Starr Carter straddles two worlds: the "hood" of Garden Heights and the white privilege of Williamson Prep. She has mastered the art of splitting her identity between the two, but her worlds collide when Khalil is shot to death in front of her. Starr's journey is to learn to trust and embrace her authentic self as she becomes an activist seeking justice for Khalil's wrongful murder.
Maverick Carter serves as an example of an African American man working to better his community. Having grown up with his gang leader father, Maverick ran with the King Lords until he went to prison. After serving his time, Maverick turned his back on that life in order to become a good father and better his neighborhood. He takes DeVante under his wing and protects him from King. Conflicted about moving out of Garden Heights, Maverick finally decides that what is important is not living in an area but caring about what happens there.
Open-minded and sincere, Chris Bryant serves as an example of a white ally in the African American cause. Chris is a fan of African American culture and tries his best to understand the African American perspective, though he remains clueless about a lot of things. Because Chris is from a rich family, Starr feels like their worlds are too different, and she has trouble being her authentic self around him. He is careful not to take advantage of Starr's vulnerability.
Sheltered and opinionated, Hailey acts as an example of unexamined white privilege. Starr and Hailey originally bonded over both losing someone: Hailey lost her mom to cancer and Starr lost Natasha to gun violence. But Hailey has the habit of saying racist things and refusing to apologize. Hailey cannot own up to her own bias and loses Starr as a friend.
In DeVante, Maverick sees an opportunity to help an African American youth after failing Khalil. After the shooting death of his brother at the spring break party, DeVante steals money from King to get his mother and sisters to safety. This act puts him at risk with King, so he asks Maverick for protection. Uncle Carlos ends up taking DeVante in, and DeVante eventually agrees to testify against King in order to better the neighborhood.
One-Fifteen becomes a symbol of both police brutality against African American people and white saviorism. His father claims in an interview that he served in Garden Heights because he wanted to make it a better place. However, by racial profiling and harassing teens, he made it worse. Starr never refers to One-Fifteen by his name because she refuses to humanize him after he killed Khalil.