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Founded after the Civil War, Pittsburgh was a black working-class area until the nineteen-sixties and seventies, when residents began leaving for the suburbs. Lewis’s students called the area Little Vietnam and Jack City, because of all the armed robberies. His father was a crack addict, and his mother supported four children by working as a bank teller; she later opened a safe house for ex-prostitutes. On the weekends, she took Lewis to picnics hosted by the Black Panther Party.Once, when Lewis stopped at a convenience store to tell his students to go home and do their homework, a prostitute approached him. She worked so much that the neighbors helped raise Lewis: they often told him to wash his face or tuck in his shirt or put Vaseline on his chapped lips.In 2000, he started working at Parks and was immediately moved by his students’ despair.

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His football coach became a father figure and encouraged Lewis to go to college in Atlanta so that he could have a “historical black experience.”Lewis received a scholarship to attend Clark Atlanta University, which is less than three miles from Parks.

He was homeless for several months and got arrested for possessing marijuana, but he still earned good grades. When he graduated with degrees in math and philosophy, his mother urged him to try teaching, since he’d always had a talent for simplifying complex ideas.

The tests were wrapped in cellophane and stacked in cardboard boxes.

Lewis, a slim twenty-nine-year-old with dreadlocks, contemplated opening the test with scissors, but he thought his cut marks would be too obvious.

But he worried that his students would struggle with questions that were delivered in paragraph form.

Some of his seventh-grade students were still reading by sounding out the letters.

“I was raised in the generation that lost the shame of being black.”His students, who came to school with bad breath and parkas that smelled of urine, seemed to lack the conviction that they would ever leave the neighborhood.

Parks was run by an older woman who was not inclined to innovate. There was litter in the hallways, and students urinated in trash cans.

Instead, he left the school, walked to the corner store, and bought a razor blade.

When he returned, he slit open the cellophane and gently pulled a test book from its wrapping.

At the end of the testing week, Lewis went back to the testing office with Crystal Draper, a language-arts teacher. “I couldn’t believe what we’d been reduced to,” he said.

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