Born in war-torn Eritrea and adopted in the United States, Luce Edgar is an all-star high school athlete and accomplished public speaker who is adored by other school students and his adoptive parents, Peter and Amy Edgar. However, he has animosity toward his history teacher, Harriet Wilson, who got his friend DeShaun kicked off the running team after finding marijuana in his locker and calling the police.
Harriet calls Amy to school for a meeting and shows her Luce’s assignment in which, asked to write from the perspective of a historical figure, he chose political revolutionary Frantz Fanon and argued that colonialism can be overcome through violence. Harriet is concerned, because Luce was a child soldier before coming to America, and someone with his background writing this could cause trouble. Harriet also tells Amy that she went through Luce’s locker and found a bag of illegal and dangerous fireworks.
Amy shows Peter the paper and the fireworks; both are unsettled but decide to hide them and not say anything to Luce. When asked about Harriet, Luce accuses her of singling out students to make a point, such as often using Stephanie Kim, a classmate rumored to have been sexually abused at a party while drunk, as an example of a victimized woman suffering in silence. Luce is Harriet’s shining example of a star black student, but he argues that he does not want to be tokenized. Luce finds the hidden paper and fireworks.