The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates is a memoir with a twist. Wes Moore is a young black man who rose from the drug, crime and poverty-stricken streets of Baltimore to attain prestigious academic honors. The twist is that Wes Moore is also a man who killed a Baltimore policeman while robbing a jewelry store. These two men grew up in the same neighborhood, both faced the same life obstacles, but they ended up on very different paths. One a Rhodes Scholar, interning for Condoleezza Rice, the other was behind bars for the rest of his life. It is the name of the latter individual that drove the author to reach out to him, to attempt to understand how they ended up in very different places.
Set in Baltimore we are given two boys with similar backgrounds and choices. The two Wes’ lived in the same neighborhood, both were raised by single mothers and both had early age brushes with law enforcement. The author believes that he is showing us a paralleling of lives by saying that what happened to the Other Wes Moore could have happened to him, this is not the case but it is interesting. “The Other Wes Moore” is a beautifully written narrative study on the effects of class and that alone makes it unique. Two black youths, who live in the same neighborhood, but in different classes.
The twist is more like a literary hook so-to-speak. Wes Moore’s mother was raised by college educated parents and she would have been a college graduate had it not been for forces beyond her control; his father was no slouch either although he dies early on. When Wes get too rambunctious she had the means to put him into military school. The Other Wes’ life was plagued with poverty and violence inside and outside his home, one day his father just takes off. As a result of this familial disengagement he ends up having children by multiple women and selling drugs. Here, there is much to be said about “active parenting”.
The story is good, but I was quite disturbed and sadden that two hospitals allowed Race to place a major role in the deaths of two of the story’s characters. Included in the book is a short ‘call to action’ by Tavis Smiley which will also, like the book, miss its intend mark. “The Other Wes Moore” will not reach the people who need to read it the most. This book is not filled with glorified violent acts, broad shouldered men, barely dressed married-single women, crime lords or thugs trying to get their paper. This book is not a copy of another book with changed names and places. No, it does not remain in the ghetto universe.
Throughout the book the Wes’ dialogue and we are exposed to the realest grit that life has to offer. We see the effects of not having positive mentors urban communities. We see the possibilities. We see the hope, but we also see the hopelessness. As the book ends we are left with these questions: It is The Other Wes Moore’s fault that he was born into a lower class family? Was it his fault that he became a street urchin? Was it his mothers? His fathers? Or is it just easier to blame them instead the struggle in our society between, The haves and The have nots, The wants and The want mores?
Often these type of narratives make race or racism the deciding factor, “the man was holding me down” or “the opportunities were not there”, this is not so with Wes Moore’s book. These two children lived in the same neighborhood, shared the same obstacles and were divided only by Class. Class and it’s socioeconomic effects are subjects that very few want to discuss. Classism exist in every community, including the black ones. Wes Moore really didn’t need the hook, but I completely understand. And, he never really answers the question, How did this happen? In truth, he doesn’t need to because he knows that the answer is his upbringing. The book does not come across as arrogant, nor pretentious and I hope that this book will open discussions on the class warfare that is prevalent in our society. “The Other Wes Moore” is less of a textbook for school and more of a textbook for life, so I am including a link to the author’s website, where there are resources for those that want to make a difference in their community, Wes Moore.
Wes Moore forces us to look at an overlooked, much maligned, under represented segment of our population, our children. They are ten percent of our population, but one hundred percent of our future. While adults spend countless hours with electronic doohickeys and bicker over race, politics and other created nonsense a child somewhere needs help with their homework, and another one needs to be told to put down the video game and pick up a book. What “The Other Wes Moore” points out more than anything else is that a child’s life course could be altered by acts as simple as that.
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates is an amazing book and I can’t stress it enough. The way this book is written is worth the read alone. The author’s style is simply beautiful. “The Other Wes Moore” makes you smile, and does much to restore some of the promise that modern literature has lost.