Looking back, I can clearly see that I have made many important decisions that have dictated the course of my life. As a black youth, growing up in Harlem, my choices often seemed limited; either go to prison and become another number in the system, die a young death at the hands of gun and gang violence, or try to stay strong and hope to become better than the environment I grew up in. I can only hope that I made the last choice because the other choices are unacceptable. Most of the people I know are felons or failures and, frankly, a growing teen needs better role models than that.
I found my role model in high school through a book called The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. His memoir perfectly illustrates the different paths that black youths in difficult environments will have to face. Being one of these youths, it feels as if it’s my job to further his message.
The narrative depicts two black men with the same name who were on similar paths, but ultimately ended in complete opposite situations. The story of each Wes Moore holds more parallels to my life and the lives of other young black men than any other media, making it worthy of much praise.
The memoir begins in Baltimore with the author, Wes Moore, remembering the day his father died. Both Wes Moores grew up fatherless, which is only the first of many parallels. Soon after, Wes Moore moves to the Bronx. His new living circumstances were not spectacular because the Bronx was a cesspool of drugs and violence when he was growing up. Wes’s mother sent him to private school, but that only led to him becoming an outsider because he was too hood for his school peers and too privileged for the neighborhood kids. This newfound dichotomy only made the author more reckless and rebellious.
This attitude, combined with plummeting grades and arrests, led his mother to send him to the military school that would change his path and life. It was difficult for him at the beginning of his time at Valley Forge Military Academy, but he soon embraced his situation.
Wes Moore’s life did a complete 180; he stayed in the military school and was promoted to the position of sergeant. During this time, he earned his associate’s degree and eventually began working in the Mayor of Baltimore’s office, where he is encouraged to go to John Hopkins University.
During his final year at John Hopkins he went to South Africa, where he finds his purpose; helping people. He then goes on to earn a master’s degree from Oxford, work in the White House and become CEO of a nonprofit organization called Robin Hood.
Back in Baltimore, the other Wes Moore, the inmate, sees how the other kids in his neighborhood are earning their money and other luxury items and decides to join them, becoming a drug dealer. He is involved in an attempted murder case but only charged as a juvenile. After this experience, he decides it is time to make a change and goes back to school, but drops out soon after.
He enrolled in Job Corps where he earns his GED and a job as a carpenter, but it is not enough to maintain his life, so he resorts back to selling drugs. Later, Wes and his older brother, Tony, are on the run for the murder of a police officer after a failed robbery. Eventually they are caught and sent to prison for life.
The deck was stacked against him as it is against many people trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence.
The stories of both Wes Moores had to be told and, unfortunately, the story of Wes the inmate is happening all across America. There are so many black men faced with the same struggles and forced to choose either the streets or success.
This book is important in the education of young black men because it shows both paths are possible. It tells them they have a choice in what they want to do with their lives and that the path that they are on does not have to be the path they stay on. Their lives do not have to be based on their surroundings and environment, they don’t have to look up to rappers and criminals who glorify a destructive lifestyle of violence and poverty. This book provides a positive role model who escaped and broke a cycle.
The Wes Moore story can be more than a story, it can be used as a tool to find that there is something better for us in the world.
I praise this story, not as someone looking from the outside, but as a fellow young black man who has lived it. My youth was similar to Wes Moore the inmate. Me and my older brother, Cardell, often got into a lot of trouble and were delinquents. Cardell had the foresight to see where we were heading and, against my will, put me on the right path. He wouldn’t let me hang around with him and his friends and told me to focus on school and making something of myself.
Now my life is going in the direction of the author and I’m grateful there is a book out there that captures not only his story, but the story of other young kids going through the same thing. Cardell, on the other hand, is currently serving time. The Other Wes Moore is not the only reason I changed, but to have a book tell a story of people in the same situation I grew up in is a wonderful feeling.
I am the youngest of ten and of that ten, eight of us are males. All my mother’s boys, excluding me, have felonies and are either in prison or have spent at least a year or more there. I am the only one of my mother’s kids to complete high school traditionally, with a degree and not a GED.
This book is our life and story.
My seven brothers were trapped in their circumstance. My seven brothers went down the path of the other Wes Moore. I’m the only one out of eight that is going down the path of Wes Moore, the author. A person looking from the outside would not take a chance on me because the odds were not in my favor.
Wes Moore’s memoir shows us how our circumstances do not have to define us, but also shows those same circumstances can trap us. Both Wes Moores grew up surrounded by drugs and violence and both were given a chance to escape, but only one was able to. This shows what my life could have been because I see myself in both of their stories.
It is more than a novel to me; it is my story, my brother’s story, and the story of many other black teens who have already chosen the path they are on.
The Other Wes Moore helped me in my journey as a black man, but the circumstances depicted in the book should not exist. Drugs should not have flooded urban, minority communities and gun and gang violence should not be killing us. The other Wes Moore should not have had to resort back to selling drugs to support his family.
This story is a vehicle for addressing a bigger issue in our society: how hard it is to escape the cycle of poverty and violence.