In 2000, the Baltimore Sun ran a number of articles about Wes Moore. One of the articles celebrated the outstanding achievement of twenty-two-year-old Wes Moore (Moore) from Baltimore City and the Bronx in being named the first black Johns Hopkins student to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. The other articles concerned twenty-four-year-old Wes Moore (Wes), another black man from Baltimore City, for his part in the robbery of a jewelery store and ensuing murder of the store’s security guard. The guard was also an off-duty police officer and father of five small children.
Moore left for Oxford University in England, where he earned a master’s degree in international finance. Wes was convicted on a number of charges stemming from the robbery and murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Despite the soaring trajectory his life was taking, Moore found it hard to distance himself from a question forming in his mind since reading the news of the other Wes Moore. He questioned how two men with the same name and from similar neighborhoods could have taken such different paths. Moore decided he needed more information. He wrote a letter to Wes in prison, beginning a correspondence and eventual face-to-face relationship with the inmate.
The Other Wes Moore is a compilation of hours of conversations between Moore and Wes and interviews with family and friends regarding the timeline of events and aspects of the two men’s lives.
Both Moore and Wes grew up without fathers. Following Moore’s father’s untimely death when Moore was three, his mother, Joy, struggled to overcome her grief. After two years of raising three children alone, she decided to move her family to her childhood home in the Bronx to live with her parents.
Joy did her best to provide Moore with every opportunity to improve his life and get on the path to success. She enrolled him in a predominantly white private school north of the burrough and set strict rules for his social activities. The Bronx had slipped into a severe state of drug- and gang-related violence since her youth, and the streets were no place for a young black boy.
Despite Joy’s efforts, Moore was apathetic about life. He felt caught in the tug-of-war between his black community in the inner-city and the affluent white community at school. He became self-conscious, lethargic, and truant. Eventually, he was suspended from school and almost arrested for vandalism. These events prompted Joy to enroll Moore in military school at the age of twelve.
Wes’s childhood was different. His father was absentee. The two had only ever been in the same room three times in Wes’s life. His mother, Mary, raised Wes and his older half-brother Tony on her own, attending college part-time to fulfill her dream of earning a college degree. But federal funding supporting Mary’s tuition was canceled, and she went to work full-time.
With Mary out of the house often and Tony embroiled in the drug trade he’d entered as a young boy, Wes was left to his own devices. He lacked guidance and...
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(Shortform note: Because this book surrounds the lives of two men with the same name, differentiating between the two in the summary can be confusing. For this reason, the Wes Moore who is the author of the book will be referred to as “Moore,” and the Wes Moore serving a life sentence will be referred to as “Wes.”)
In 2000, the Baltimore Sun ran several stories about two young men named Wes Moore. One story was filled with accolades for Wes Moore, a recent Johns Hopkins University graduate who had received the prestigious honor of becoming the first black Rhodes Scholar—an academic postgraduate award granting fellows the opportunity to study at Oxford University in England—in university history. The others stories were about a jewelry store burglary that resulted in the heinous murder of an undercover police officer. In these stories, Wes Moore was the target of a massive manhunt and...
On one of their first visits together, Moore and Wes discussed growing up without a father. Moore asked Wes whether he ever thought about how different his life could have been if his father had been around. To Moore’s surprise, Wes said he didn’t. When Moore questioned the truthfulness of this sentiment,...
Moore has few memories of his father, Westley Moore, but he remembers the day his father taught him what it meant to be a man.
Moore was three years old and living with his parents and two sisters in a house along the border of Maryland and Washington D.C. One day, Moore was playing with his older half-sister, Nikki. They had a routine—Nikki would entertain Moore by blowing air into his face and then elicit a game of chase around the house.
On this particular day, Moore caught up to Nikki and punched her in the face. His action wasn’t an aggressive one. He was simply playing and surprised to have actually caught her. He didn’t know what else to do, so he hit her. Unfortunately, his mother, Joy, walked in right as his fist connected with Nikki’s face. She was livid. She screamed for Moore to go to his room, reminding him that he was never to hit a woman.
Moore didn’t know what he’d done wrong—after all, they’d been playing—but he feared the punishment that was sure to come.
Moore’s father was often the voice of reason in the house. Westley was a slender man, standing six foot two with a large mustache and manicured afro. He told Moore...
Moore’s life was turned upside down after his father died. Joy struggled to keep life going for her family. She was haunted by all of the things she could have done and should have done to save her husband’s life.
Joy took legal actions against the hospital, settling out of court to avoid years of legal proceedings. With the money, she created a foundation to help train paramedics to save others afflicted with the virus that killed Westley. His life could have been saved by a few easy procedures, but the first responders didn’t have the knowledge.
Still, her grief was too immense, and she realized she needed help. She packed up her home and children and moved them to the Bronx to live with her parents.
Moore was happy to see his grandparents. They were regular fixtures in his life and spoiled their grandchildren. His grandfather was a retired minister and grandmother a retired schoolteacher. They’d always intended to return to Jamaica after retirement, but that plan was abandoned when they saw how much Joy needed them.
Joy had no idea how much the Bronx had changed when she regaled Moore and his sisters with...
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Like any inner-city community, drugs were a part of life. In the Bronx, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine had been around for decades. But crack was a different beast.
The introduction of crack changed the drug game. Crack was more available and more addictive than other drugs. It was cheap and easier to produce. And the high demand for the drug created more volatile competition and more violence among the street gangs. It also created a need for more manpower. Many of the boys Moore new from the neighborhood were getting recruited.
But Joy was going to see to it that her children didn’t become casualties of the streets. Joy would make sure her children were given every opportunity to make something good of their lives. For Moore and Shani, that meant private school.
Joy knew that her kids would not be suitably educated in public schools. She’d attended Bronx public schools as a child, and Moore’s grandmother had taught in one for twenty-six years. During the period of deterioration in the community, the schools had not been spared. There were few resources, and almost half of the student body did not make it to...
The stories of both Wes Moores finding themselves as young men shows how difficult it can be for young people to understand themselves and the world around them. How does reading about the different paths the boys went down affect your reflections on your own childhood?
Who were some of your social influences as a child? How did those people help shape your understanding of yourself?
Moore had been visiting Wes for a few years by Wes’s thirty-second birthday. When Moore arrived for a birthday visit, something about the beautiful sunny day and the reality of aging in prison struck him. He became aware of how lucky he was to be a free man. Against the odds, he’d taken a path that allowed him to live in the world and feel the warm sun on his skin.
By now, Moore and Wes were close and spoke honestly about their lives. This day was no different. When Moore sat down, **Wes asked him when he’d first felt...
Moore had more advantages than most kids in his neighborhood, but he never appreciated them. He didn’t take life seriously, and his arrogance and aloofness cost him.
Moore’s performance in school continued to deteriorate at such a rate, his teachers were convinced he had a learning disability. Joy was starting to believe them. She couldn’t think of another explanation for her son’s poor grades and seeming inability to retain information.
One day, Joy learned that Moore’s inability to learn was not the problem. She heard Moore singing along to a new hip-hop song on the car radio, reciting every word verbatim. Joy had already traversed the first four stages of grief over Moore’s behavior, moving through denial, anger, and bargaining before becoming stuck in depression. But after hearing her son’s flawless rapping, depression swiftly changed to anger.
Moore was more apt to remember the words to hip-hop songs not simply because he loved hip-hop, but because hip-hop was essential to figuring out his life. Hip-hop had moved from a black cultural secret to a national obsession. Moore, like many blacks in inner-city communities, found a voice in the hard...
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Despite all of Joy’s threats about military school, Moore never took her seriously. Joy may not have taken the idea seriously either, but once she learned about Moore’s behavior at school, things changed.
The dean of Riverdale phoned the house one night with news of Moore’s academic and disciplinary probation. His grades were poor, his attendance was worse, and there’d been an incident with a smoke bomb at school. Joy listened to all of it with a stoic face.
Meanwhile, Moore and Shani were upstairs watching television. Moore was bored, so to entertain himself, he started pestering Shani. He punched her lightly in the arm over and over again, but she wouldn’t pay him any attention. He started punching her harder until she finally turned to tell him to stop. Moore was in mid-punch and connected with her face, splitting open her bottom lip.
Before Moore could stop her, Shani turned on the tears and ran to their mother. Moore sat in the bedroom waiting for Joy. On top of everything she’d just learned from the dean, this new situation would add fuel to the already blazing fire. He could hear her dragging up the stairs and prepared to explain everything, but...
Military school had grown on Moore. With the help and support of Captain Hill and other commanding officers, Moore realized that people were rooting for him to do well. Somewhere along the way, he started rooting for himself. He was now a platoon sergeant, a cadet master sergeant, and the youngest officer in the corps. Young men now followed his command, and he commanded well.
He’d done so well, the academy had offered him both academic and athletic scholarships after his first year. The strain of the tuition was removed from his family’s life.
Despite his success, Moore still longed to be home at times. These moments were especially hard when he received letters from his friends and family, such as the one he received from Justin one day. Two items of information hit him hard.
His old friend Shea had been charged with “possession with the intent to sell.” More than simply possessing drugs, the intent to sell carried a hefty mandatory sentence. The situation was not good for Moore’s friend.
The other news was more significant. Justin’s mother was dying from cancer. Justin was the only person still around his home, and his...
Both Wes Moores’ made mistakes in their lives, but one was able to rise above them, and one continued to spiral out of control. However, there are points in each story that seem to lead to these results.
Think of an event in your life that had a significant impact. How did this event change your life for the better or worse?
Moore couldn’t believe it when Wes said, as he often did during their time together, he wasn’t there the day of the robbery and murder, the crimes for which he was serving this life sentence. No matter how many times he heard it, Moore was always shocked at Wes’s inability to admit what he’d done.
More than once, Moore...
Moore had been playing varsity basketball for Valley Forge since his sophomore year. He was tall and good, and colleges had started to take an interest. By Moore’s senior year, he’d become a hot prospect for college recruiters. The New York Times had even published an article about his successes and the expectations for his future. He’d been paraded around campus after campus and felt wanted. He’d always dreamed of playing in the NBA, and these visits strengthened his belief in his future professional success.
However, Moore’s mind soon started to turn in a different direction. He started to think maybe he wasn’t as good as he thought he was. He attended recruiting camps and tournaments and got a firsthand look at who his competition was. In the mid-90s, that competition meant players like Kobe Bryant.
Where Moore had to work hard on the court, the game came naturally to others. They were more agile, graceful, and talented. He had potential, but he was never going to reach the level of skill and swagger these other players had. **His Uncle Howard had always told him to have a backup plan, so Moore turned his focus to becoming known for more than just...
Moore hadn’t been sure what to do with his life after he earned his associate’s degree from the Valley Forge junior college. His advisor had suggested he meet with a friend of hers who worked as the assistant director of admissions for Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins seemed like a long shot. It didn’t seem like the right place for Moore, but he agreed to meet with his advisor’s friend anyway.
Moore was surprised to meet Paul White, a friendly and animated black man. The two talked over a long lunch. Moore told Paul about his history, and Paul told Moore about the university and how it could be a good fit for him. Moore was sold on Johns Hopkins, but he still never thought he’d get in.
Moore was sure his SAT scores would put him out of the running at such a prestigious school. Even as a military officer with an associate’s degree, his scores were well below the average. Therefore, nothing surprised him more than receiving his acceptance letter and scholarship offer in the mail.
Moore knew that Paul White had played a massive role in his acceptance. **Talking with Paul had made him more than simply demographics and test...
Both Wes Moores had people in their life who served as mentors or advisors, and those people played significant roles in how their futures turned out.
Were there people in your life you looked up to as mentors or advisors? How did they influence your life?
As a Rhodes Scholar, Moore earned a master’s degree in international relations at Oxford University. After a year as an intern in Washington D.C., he decided the best way to understand America’s role in international policy was through finance. He joined the world of Wall Street.
Moore’s time on Wall Street was cut short when he decided to join in the war in Afghanistan as a member of the renowned 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper. Being back among American troops reminded Moore of why he’d enlisted to begin with. He had missed feeling part of something bigger than himself.
After his year-long deployment, Moore became the recipient of a White House Fellowship. He worked as a special assistant to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state at the time. That same year, he married a woman named Dawn.
Moore’s life has been filled with adventures, from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to singing in Carnegie Hall with a group of choir cadets. He’s traveled the world and spoke at the Democratic National Convention when Barack Obama accepted his nomination.
In 2007,** Moore started work on this book to try to understand how two boys from the same...
Moore’s hope was that these stories would help bring awareness to the struggles facing America’s underserved youth and start a conversation. Within both men’s stories are some key ideas relating to the general manner in which our society operates.
What are your main takeaways from the story of the two Wes Moores?