ON THE BOOKSHELVES . . . . . THE OTHER WES MOORE
One Name, Two Fates….”The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine.
The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”
This wonderful book by author Wes Moore must be included in conversations about disparity, race and poverty.
Two young African-American boys grow up within city blocks of each other in Baltimore. Each is named Wes Moore. One is currently serving life-imprisonment for murder. The other grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran of Afghanistan, White House Fellow and business leader.
Author Wes Moore was a speaker at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, was named one of Ebony magazine’s Top 30 leaders under 30 (2007) and was named one of the top young business leaders in New York by Crain’s New York Business.
The author Wes Moore read about some young men who had robbed a jewelry story in Baltimore, one of whom was also named Wes Moore. So Wes Moore (the Rhodes Scholar) wrote a letter to the other Wes. For several years, the two have been visiting in prison and writing letters.
The two men discovered they had similar experiences in their youth. Both had difficult childhoods and a home without a dad. Both had trouble with the police and with school. Yet they have astonishing different destinies.
The author Wes Moore’s mother was an unrelenting disciplinarian. She also held jobs that gave her enough income to afford the tuition of Valley Forge Military School in Philadelphia, the school in which Wes began to appreciate books and education. It was tough love for Wes. Along the way he was fortunate enough to meet many important people with big visions and accomplishments. Wes listened to them and took their advice to heart.
“When it is time for you to leave this school, leave your job, or even leave this earth, you make sure you have worked hard to make sure it mattered you were ever here.” That is a quote by a leader of Valley Forge Military School, Colonel Billy Murphy.
Both families loved and cared (to the best of their ability) for their son named Wes. In return, both Wesleys loved their families and felt responsible for them.
The less fortunate Wes did go to Job Corps where he earned his GED and was a good leader. In seven months he graduated and got a job and then another job. However, his jobs were temporary and paid $9 an hour – not enough to support his mother, his four children and the mothers of his children. When drugs showed up again in his life, he got back into the game and made good money, until the botched robbery and life imprisonment.
The convicted Wes Moore’s reflection:
“The idea of life’s impermanence underlined everything for kids my age—it drove some of us to a paralyzing apathy, stopped us from even thinking too far into the future. But then I realized “Life’s impermanence is what makes every single day so precious.”
From the book:
“Wes had spent much of his adolescence incarcerated, and he knew that occasional time in the pen was part of the game. But he’d never figured this. Maybe it was because he’d never thought long term about his life at all. Now Wes’s mind wandered to the long term for the first time. Finally he could see his future.”
At the end of a visit with Wes in prison, Wes the author asked a question:
“Do you think we’re all just products of our environments?”
“I think so, or maybe products of our expectations.”
“Others’ expectations of us or our expectations for ourselves?”
“I mean others’ expectations that you take on as your own. We will do what others expect of us. If they expect us to graduate, we will graduate. If they expect us to get a job, we will get a job. If they expect us to go to jail, then that’s where we will end up too. At some point you lose control.”
While doing studies in South Africa, Wes the author came to a realization:
“just how similar were the challenges the young boys here [South Africa] and kids like the ones I grew up with faced. In both places, young men go through a daily struggle trying to navigate their way through deadly streets, poverty and the twin legacies of exclusion and low expectations.
But they are not completely unequipped. They also have the history of determined, improvisational survival, a legacy of generations who fought through even more oppressive circumstances.
In South Africa, burgeoning manhood was guided and celebrated through a rite of passage. In the US, burgeoning manhood was a trigger for apprehension. Our young men and women are our strength and our future. Yet we fear them.”
You will benefit from reading this book. The reflection by Wes upon his imprisonment and the reflection about South Africa by the author are included to give readers insight into how we as community members influence one another. This book surely belongs in our conversations about expectations and community.
At the end of the book is a Resource guide – a list of 200 organizations that help youth across the USA to develop their greatest potential. For an up-to-date list, visit www.theotherwesmoore.com
Three are found in Wisconsin: Links in Waukesha www.one2oneteencenter.org
Mentoring Connections in Madison www.emum.org
My Brothers Keeper in Green Bay www.mybrotherskeeperinc.net
Wes the author recommends two books: Mitch Albom’s FAB FIVE and Colin Powell’s MY AMERICAN JOURNEY.