Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Other Wes Moore

"The chilling truth is that Wes's story could have been mine; the tragedy is that my story could have been his."
This oft repeated quote from The Other Wes Moore written by Wes Moore sums up the message of his book better than I can.
Since its publication I have read numerous articles about The Other Wes Moore, intrigued instantly about this book. Wes Moore, the author, is an accomplished athlete, a Rhodes scholar, a military officer. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, in a single parent family after his father's untimely death from a treatable illness. As a troubled youth, his mother's worry escalated to the point that she borrowed money and sent Wes to a prestigious school - away from the influences of their neighborhood. However, Wes found it impossible to fit in and caused trouble there, too. While some might think her next step to be extreme, Joy was so concerned about her son, she sent him away to military school. At first Wes resisted the people in this new environment, wanting nothing more than to return home, but after time passed, Wes was able to see the respect that the men there earned - not from fighting or physical intimidation, but from the way they carried themselves. He was impressed. Wes's mother's intervention probably saved his life.

Another young man by the name of Wes Moore was growing up in Baltimore at the same time as the author. The two didn't know each other, but lived oddly comparable lives. Wes was raised by a single mother and had very little contact with his father. He, too, began to cause his mother problems at a young age, and she, like Wes's mother tried to intervene. However, her intervention was not to send her son away to school (and that is not necessarily why Wes's life didn't turn out like the author's), and Wes continued to slip into criminal activities, often under the influence of his older stepbrother, Tony. Wes Moore finds himself in prison, serving a life sentence for the attempted murder of a young police officer who died while trying to stop a burglary, leaving behind his wife and five young children. Tony, Wes's brother was the trigger man in this murder.

In adulthood, author Moore becomes aware of Wes Moore and the fact that another young Baltimore man with the same name is wanted for a crime. Eventually, he decides to contact him and the two develop a friendship of sorts, composed of meetings in prison. While the two share a name and background, their paths diverge dramatically after childhood. What caused one man to turn to a life of crime? Why did one man choose to pursue education and a military career? Luck? Chance? Moore does not provide any answers, and there is no way anyone can decide why certain things happen in life. However, as Moore states in his book (and I have restated above):

"The chilling truth is that Wes's story could have been mine; the tragedy is that my story could have been his."
This book is hard to put down. While I knew from the outset that Moore would be arrested and in prison for life, it is still tragic to see his life unfold, knowing that he will make decision that will be disastrous to him later on. Author Moore is also very quick to share that the true victim in this book is not Wes Moore, but rather, Officer Prothero who was killed at the age of thirty five, leaving his children to grow up without a father. This book reads much like a story, but it provides a lot to think about as well, as we look at urban neighborhoods that are impoverished and lack male role models.

And finally, this book ends with a call to action by Tavis Smiley:
"Fundamentally, this story is about two boys, each of whom was going through his own personal journey and searching for help. One of them received it; the other didn't. And now the world stands witness to the results. Small interactions and effortless acts of kindness can mean the difference between failure and success, pain and pleasure- or becoming the people we loathe or love to become. We are more powerful than we realize, and I urge you to internalize the meaning of this remarkable story and unleash your own power."

To read the article in USA Today on May 6, 2010 about The Other Wes Moore, click here.

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