I guess the main point is that he is not noticed because of his color. No matter what he does, he will never be good enough. He will always be the kid groping for change on a electrified mat...not the intellect who gave a gripping speech and stirred the minds of the audience. He is suppressed and angry about it. However, by the end of the novel, he is determined to use this against the "man" and get something out of it for himself...hence the hundreds of lightbulbs.