The Other Wes Moore
How two lives can start so close together, yet end so far apart.
I came across this book while preparing a thematic unit on survival for my students, and I thought that it seamlessly coincided with the conversation currently happening throughout the country. Survival takes on many different shapes and forms, as my students will learn, but this particular tale of survival shows just how closely we are connected to one another, and--whether you want to call it fate, chance, or even luck--how the smallest slivers of choice and opportunity have to power to drastically alter every aspect of the human condition.
Although this book was written a few years ago, reading it at a time when divides seem impossible to bridge and old wounds seem to refuse to heal, I am left wondering if the reemergence of this book could shed some light on current events. Wes Moore presents a story about his own life, and that of another man who shares his name, and shares how their lives began so similar, but ended so far apart. As these two men dive deeper into their stories, Wes Moore says, “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”
Wes Moore, a young man growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, was certainly not given the easiest life. With his father dying from a rare condition when he was young, Wes was alone with his mother and sisters, devoid of a male role model. As he got older, Wes idolized the boys from his neighborhood and began emulating their behavior: skipping school, tagging, fighting, having run-ins with the law, and engaging in other unsavory activities. Wes’ mother, Joy, feared her son would become lost to the streets of the neighborhood, so she moved her family to The Bronx to live with her parents. Much to her chagrin, Wes’ behavior didn’t change, despite the sacrifices the family made to send him to a private school away from the distractions and influences that he was used to. The final straw came when Joy realized that Wes was failing school and continually getting in trouble. Despite her failed previous interventions, she took the next logical step--military school.
Joy enrolled Wes at Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania. Although he spent a considerable amount of time trying to escape the confines of military school, after learning about what his family sacrificed for him to be there, Wes began to take military school seriously. The time at Valley Forge changed Wes’ life. Wes’ experiences led him to Johns Hopkins University, where he became a Rhodes Scholar, and gave him the opportunity to work in local government, global finance, and become an advocate for disadvantaged communities.
The other Wes Moore grew up close to Wes (author), and these two boys had a very similar upbringing. Wes grew up without a father, his mother was struggling to complete school while balancing family life, and his older brother was deep in the drug game from a young age. Seeing the money and status that came from getting involved with drugs, Wes soon found himself deep in the game as well. No stranger to incarceration, Wes was constantly in and out of prison on drug related or probation violation charges. Struggling to provide for his family, Wes thought drugs were his only option.
Wes eventually vowed to get out of the game and enrolled in JobCorps, a program designed to provide GED and job training. It seemed as though Wes was finally getting himself on a path that would allow him to end his cycle of incarceration. Unfortunately Wes was found guilty for participating in a jewelry store robbery that resulted in the death of a police officer. Wes was sentenced to life in prison without parole. While in prison, Wes received a letter from a man sharing his same name, asking him a litany of questions about his life. The two men began meeting and, after sharing many conversations, the idea for this book was born.
Although this story shows two young men who grew up in similar circumstances, one of them found success while the other did not. When asked about why that may be, Wes Moore (author) could never really put his finger on one specific reason.
What stands out about this book is the way that both of these stories are presented. You read about how each of these young men struggled and fought similar battles, but you watched as one of them began to rise up and the other began to fall. You ached as you watched Wes’ life fall around him, but you rejoiced as Wes found success and passion.
Featuring a fantastic list of resources and organizations who help people in similar situations to both Wes Moores, this book offers hope. It offers hope to those who are struggling, it offers hope to those who have children who are struggling, and it offers hope to those who work with those who are struggling.
If you are looking for a story that chronicles how two young men struggled, failed, survived, thrived, and grew, then look no further.
5 out of 5 stars.