The Other Wes Moore:  One Name, Two Fates

How many times have we seen or read of a person less fortunate than ourselves, someone our age, our gender, but a person in a degree of distress that we’ve never experienced? And how many times have we said in response, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

That’s what Wes Moore’s book is all about. That and a lot more. In the author’s case, his “other” was also a young African-American who, like himself, had grown up in neighborhoods sinking in the despair of drugs and crime. Both boys were raised by single mothers (single for entirely different reasons) struggling to keep their sons from becoming the human statistics all too often resulting from such environments. The similarities did not stop there. The boys, with only a couple of year’s difference in age, actually lived for a time in nearby communities of Baltimore, Maryland, and strangest of all, they share the same name.

Wes Moore, the author, first read about the other Wes Moore in a news article about the “other’s” arrest in connection with an armed robbery in which an off-duty policeman, working an extra job to support his growing family, was brutally shot and killed. The author became almost haunted with the eeriness of the two Wes Moores. How did this happen, that he, a Rhodes Scholar, a captain in the military, would have a huge future, and the “other Wes,” a young man with a Jobs Corps GED, would never have a life outside of prison? Why one Wes and not the other? His search for answers began with a letter. Wes Moore the scholar wrote to Wes Moore the convicted killer. The search continued with more letters and then prison visits.

Two things set this book apart from other memoirs. The first is the writing itself, which is clear and unencumbered by pathos or bravado, something that Mr. Moore certainly has a right to. The second is that the two stories are almost equal in their telling, both are straightforward and understanding. The reader cares deeply for these young men and their families. We breathe a sigh of relief when one Wes takes a turn in the right direction, and sadly hold our breaths when the other Wes makes the wrong choices. The author does not have answers to the questions he raises: why me and not him? But he does have some very strong suggestions for readers who might wonder if they could make a difference in a young person’s life.

Travis Smiley has written the afterword to Moore’s book. The afterword, A Call to Action, follows the author’s epilogue and consists of an incredible list of local and national youth-oriented mentoring organizations, including addresses and contact personnel. The list speaks for itself. It is also moving that the author’s acknowledgment page follows Smiley’s list of mentoring organizations. Mr. Moore owes much to many people for the help he was given, and we owe much to Mr. Moore for writing this book.

This review was originally written in 2010 for the Clayton Pioneer. More recently, the author is executive producer of Coming Back with Wes Moore, a three-part series for PBS. The series is created around the tough questions raised by battle-worn veterans returning to the lives they had left behind. Wes Moore’s search for those answers reaches into Coming Back 5/13/14, Fitting In 5/20/14, and Moving Forward 5/27/14.   Having already watched the first two episodes, I heartily recommend that you not miss the third (earlier episodes can be viewed on PBS).    – Sunny Solomon

Also available by Moore: Discovering Wes Moore; Forcefully Advancing.

 

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