A haunting account of two men – with the same name yet unrelated – who shared the same inner city streets as teenagers and during the same time period. Strangers to each other as youths, their similar backgrounds and at-risk circumstances mirrored each other’s lives. Both grew up in a section of Baltimore known for its drug dealings and at a time when Crack hit the national streetscape. They also fell victim to the usual trappings of adolescence — peer pressure, poor choices, and non law-abiding behavior. One however became a Rhodes Scholar, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, a veteran, and a Wall Street financier. The other Wes Moore, as is the title of the book, is in prison serving a life sentence due to his involvement in a jewelry store heist that left a police officer dead. The author does not title his book after the convict as a means to distance himself from a criminal who coincidentally shares his name but more so as a reflection on a fate that could so easily have been his own.
The author and inmate eventually meet due to yet another coincidence that prompts the author to contact Moore in prison. Together, they attempt to identify the crucial turning point where their stories depart from one another. As young Black boys growing up in the “hood,” did they yield to expectations placed on them by street life? Did those pressures outweigh the hopes their hard-working mothers tried to instill in them? Or was it simply Lady Luck who determined the direction one would take but not the other? Moore (the author) concludes that he could only locate what made the difference for him:
I found myself surrounded by people – starting with my mom, grandparents, uncles, and aunts, and leading to a string of wonderful role models and mentors – who kept pushing me to see more than what was directly in front of me, to see the boundless possibilities of the wider world and the unexplored possibilities within myself.
This story, centered on the lives of two young Black males raised in a low socio-economic environment and their eventual separate outcomes, in reality could be anyone’s story. This is not to negate that the social deck is stacked against those who live within the margins of poverty – of any background – but complicated even further by preconceived biases frequently attributed to the poor who are also minorities. However, a stable and “all American” environment is by no means an impervious one. The lure of illegal substances along with poor choices commonly made by teenagers extends into every corner and home in America. Anyone foolish enough to believe otherwise, is guilty of drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid. “The Other Wes Moore” is a must read for every parent and/or guardian of a teenager and once finished, should be passed down to the teenager in their care. Above all else, the author emphasizes the message of accountability for one’s actions and that the victims in his story are the police officer shot dead, his surviving wife, and their five children.