INHALE: Gasoline & Gunsmoke
(A Story about the SOUTH CENTRAL L.A. Uprising)

Donald Bakeer is a poet and English teacher in South Central Los Angeles. He has written an account of the South Central "uprising" that followed the Rodney King verdict in the form of a novel in his recent book Inhale. Alex Haley, author of the award winning Roots, coined the term "faction" to describe the blending of facts and fiction to enhance our insight into actual occurrences. This is what Bakeer has done.

Inhale, gives the reader an insider's perspective of the unfolding of the events surrounding the "uprising." In it we become aware of the internal conflicts of one's conscience. The reader comes away aware of the efforts and struggles of the older African Americans trying to give guidance to their youth. One is readily struck with the inherent dangers in doing so. Sometimes laws and rules have to be challenged, bent and sometimes broken, given the reality of the situation at hand. Risks have to be taken in the face to tremendous consequences. But that is the way of this world.

Bakeer exposes us to the world of the L.A. "gangs." We get glimpses of how they began and evolved. We become cognizant of their latent desire for peace and the tangled webs which operate against it.

By drawing from his personal experiences as a teacher and poet, he gives credence to Raheem, the main character of this novel and especially to the encounters he regularly engages as he endeavors to function on behalf of his little understood students. William Moss points out in his book, Enough Is Enough, that one of the largest complaints of many of today's African-American teachers is that they are no longer able to talk to our young people the way in which they need to, without fear of retribution. Inhale poignantly evinces this reality. Yet this is one of the things that must be done if we are ever going to see any improvement in the mentoring and development of our youth.

Raheem must constantly juggle his commitments between his own children, his students that he has grown attached to, and his extended family. He is a widower, as was Bakeer, and struggles with pangs of his conscience induced by the contradiction between the values he tries to impart to his children and his romantic involvement with his lady friend, Ahneda, with whom his children have a troubled relationship.

Inhale allows us to peer beyond the fog and into the forest, as only the work of an insider can do, to enable us to acquire a clearer understanding of the everyday trials and tribulations that so many of our fellow travelers have to endure. With a little more effort on our part, works like Inhale can perhaps help us understand the dynamics of this environment and the causes that effect many of the actions and attitudes that pervade our inner cities. And with that, hopefully, ideas and actions for a better tomorrow will follow.

Leon Dixon is a co-founder of the W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center, charter member of the Kansas City Chapter of the National Black United Front, and author of the book Future In Our Hands.