“This is the basis of the story. This is a young man who takes it upon himself to create a better world, ”Boston said.
Boston wanted CJ’s character to be as proportionate as possible to the children of Westhaven and surrounding neighborhoods. He’s interviewed two other young boys alongside Leila, and every kid has an interest in CJ’s character or the script.
“I asked them about their situation and they described their life in the best possible way, so I kind of compiled their likes, dislikes and hopes for the future into one main character,” said Boston, who grew up in a low-income neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri
Boston remembers being particularly inspired by one particular child in interviews. Adeen, an eight-year-old boy from Westhaven, expressed immense enthusiasm for the project. His enthusiasm led him to provide more honest answers, some of which were added verbatim to the story.
The name CJ comes from a friend in Boston, Charles Nathaniel Jackson, who died in his early 30s.
“He was about to do great things, but he didn’t,” Boston said. “It’s the kind of thing that reminds me of why I do what I do and who I do it for.”
The book presents a foreword addressing the disappearance of Vinegar Hill through a child-friendly approach. The neighborhood, once a bountiful community for hundreds of blacks in Charlottesville, was in turn demolished for a city renewal project in the 1960s. Many of these black families were displaced and forced out of town, but some were able to find accommodation in the Westhaven social housing complex.
The story is later followed by an afterword exploring the life of Westhaven namesake John West, written by Jefferson School African American Heritage Center Executive Director Andrea Douglas and Digital Fellow Jordy Yager. Born in 1850 as a slave in Charlottesville, West later became a lucrative businessman and one of the city’s wealthiest blacks. He would lead the way by developing much of the land that is home to Westhaven and 10th and Page.