The Path of a Black Drug Trafficking Scholar to “30 Under 30”
This is true throughout the book. As he writes about his childhood, his abusive stepfather, his mother’s absence due to his military deployment in Iraq, street violence and sexual assault, Fleming assumes that the simple description of each of these struggles will be enough to communicate his inner turmoil. If he was a different writer, this could have been the case; but Fleming is not a stylist. His prose is often riddled with clichés, sometimes purple to the point of hyperbole. (About his literary ancestors: “They sang – so I sing too. I sing so that you too can sing. And others will be released, but if – and only if – you decide to sing.”) Elsewhere the writing is simply bland and uninspiring. We would like Fleming to invest more in exploring the emotional terrain rather than in the superficial intrigue of his upbringing, that he tried to find his way to understand the flaws and human frailties of the biological father who had disowned for selling drugs, from his mother, siblings, stepfather, fellow drug traffickers or anyone else around him. He seems indifferent to how other people’s stories intersect with his own, aside from the roles they play as satellites in the arc he’s chosen to share.
The longer I dwelled on this book, however, the clearer its purpose became, and with it the reasons for my criticisms. After his failed suicide attempt, Fleming must decide how to move forward with his life, and his mother, now a veteran, uses the funds allocated by GI Bill to help him continue his college education. Fleming returns to Liberty, Jerry Falwell’s Christian Evangelical School in Lynchburg, Virginia, but is disheartened by his lack of academic skills, as he has not yet devoted energy to such pursuits. Then an English teacher calls him into his office after he plagiarizes an article and, instead of punishing him, offers to help him: “I’m not your enemy,” she told him. She introduces him to “two other black men who forged their own path to literacy,” Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass. Fleming’s intellectual curiosity is inflamed and he sets out on a path of discovery in the rich tradition of black public scholarship.
Here’s the point: Fleming has experienced a “renaissance,” as he calls it, and it has come about through engagement with great black thinkers of the past and present. (Among them is Cornel West, who wrote the preface to this memoir and helped spark Fleming’s interest in prayer and then debate.) The streets had guided him in one direction, pop culture in one direction. another, basketball in yet another – and at the end of all those roads was grief and ignorance, according to Fleming’s account. But through his education, he was able to rise, forge a new identity, and emerge as the successful scholar and entrepreneur he is today.
The story of “Miseducated” is meant to be inspiring rather than curious. And it’s good. Each writer has a different mission. Events in Fleming’s life may indeed inspire a young black child in a situation similar to the one Fleming survived, which shares the kind of aspirations Fleming found to animate his professional and intellectual development. Someday one of these kids might write their own memoir, and hopefully that fills in the narrative gaps to create a much more vibrant story.