TWO MEN. ONE NAME. TWO FATES. The Other Wes Moore tells the story of how two men could grow up in similar drug-ravaged neighborhoods, but one would go on to become a Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Army veteran while the other would serve a life sentence in prison.
In addition to obvious similarities between the two men named Wes Moore, another parallel is that they both received a series of second chances. The Wes Moore who would eventually grow up to pen this account didn’t always look like he would shape up to become a Rhodes Scholar. He was resistant to authority, did poorly in school, and was placed in handcuffs by age 11. The other Wes Moore didn’t fare too differently. He did poorly in school, sold drugs, and was arrested by age 11.
Despite their unsavory circumstances, both Wes Moore’s were offered several second chances. The “author Wes” avoided arrest by being let go by a police officer who hoped Wes had learned his lesson. The “other Wes” was offered the opportunity to gain marketable skills in Job Corps after release from prison. Notedly, the similarities between second chances stop here. Although the “author Wes” kept running into trouble, his mother eventually mustered the resources to give him a second chance by placing him in military school. After the Job Corps, the “other Wes” could never find employment due in large part to his ex-felon status. He too kept running into trouble. This time, the trouble led him straight to a life sentence in prison. The “author Wes” reflects gravely, “I guess it’s hard sometimes to distinguish between second chances and last chances.”
When you read The Other Wes Moore you don’t just read heartless statistics or tirades against the lost African-American youth. Instead, you read a personal account about real people who make real decisions, and have to deal with the real consequences. It compels you to realize that individuals living in crime-ridden neighborhoods are not just those people. It compels you to recognize their humanity and realize that you can have an impact on their lives. One such impact comes from recognizing your power to give someone a second chance. If you have the power to mentor, to employ, or simply to shift your view on people living with the label of “felon,” you could change another person’s life trajectory. Tavis Smiley’s message that accompanies this book states it perfectly, “Small interactions and effortless acts of kindness can mean the difference between failure and success.”
RECOMMENDATION: This book is a great read for those interested in intervention programs or working with at-risk youth.
NEW INSIGHT: Treat every second chance as if it just may be your last.
“In the Bronx, the idea of life’s impermanence underlined everything for kids my age—it drove some of us to a paralyzing apathy, stopped us from even thinking too far into the future.”
“The written word isn’t necessarily a chore, but can be a window into new worlds.”
A Child’s Rules for Returning Home from School:
“Never look people in the eye. Don’t smile, it makes you look weak. If someone yells for you, particularly after dark, just keep walking. Always keep your money in your front pocket, never in your back pocket. Know where the drug dealers and smokers are at all times. Know where the cops are at all times…If night [falls] too soon…run all the way.”
“For the first time in a long time I was reminded of the daily miracle of my freedom, the ability to move, explore, meet new people, or simply enjoy the sun beating down on my face.”
“We will do what others expect of us. If they expect us to graduate, we will graduate. If they expect us to get a job, we will get a job. If they expect us to go to jail, then that’s where we will end up too.”
“The common bond of humanity and decency that we share is stronger than any conflict, any adversity, and challenge. Fighting for your convictions is important. But finding peace is paramount. Knowing when to fight and when to seek peace is wisdom.”