Merchant of Redemption

During his first three decades on Sixth Street, Tom McKnight Sr. used his various businesses to educate his children and counsel them in the doctrine of social obligation. Now his son must balance the demands of activism against the realities of commerce

"You're in the danger zone," Ulan reminds him. "Are you still going to meetings?"

Yeah, Smith replies, and he says he's volunteering at a detox center three days a week. As his son puts a handful of candy on the counter, Ulan gently scolds the man. "You know you can't just have them eat sugar all the time," he says. "It ruins their minds."

The next day, Ulan lays out the sugar speech again, this time to a young mother of two beautiful children, one of whom is by her side picking out candy. Seems the older boy is having trouble paying attention in school and he was recently pulled from a gifted students course. The mother is upset.

After counseling lower sugar intake, Ulan begins to advise the woman on ways to facilitate her child's education, all the while testing the early grammar schooler's math skills with the change from the candy bill.

"Studies of black males show that if you give them sugar in the morning you can't get them to concentrate in the afternoon," Ulan says. "I was always hyperactive in school."

"His dad buys him Frosted Flakes," the mother admits. "I can't win."
"I was totally dyslexic and they wanted to hold me back one year," Ulan says. "But my dad went down there and said, 'You will not hold my kids back because they are black; you're racist.' They were too scared to hold me back."

He tells her he was expected to pursue extracurricular activities like computer classes at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

"I wish we had that," the woman says as she pats her son's head. The boy listens, eyes wide, and takes another sip on his soda, which he holds in a paper towel with both hands.

"You do," Ulan says. "Down at Bessie Carmichael Middle School down the street. They offer after-school classes. Give me your number and I'll have someone call you from the Sixth Street Merchants and Residents Association."

Two minutes after the woman and her son leave, Ulan is on the phone asking about computer classes at Bessie Carmichael.

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