Windrew Hayes agrees to coach the girls track team at an inner-city high school and is blessed by the discovery of a running phenom who has startling academic potential. That's if she can escape her legal guardian, an eccentric entrepreneur who uses the foster care system as a source of employees for his businesses which includes a sleazy hotel that serves as a front for sex trafficking. Windrew is determined to propel his young star into college, but his underworld adversaries want her to go away, for good.
Frederick Douglass High School was a few blocks from Fairmount Park’s Strawberry Mansion, the estate that gave the area its quaint sounding name. The neighborhood had once been home to legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, artist Henry O. Tanner, and Three Stooges alum Larry Fine. There was a time when fans could view Athletics and Phillies baseball games from the rooftops of row houses that ran adjacent to Shibe Park or Connie Mack stadium. Its proximity to Fairmount park drew Jewish immigrants wanting to escape crowded South Philadelphia, and Black folks migrating from the south looking for jobs. By the year 2000, the neighborhood had the lowest average home price in the city and a reputation as one of the most dangerous areas in town. The synagogues were gone, and the stately park-side homes had fallen into disrepair, but the children still required a safe haven and a chance to learn.
This explains why Windrew “Windy” Hayes, the twenty-two-year-old graduate of the prestigious St. James College was sitting in a 500-seat band-box gymnasium next to his sister Stephanie, who, according to his father’s robust set of rules, should not have been there. Windy thought about escorting her out but knew that dragging an uncooperative teenage girl through hordes of kids would create a scene, and Windy was not the type of guy to make scenes. Instead, he allowed his mind to drift off on a long run through a dense northwestern forest. The terrain enabled him to catch glimpses of the ocean slamming against rocky slopes and oozing back into itself. He could smell salt in the cool, moist air and feel the trail as he pushed forward, his feet making an agreeable crunch when they hit the ground. He eased his buttock off of one of the rounded bolts attached to the bleacher, thinking “I should have brought a cushion, this is torture.”
He peered down at the gymnasium floor. A sextet of cheerleaders were pointing their backsides toward the crowd and, using muscles possessed only by the young, were moving their haunches up and down causing their backsides to jiggle, keeping time with whatever was rasping out of the sound system. The girls twerked, in unison, to the gleeful appreciation of the audience which included his sixteen-year-old sister who looked at him with an appreciation generally reserved for Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. “This is so dope,” she said.
Behind him, Windy heard too much of a conversation that he was hoping his sister couldn’t decipher.
“That girl on the right with the big ole booty, I heard she work at Chico’s.”
“Which one? They all got big ole booties.”
“The one on the right, fool. She backing that thing up like she got a license to operate heavy equipment.”
Windy could feel hot air against his neck when they laughed and slapped hands, the knees of one boy banging into his back. He wanted to spin around and tell them to shut up. Instead, he stiffened, and tried to force his thoughts back to the coastal forest. He had learned during his first six months of teaching these particular children – young adults – as they were called, that it was best to ignore them. He was in their habitat, and they were having fun. It was not their fault that he had brought his sister Stephanie, the apple of his father’s eye, the beneficiary of countless Jack and Jill cotillions, the gold medalist of the NAACP Act-So competition for a poem she wrote about reparations, into their teenage sanctuary. She giggled and elbowed Windy solidly in his rib cage, while texting rapidly with both thumbs. “This is so, so dope,” she muttered.
Douglass High kids were not much different than other high school students. They listened to hip-hop, danced erratically, complained about there being no decent boys or girls to date, spent too much time on social media, and were obsessed with athletic footwear. They came to school trying to work toward a diploma that would qualify them for a job and all the things that came with it. People outside of Douglass saw them as being prone to violence and vulgarity, but Windy had learned that they were just children trying to make a way for themselves.
Earlier in the day, after Windy had succumbed to his sister’s persistent requests that he take her to a Douglass basketball game, his father had warned, “That’s your baby sister and she’s got you wrapped around her little finger, but she’s my daughter and I don’t want her anywhere near that rat’s nest. You want to go down there and try to teach, that’s on you, but keep my baby out of there. I got enough mess to worry about.”
His sister had made a career of goading him into taking her places that were on their father’s exhaustive “no-go” list. A year ago, she had beguiled him into taking her to a hair salon in West Philadelphia where she plopped down $125 to have her hair braided and weaved into an intricate yard-long assembly that she flipped and slung for months. Their mother thought it was cute. Their father saw the hairstyle as a symbol of societal degradation. It reminded him of the girls who sat in his courtroom, sullen and disrespectful, their long hair, cartoonish eyelashes, and lip gloss providing no protection from the jail time he was legally bound to levy. It was always the same. A girl hid drugs or weapons for a boy who had “Death Wish,” or some other charming message tattooed on his cheekbone. Then the dude gives her up in exchange for a lighter sentence.
“Yo Mr. Hayes, who that fine little honey dip wit you?” asked a student sitting behind him who leaned forward bringing a faint smell of marijuana into his personal space. He ignored the question.
His sister, the honey dip in question, raised her iPhone to videotape the aggressively salacious routine taking place below while saying “This is so, like awesome, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, those girls are working it.”
The student sitting in the row behind, who Hayes knew to be an imbecile, now had his chin on Hayes’s shoulder repeating, “Mr. Hayes, Mr. Hayes, yo, Mr. Hayes. Is that your boo? She look kinda young.”
He then put his acne scarred chin on Stephanie’s shoulder and said, “Honey dip? Who you be?”