The Other Wes Moore.

"The chilling truth is that is story could have been mine.
  The tragedy is that my story could have been his."

Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners  with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this fascinating book, sets out to answer this profound question. In alternating narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.

This is probably one of the most phenomenal books I have ever read. It wasn't just the story, but the style of writing. Wes had the attention of the reader from beginning to the end. I picked it up a Saturday morning, and did not drop it till I was done the following morning. I had never heard of any of the Wes Moores. The book was one of others we had to read in a book club I joined. What are the odds? That the same day the Baltimore Sun published an article about the author, Wes Moore, with the headline "Local Graduate Named Rhodes Scholar.", there was another story about another Wes Moore who had been convicted in the robbery in which a police officer was killed. The story of the other Wes would have more impact on the author than his own story. The author had received one of the most prestigious awards for students in the world!

The story of the two men is one that leaves you in deep thoughts, it leaves you pondering about your own background. It also leaves the question of whether all of life is just by grace and perhaps we have no influence whatever on how things turn out, or whether in addition to grace, we have to do our own bit. What role does destiny play? How did the convicted Wes Moore choose to born into a dysfunctional home, and then I or perhaps you choose to be born into the home you are.

I have always had an understanding of the power of family. No man is an island. But even more, is the contribution of those you’re surrounded by in your life. The convicted Wes, hard as his mother tried was bound to end up how he did. His older brother was deeply involved with drug dealers, and was himself a drug dealer. Although, this brother always warned Wes about the dire implications of his juvenile delinquencies, he himself never stopped dealing. You see, it’s one thing to destroy your own life, but to be the tragic influence that destroys the lives of those coming behind? Calamitous. For me, at least.  You have to always remember that there are people who look up to you. Remember the influence your actions may have on such people.

The author Wes also grew up making some wrong choices, but his mother went to extrreme lengths to rescue her son from the streets. She even risked her son hating her at that moment,  but that was a risk she was willing to take.

Throughout the book, Wes kept reiterating that he was no better that the other Wes. I believe he was trying to be modest and didn’t want to come off as a self-righteous person who glorified himself or told his story such that we perceived he deserved everything he achieved. Therefore, he avoided the question I assume was on every reader’s mind: how did he turn out differently, despite having very similar circumstances?

I don’t know more about either of them that I read in the book and I know I have no right to say any crap  about circumstances I have never been in.  I didn’t grow up in a dangerous inner city or a dysfunctional family.  I don’t have any authority on what I am about to say. But yes, you guessed right; I will say them anyway.

If I were to name the two factors that ultimately set the two men apart, judging from reading the book, they would be family and choices. The book would have otherwise been a great source of inspiration and joy to me, but for a sudden realization; the theme of the vicious cycle of repetitive history. By the time the other Wes was about 33 or 35 years old, he too already had a grandchild. While he was in jail, his fifteen year old was already reproducing. There needs to be a renewal of the mind for many young people, especially young black men. What business does an eleven year old have being arrested for attempted murder?

Yes, successful Wes was also almost arrested at a very young age, but for the officer who took pity on him and released him. Wes had tendencies to be a truant and already started showing signs, but again, his mother wouldn’t let him. However, his mother could only do so much; in fact she was able to do as much because his grandparents were available to take care of him and his siblings while she worked. When she had to send him to military school, it was with the help of his grandparents and other family members that she was able to successfully do it. They rallied around to help. What I found really interesting was that Wes wasn’t the only successful one in his family; even his siblings turned put just as successful. On the other hand, the other Wes was arrested with his brother—the same one who dealt drugs. The brother would later die of kidney failure in jail.

Beyond all these, it all boils down to one thing—choice. In the end, we are responsible  for our choices. No matter how hard Wes’ mother could have been on him, if Wes had not decided on his own to make something out of his life, he would have remained in the rot, or be dead. Wes proves that although our backgrounds have a lot of effect on who we turn out to be, ultimately we are the sum total of all our choices. In the same vein, although his father was an irresponsible person who could not recognize his own child, the other Wes could have chosen NOT to be a member of a gang or deal drugs. I am not saying his not doing any of those things would have automatically translated to a better life. I am saying he would never have gone to prison, or be sentenced to life in prison without parole. He had a chance at redemption after he went to a vocational school and got back. It was his opportunity to leave that lifestyle. Eventually, he chose to go back to the former life. He was arrested for a robbery that led to the murder of an officer and convicted.

I just wish that more often than not we would be more careful with our choices. I hope we would always remember that when the consequences of our actions begin to play out, each person would bear those consequences all by themselves. It was a really emotional book, but it also was very eye opening.

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