The greatest fictional drama book ever written, in my opinion, that dealt with the crack epidemic and how it destroyed Black youth was “The Coldest Winter Ever” by Sista Souljah. It is a tremendous read and reminds me so much of the seminal 1994 movie Fresh starring Sean Nelson as a 12 year old ingenue drug dealer who uses chess to bring down his enemies. Many of you have seen this movie. For those who haven’t, I will give a brief summary.
Fresh is a 12 year old drug dealer living in foster care with several of his cousins and his sister. He plays chess in Washington Square Park with his alcoholic father(brilliantly portrayed by the now legendary Samuel Jackson), and through these contests he learns strategy to not only deal with his enemies, but to protect his heroin addicted sister(played in a very realistic passive, non conflicted way by the beautiful NBushe Wright). Nelson’s serious demeanor throughout the movie shows just how grim his current life is. He rarely smiles, and after the girl he has a crush on is murdered from a stray bullet by one of his drug dealing partners, no longer does he attempt to smile. He makes it his goal to not only seek vengeance for the girl’s death, but to protect his sister and to escape from the violent, dead end streets of the crack-ridden streets of early 1990’s Brooklyn. In order to accomplish these difficult tasks, Fresh uses chess as a way to form a strategy. He uses the two drug lords that he works for weaknesses against them(played too damn authentically by the always excellent Ron Brice and Giancarlo Esposito). Brice’s character will do anything to maintain his power, so Fresh creates a doubt in his mind about those who work for him scheming to take him out. Esposito’s character is madly in love with Fresh’s sister, so Fresh cunningly uses Esposito’s adoration of his sister to checkmate him in the end.
Fresh was the most authentic, depressing movie of the 90’s that portrayed the crack epidemic that destroyed an entire generation of Black and Latino youth in NYC and many other urban landscapes. Nelson’s portrayal of Fresh is one of the greatest performances of all time by a child actor. The Williamsburg section of Brooklyn that has crack houses and crack dealers in proliferation back then, is now an upscale neighborhood filled with yuppies and million dollar brownstones. I wonder if these residents today realize just not too long away that their neighborhood was trapped in the crack epidemic. I highly doubt it.