward. “What my partner is trying to say is, we don’t know who did it or why. No one should start jumping to conclusions. You’re not going to help the situation by crying racism here and calling for a witch‐hunt when you have no evidence. I’m sure this is far less serious. After all, this is not the Deep South in the ’60s.”

“Yeah, that’s what I meant,” Sgt. Thomas said, skirting an apology. Then, abruptly, he said, “Is it okay if I use your john?”
Gloria tried to contain her anger. “I guess so,” she said, when what she really wanted to do was tell them to get the hell out of their place. “Down the hall on the right.”

They watched Sgt. Thomas disappear around the corner, then Gloria turned to Sgt. Carlson. “Man, your line of questioning is really insulting,” she said. “Racism didn’t end in the
’60s, you know, and it wasn’t just confined to the Deep South.”
“We’re not trying to be unsympathetic,” he said. “We just don’t think it’ll do any good to blow this out of proportion—.”

Before he could finish, Sgt. Thomas returned from the bathroom. “We’re done here,” he told his partner, as he headed for the door. Sgt. Carlson followed him.
Gloria and Ashante followed them to the door. “You’ll investigate this, right?” Ashante demanded.
Sgt. Carlson paused in the doorway. “There’s not much to go on, but we’ll look into it,” he said, and then they left, walking past the dwindling crowd still assembled on the lawn.

Gloria and Ashante stared after them. Then Gloria exploded. “We’re the victims,” she said, “and those mothers have the nerve to say we could have caused this? I can’t believe it! We’ve got to report this to the campus police, Ashante, or to
somebody who will actually do something.”

“You know how cops are,” Ashante said. “I suppose we shouldn’t have expected anything else.”
“I guess I never wanted to believe it until tonight. Those bastards treating us that way. I still don’t know why they showed up instead of the campus cops.”
A loud click startled them.

“What was that?” Gloria asked, looking around the room.
Ashante motioned toward her desk. “Don’t worry—just my tape recorder. I was recording house noises for my sound‐mixing class before all this mess started. I completely
forgot about it!”

“You and your recordings,” Gloria said, breaking the tension with a nervous laugh.
“Last week you were recording yard noises; then shopping mall noises. What is it this week, insensitive‐cop noises?”
Ashante laughed weakly, and Gloria noticed that Ashante’s hands were shaking. “Are you okay, girl?” Gloria said.
“I just realized, we may have the caller on tape—or at least my part of the conversation,” Ashante said, in a quivering voice.
“Do you think you taped those cops, too? Quick, let’s rewind the tape!”

They both jumped as a loud knock sounded at the front door.
“Who is it?” Gloria demanded.
“Donna Sullivan,” a voice called from outside.
Gloria pulled the curtain back and saw a young white woman standing on the front porch. “Ashante,” Gloria said, “I’ll take care of this. You get the tape ready.”

Gloria opened the door and stepped out into the yard. The woman looked about Gloria’s age, her hair in a ponytail, her expression earnest. “Did you say ‘Donna’?” Gloria said, as she pulled the door shut.
“Yes, Donna Sullivan. Are you one of the students who live here?”
Gloria nodded. “Gloria Wilson,” she said.

“Gloria, I just stopped by to say how sorry I am. As president of White Students Against Racism, I just want you to know how outraged we are over what happened. If there’s anything we can do, I hope you’ll tell us.”
The interaction with the police fresh in her mind, Gloria was about to make a sarcastic retort. But she stopped when she realized the look of concern on this woman’s face was real. Or at least, she corrected herself, it seemed real.
“Thanks,” Gloria said. “I’ll tell my roommate Ashante that.”

There was an awkward moment of silence.
“Well, I’m sure you’re exhausted, so I won’t keep you,” Donna said. She reached out, a small card in her hand. “Here’s my address and number. Please, don’t hesitate getting in touch with me.”
“Thanks,” Gloria said.

As Donna turned to go, Gloria looked out across the lawn and noticed most of the crowd had left. She wondered whether the police had questioned anyone. Somehow she doubted it. The few people who remained stood huddled in small groups, whispering and glancing at the charred wood still standing in the yard. She was relieved to see the reporter was gone. On the far side of the yard, she saw Jamal engaged in a heated conversation with a group of students gathered in a small circle. He was talking with such force, she could hear him from across the lawn.

“Can’t you see, this is just the beginning?” he was saying. “They think they can push us around and get away with it, and knowing the cops around here, they will. We need to do something. We need to make our voices heard. Otherwise, they might do something worse than burn a cross next time.”
Gloria noticed the handful of listeners all nodded in approval, and she walked closer to hear better.
“They’ve struck the first blow,” Jamal said. “Now it’s our turn to show them we won’t take this lying down.” With that, he stepped away from the group.

“Jamal?” Gloria said, approaching him.
“Can I help you?” he asked her.
“I just wanted to thank you for putting out the fire,” she said. Noticing his blank look, she added, “I’m Gloria Wilson. I live here with Ashante.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I wouldn’t take this too personally. This cross burning was aimed at all of us, not just you.”

“Do you have any idea who might have done it?”
“If you’re asking if I know their names, no. But they’re the same type that burned homes and lynched our people in Alabama and Mississippi.” As Jamal spoke, the intensity of his convictions lit up his eyes. “They hate us just because we’re African people.”
“Then you don’t think it was just a prank?”
“Hell no, it wasn’t a prank. It was a warning—a hate crime,” Jamal said, and then he strode off into the darkness.

CHAPTER THREE

Gloria remembered Ashante’s tape and walked quickly back to the house.
“Hey, I saw you talking with Jamal,” Ashante said, as Gloria walked in. “What did he have to say?”
“I just wanted to thank him for putting out the fire,” Gloria said. “He’s not very easy to talk to.”
“But he’s easy to look at, girl,” Ashante said with a smile. “Don’t you think?”

Gloria rolled her eyes and ignored Ashante’s question. Ashante had a boyfriend—they’d met at Lakeside, but now Tyrone was a law student in Pennsylvania. Ashante loved to flirt with guys, but she always made it clear that her heart belonged to no one but Tyrone. Gloria normally didn’t mind Ashante’s jokes and nudges about how she should be more interested in dating—but right now she had other things on her mind.

“What about the tape,” Gloria said. “Did you listen to it?”
Ashante shook her head. “I was waiting for you,” she said.

Ashante had already rewound the tape. As she pressed play, they leaned forward expectantly, as the tape began to roll. Even with the volume cranked as high as it would go, they could barely make out the sounds—the scrape of a chair on the floor, the clink of silverware on a plate, the steady drip of a faucet—all sounds Ashante commonly made while recording. When they heard the ringing of the phone, Gloria leaned in closer. “This is it! Here!” she said.

They could hear the muffled sound of Ashante’s voice in the background, but they couldn’t hear any of the words. After the phone conversation, there was a short pause, and then they could hear other voices on the tape. They sounded like male voices, talking fast and angrily. But there was so much static and interference on the recording, it was impossible to make them out.

Gloria strained to listen. “I can’t tell what they’re saying,” she said. “Those voices sound so far away. Were the windows open last night? Could that be the sound of all the people who were in our yard?”
Ashante frowned, thinking. “It must be,” she finally said. “As soon as it happened, people started coming. Everyone was talking all at once, asking questions, trying to figure out what had happened. The recorder must’ve picked up the crowd noises.”

“Still,” Gloria said, “why do you think the tape is so fuzzy? Your recordings usually don’t have static like this.”
Ashante sat back in her chair and shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said, as the tape came to an end with a pop. “I’ll have to take it down to the studio tomorrow and see if I can clean it up.”

Gloria felt a dull wave of disappointment. This had been our only real chance of finding some evidence to show this wasn’t just a prank. She thought of her parents, how just a few hours earlier they had been sitting around the supper table, laughing and telling stories and feeling like everything was safe and good. And now this, she thought. Gloria wiped a tear from her eye and stood up. “I think I should call my parents,” she said. “It’s kind of late, but if they hear about this on the news, they’ll be upset that I didn’t call them. You want to call your mom first, though?”
“Nah,” Ashante said. “You go ahead. I think I’m gonna go to bed. It’s been an awfully long day.”
***
Ashante climbed into bed, but she was too keyed up to sleep. She sometimes wished she had a family like Gloria’s. Ashante hadn’t called her parents about the cross burning and she didn’t plan to. Her mother, who had recently remarried, wasn’t interested in Ashante’s life at Lakeside. “You don’t need college. What you need is a good man,” her mother had told her when Ashante first started asking about schools.

She had accused Ashante of ‘putting on airs’, acting like she was better than the rest of the family. Her mother had even introduced her once as “my educated heifer.” Lying there in the dark, Ashante imagined what her mother would say if Ashante had called her tonight. See, if you’d stayed home, none of this would have ever happened.

Ashante’s father was just too busy, in his own words, to be involved in his grown children’s lives. Ashante figured he was afraid she’d ask him for money. Fortunately, she’d cobbled together tuition money with scholarships and loans—in fact, she realized now, it had been a long time since she’d been able to rely on her parents for anything. Her closeness with Tyrone would have to get her through this. Oh, how she wished he was there beside her!

She tried to calm herself by softly humming an old gospel song her grandmother used to sing, to help her get through tough times. Ashante hoped her friend was getting the comfort she needed by calling home. G.W. is so naive sometimes. I tried telling her this is a hick college, but it had to take something like this for her to believe it, Ashante thought.

Ashante grew up in a real city. Racial strife and the indifference of the police were just a part of life. One of the reasons she chose Lakeside was because it had a great broadcasting program—and Ashante had always known she belonged behind a microphone. But she’d also picked Lakeside because it was far away from the tension‐filled environment she had grown up in. She’d felt comforted by the small‐town ways, how everything felt quiet and safe. That’s all changed now, she thought. She pulled the covers close to her chin.

She thought she’d seen some things, back in her old neighborhood, but even she had never dealt with something as serious as a cross burning before. Ashante closed her eyes and wished it would all go away. As soon as she did, however, images of the burning cross filled her mind. She got up, walked quietly to the bathroom and searched the medicine cabinet. After taking sleeping pills, she crawled back into bed and lay staring at the ceiling, waiting for the medicine to kick in.
***
Meanwhile Gloria made the phone call home.
“Hi, Momma,” she said. Before she could say anything more, Gloria burst into tears.
“What on earth?” her mother said. “Gloria‐honey, what is it? Are you alright?”

Slowly Gloria told her mother what had happened. The phone call involved everyone as each family member had to hear the details so she repeated the story again and again. Gloria’s father was last. He listened silently as Gloria shared the details, but as soon as she was finished, he made no attempt to hide his outrage, especially at the police.

“It’s the same everywhere, baby,” he said. “They think if you’re black, you’re guilty. Your brother got pulled over by the cops a few weeks ago for no reason. He wasn’t speeding or anything. They just pulled him over and asked him a bunch of questions. They even made him get out of the car and spread eagle, claiming they had to check him for weapons. When I went to the station to find out why it happened, the cop I talked to used the same exact words, ‘you are blowing this all out of proportion.’”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“We didn’t want to worry you. Anthony was a little shaken up, but he’s fine now. When I was your age, my momma used to remind me that I could be in the right place for the right reason, but that didn’t make it right in the white world. I just want you to know this type of thing happens to blacks every day. So don’t let anyone make you feel as if it’s your fault, baby girl.”

Gloria’s mother chimed in, from another extension. “Do you want to come home?”
“No, Momma,” Gloria said, fighting back tears. “That wouldn’t solve anything. Whoever did this would think he won. I’ve worked too hard here to let something like this ruin it all. Besides, we may have proof.”
“What’s this about proof?” her father cut in. “What kind of proof?”

She didn’t want to tell her parents about the tape, since she wasn’t sure what was on it. “Well, there are some rumors that someone may have seen something. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
Gloria felt guilty about not telling her parents everything, but she knew they would want her to turn the tape over to the authorities. She couldn’t do that until she found someone in power they could trust. The phone call lasted longer than Gloria expected, and before her mother would let her go, she led Gloria in prayer. “Honey, turn it over to God, and remember he will never leave your side.”

After they said goodbye, Gloria went into the living room and turned off the lights, but she quickly snapped them back on. It had been years since she’d been afraid of the dark, but she couldn’t get the image of the flames out of her mind.
Although Gloria was sure she wouldn’t be able to sleep, she decided to go to bed, anyway.

As she made her way down the dark hallway, her hip banged into the edge of the storage cabinet. She winced and fumbled in the dark until she found the light switch. Why on earth did Ashante move the cabinet? she thought. Swearing, Gloria leaned her weight against the heavy piece of furniture and pushed it back against the wall, by the small door that led up to the unfinished attic. Heavy smudges of dirt in the carpet caught her eye, but she was too tired to clean it up.

For a moment, Gloria thought about leaving the light on, but then she shook her head. “I will not be afraid in my own house,” she said firmly and switched off the light. Feeling bruised and battered, Gloria buried herself under her bed pillows and asked God to give her the strength to get through this ordeal.

She lay in bed, trying to focus on something positive, rather than giving into her fears. For some reason, Jamal’s face came to mind. She remembered the fury in his eyes as he put out the flames and, later, the intensity in his expression as he condemned the night’s events. “Ashante is right. He is easy to look at,” Gloria mumbled as she fell into a restless sleep.

The nightmare started almost immediately. In the dream, Gloria looked out a window into a deep fog, as a bright light drew closer. In the mist she saw a silhouette of a woman nailed to a cross. The word “nigger” was stamped on her forehead. She saw figures dressed in white robes. Their taunting was shrill and harsh. She got close enough to see the woman’s face. It was Ashante. Gloria looked again, and her own face looked back.

She felt like she was burning inside and looked down to see flames surrounding her. The ringing of the telephone startled Gloria awake. She grabbed for it with one hand, wiping sweat from her forehead with the other. “Hello?” she said, her heart pounding in her throat. A male voice answered. “Is this the house where the cross was burned tonight?”

In her sleepy confusion, Gloria thought the caller might be the campus police, finally following up on the crime. “Yes!” she said, relieved. “Who is this?”
“I—I’m not sure why I’m calling. But what they did was terrible,” the caller said. “You have to understand that’s just how they are. It was nothing personal.”
Gloria sat up, instantly alert. But she kept her voice calm, afraid the caller would hang up if she sounded too excited. “You know who did it?” she said.

“I know what I know,” the caller replied. “But, that’s not why I’m calling. I just wanted you to know it’s not like everyone on campus is racist or against black people. Some of us just get caught up in shit and before we know it, it’s too late.”
“Can you tell me who did it?” Gloria asked.
“It won’t do you any good.”

“Why not? They committed a crime. They should be expelled. They should be arrested.” Gloria heard the urgency in her voice and struggled to control it.
“The university won’t do anything,” the caller told her. “As far as the police are concerned, this is just a big waste of time.”
“Could you at least tell me your name?”
“No way. I’ve told you more than I should have already. Mea culpa, mea culpa. I gotta go.”
And the phone went silent.

Gloria ran to wake up Ashante. She called her name and even shook her, but received no response other than light snoring. Then she noticed the bottle of sleeping pills on the bedside table. She went into the kitchen for some water and drank it slowly as she worked up the courage to look out the front window.

A car cruised by, its headlights dimmed, and she recognized the campus patrol car. She felt reassured for a moment, but then her eyes were drawn to the circle of scorched grass where the cross had blazed just hours before. The glow from the streetlights revealed just enough to bring her anger rushing back.

“Why?” she asked aloud. “Why would they do this? Why us?” Her questions reminded her of Sgt. Thomas and his callous attitude.
“I guess we did do something to provoke them,” she whispered to the night. “We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong skin color.”
Gloria shivered, even though it was warm inside the house. She couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her.

Despite her brave words to her parents, she really wished she could go home. She couldn’t remember a time when she had been so frightened. She wrapped her robe tighter and retreated to Ashante’s room.

She climbed into bed next to Ashante, shivered again, and huddled close to her friend, trying to push her fear away long enough to fall asleep. As the impact of the night’s event hit home, she was once again reminded what racism was really like and how much it deeply hurt.
End of this sample: LAKESIDE UNIVERSITY COVER UP. Enjoyed the excerpt? Buy Now!

What Our Readers Say

 

“This book is a much‐needed fictional contribution to the literature about truth, justice and communication with racism in higher education. It is engaging, insightful and masterfully crafted. The growth of Dr. Taylor’s characters parallels what we hope for all of our students to achieve as they grow to understand who they are as well as who others are and how those relationships add value to each other.”‐Dr. Lynea LaVoy, Adjunct Professor

“I found the novel very enjoyable and insightful. Two major things that stuck out in my mind were that the novel aligned with my experiences growing up as a white male in a multicultural community in a housing project in the Pittsburgh area. The second thing was that because of my background as an academic leader I found the conversation and the examples between the characters very real.”‐ Doug Jensen, Dean, Westmoreland County Community College

“Extremely engaging and thought provoking…so much so, that I had a hard time putting it down to do other things”‐Richard Scott, retired Minority Student Services Coordinator.

“Thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, thrilling, engaging… Looking through the lens of a college administrator, this book can serve an excellent common read to stimulate discussions on how to create a campus climate of inclusion for all students across all dimensions of social identity. I became emotionally tied to the story, the characters, their experiences, and the fight for justice, action, and education. This book is another reminder of how open and honest dialogue can build trust and facilitate healing.”-Beth John, Assistant Dean of Students

“I loved your book and although it’s fiction I plan on using some of the group exercises you included during the retreat. I think this novel could also be used as a way to facilitate a group through racial conflict”. ‐Jane Schroeder, former Public School Teacher.

“A fascinating journey that propels us deep into inter‐cultural terrain, opens us to our own hidden assumptions about race, and ultimately lands us back in the realm of our shared humanity, but with new eyes. Dr. Taylor has woven a tale that sheds new light on the kind of leadership needed in our schools, colleges and communities. Brilliant!”‐Rebecca Zambrano, Director of Faculty Development.

“Riveting with just the right amount of twists and turns”‐Dr. Kenneth J. Fasching‐Varner, Assistant
Professor of Education‐LSU

DECIDE FOR YOURSELF!
Experience this roller coaster ride of emotions for yourself! Discover the secret behind the  cross burning…as Gloria finds her voice. Feel the tension mounting as the students react to the Administration’s response to the incident. Learn how campus leaders cleverly scheme to divide black and white students and what they do when the situation becomes explosive. Meet the legendary Dr. Wendell Oliver as he masterfully guides the feuding students into looking beyond themselves on a weekend retreat that is filled with action, danger, sexual attraction, and racial conflict.

Find out if Lakeside University will ever be the same again…Order your personal copy of this mystery‐thriller today! Act quickly and you can be reading this E‐book in seconds.

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