All three of the central characters contain autobiographical elements, but Rise is the one who the most resembles Walter Dean Myers as a teen. Rise has been skipping school, much as Myers did during his junior and senior years in high school. Myers never dealt drugs, but he had a close friend who made deliveries for a drug dealer. After a gang marked Myers for death and the police sought him in connection with an assault, Myers left Harlem for the relative safety of the U.S. Army when he was seventeen. Rise is also seventeen, but his plan for survival is to leave Harlem to live with relatives in Florida.
Jesse and C. J. resemble Myers in that they are passionate about their arts. Myers was a writer from a young age, and he started composing poetry when he was in the fifth grade. Jesse always carries his sketchbook with him and draws pictures of Rise from memory. He has also created a comic strip featuring the characters Spodi Roti and Wise. C. J. wants to become a jazz musician, although his mother would prefer that he specialize in church music and become a minister.