This one stumps me alot
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In Louisville, James hung out on "the Corner" with the "cool" southern working men who gathered to sip whiskey and play crap games. He befriended Chicken Man, "one of the chief philosophers of the Corner." James was called "New York": no one knew of his past or his mother, and he finally felt free to be himself. It was in Louisville that James acquired his "street education". When Chicken Man finally sat him down and said: "Everybody on this corner is smart. You ain't no smarter than anybody here. If you so smart, why you got to come on this corner every summer? 'Cause you flunkin' school! You think if you drop out of school somebody's gonna beg you to go back? Hell no!...If you want to drop out of school and shoot people and hang on this corner all your life, go ahead! It's your life!" Later, Chicken Man was stabbed to death by a former lover.
While in Louisville, James could be himself in another context; people didn't know his past. According to James, he received his real "street education" there. On "the Corner", Chicken Man advised him to go to school and to make something of himself, seeming to regret not having done so himself. Education, he emphasized, is valuable; it creates opportunities. He told James that everyone on the Corner was smart, but that smarts don't mean anything without education. Intelligence can't be deployed in the world without a formal education that teaches one how to use it to achieve concrete goals. James needed to hear this truth come from someone other than his mother and the people who had been telling him this all his life. To have a man he respected as "street-smart" and "cool" tell him that he was failing prompted his decision to seek a fresh start.