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Little Hustler
by Jean Pierre Campbell

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'When Boom found my titties, he started rubbing my nipples between his fingers ... I moved his hands off my titties, saying, 'Suck'em, suck'em.' He sucked them, but it was like he thought they was popsicles he sucked them so hard. I pushed his head down further so he could eat my pussy ... When he found the inside of me he was licking all the wrong places.' (p.269)

To be sure, the language in Sister Souljah's novel, The Coldest Winter Ever, is raw, but is it inappropriate for my 13-year-old nephew? Because his reading and elocution require improvement, we've begun reading excerpts to each other as an exercise. Naturally we discuss the novel. Of late, I've been given serious criticism for allowing 'adult material' to be read by a child. But since we've been reading together, he's shown a keener enthusiasm for the activity, which is remarkable. He generally hates reading anything, but this 400-page book he chose himself.

Thus, at this critical juncture in his education, I've concluded that I really don't care how much 'pussy' he has to encounter, literarily speaking, in order to develop sharper skills. While a vaginal encounter is inevitable, his development as a critical reader is not, especially when you consider the grim big picture.

In a Chicago Reporter cover story (Summer 2001) it was revealed that, among elementary schools, Black drop-out rates for 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-graders were occurring in absurdly high numbers. Quite familiar with Chicago public schools, I instantly knew my nephew's low-income district typified the educational model from which these abysmal statistics were extracted. And I also knew that making my nephew a proficient reader considerably decreases the future possibility of such a fate, which has become a concern.

Before I took on the role as private tutor at his mother's urging, I had a conference with my nephew's teacher to discuss what had been his poor performance. In that meeting I learned a significant portion of the school's student body was in the foster care system. Thus, a tremendous number of children live in households where neither parent is present (crack's a bitch, ain't it?).

In addition, because the school itself is comprised of poor/working class Black children who live in the 'hood, the socio-economic impact of that alone would strain any academic environment. As a result, the elementary classroom, ordinarily a place of learning, is transformed into a location for disciplinary action due to constant disruptive behavior, especially from my nephew, the class clown.

Quite recently my nephew announced to his mother and me that he wants to be 'a hustler,' which given his habit of shooting dice with his buddies is rather disturbing. However, in all fairness, hustler as an occupation doesn't necessarily have to imply unlawful or risky activity. In the 'hood, a hustler is also a motivated go-getter who creates opportunity using his street instincts, usually someone with multiple occupations. Or, as the kids say, someone who 'be about that paper.' (See P. Diddy, Master P., Russell Simmons, 50 Cent, the late Tupac, etc.) And this is what I think my nephew meant: using his street instincts, not the advantages of a formal education, for upward mobility.

Perhaps that's the real allure of Souljah's book, for my nephew and many of his friends who are also reading it. It's full of fast hustlers who profit from street knowledge. In fact, the book's accurate depiction of life in the 'hood, replete with its addict/dealer characters, is also familiar. After all, my nephew knows what a blunt is (and probably where to cop if need be). He knows what a hype is and what that condition looks like. He even once told me that a friend whom he no longer sees suggested that they sell drugs in order to make some fast money.

Further, in terms of mass marketing, because the 'hood has been transformed into a ghetto fabulous utopia—that is, a place where real niggas or real hustlers become successful entrepreneurs overnight—the bling-bling hustler lifestyle in the novel is certainly an exciting read for a young Black male.

If my nephew is to ever become an avid reader, perhaps it's smart to bring him ghettocentric literature that creates, on a literary level, stories to complement the rap he listens to, the videos he watches, and the street culture he's fascinated by. At least it's a logical place to begin. So if Souljah's unsavory epic is what it takes to 'turn him on' to literature, he can have as many lewd literary encounters as he can handle, because I can already see the progress.

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