I finally got around to reading “The Other Wes Moore” earlier this year as part of a book club. I took a picture of the book at Joseph Beth more than a year ago as a reminder that this was a book I wanted to read, but for some reason I didn’t get around to it. In the year since, I’ve seen Wes Moore, the author, as a panelist on “Meet the Press” and “Morning Joe” and I’ve been impressed by his thoughtful approach to issues. He’s closer to my generation, and it’s nice to see people my age on TV once in awhile offering maybe a slightly different take than the baby boomers.
The book’s premise is actually a bit more stunning than the book itself. Wes Moore, the author, is about to become a Rhodes scholar when he learns of another man named Wes Moore, who is about to be sentenced to life in prison for killing a police officer. At the time, the two Moores live near one another and are about the same age. The author wonders what happened in their lives that sent them on such a dramatically different path.
The similarities are clear: both are African-American young men who grew up with single parents. Both showed intelligence and spark early on in life. Both had early brushes with the law. But clearly the Moore who winds up in prison faced more daunting challenges all along. His mother was a drug addict, he lived in very dangerous and drug-infested neighborhoods, and his key male influence, his older brother, was heavily engaged in the drug trade at a young age. Right from the start, it’s not difficult to see how things are going to turn out badly for the other Wes Moore.
The author, on the other hand, had a stable family, despite the fact his dad died when Wes was very young. Wes’s mother took him from the outskirts of DC to New York, and enrolled him in an expensive private school. Wes rebelled but ultimately went to an elite military school, where he had new role models and access to education, networks, and careers. The difference is obvious, one Wes had resources and a family that invested deeply in his success. The other Wes Moore didn’t.
Book club was about a month ago, and I’m still reflecting on this book. There are certain passages and themes that I love—how a family can pull together to help raise a child, how education and modern mentoring can sketch a path for success for at-risk youth, and even how military school can be a life-defining, positive experience. There are certain parts that raise my level of cynicism—the two Moores weren’t really from the same neighborhood, they just intersected there briefly much later in life, after their paths were mostly set. The author’s brush with the law seemed similar to every teenager’s run-in with the cops, and the other Wes Moore’s was much more severe. Toward the end, the book drifts off into a litany of the many achievements of the author (by the way, they are undeniably incredible achievements for someone so young). It is not until the afterword, published in the paperback version, that Moore attempts to answer the central question of the book: Why did these two men ended up with such incredibly different lives?
Ultimately, Moore acknowledges, and I agree, the best hope for this book is that it may serve as an inspiration to young families and young men. Moore says he is saved by stories—of his father, of military role models, of famous men—and he hopes his book will be another story that helps someone else. If the book does that for even just a handful of people, well then, it’s worth it.
The cynic in me wonders if Wes Moore, the author, is bound for a career in politics. And I wonder if this book wasn’t just his “Dreams From My Father.” But then so what if it is? He’d be a great candidate. Wouldn’t we be lucky to have a guy like this as an elected official? Someone who knows intimately the struggles of African-American families? Someone who faced a choice about how to live his life and who found mentors and role models to help him go the right direction? Maybe I’m cynical or maybe I’m hopeful.
I’d check this book out. There’s a gripping story here, one that if you aren’t aware of, you should be.
Thanks for reading.