Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates

Critical Book Review

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The objective of this study is to conduct a critical book review of the book entitled “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” written by Wes Moore (2011) and published by Random House LLC. Williams (2010) reports that both men in the book have the same name however, “one is Rhodes Scholar and John Hopkins graduate who was a speaker at the 2008 Democratic Convention. The other is a former drug dealer, convicted of murdering a police officer and serving a life sentence at Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland.” (p.1) In addition, Williams reports that both of these men, named Wes Moore “were profiled in the Baltimore Sun for their deeds.” (2010, p.1)

Overview

Both of these young men were raised at the same time and in the same area that was high in poverty and plagued by drugs and crime. Each began school at the same time and each had brushes with the law due to committing petty crimes and all of this about the same time. However, the lives of these two men, both unnamed Wes Moore “took dramatically different paths.” (the Wes Moore who wrote the book entitled “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” wasn’t able to dismiss the coincidence or the idea that he and the other Wes Moore shared more than just their name or reports in the same newspaper about their petty crimes. We Moore the author upon finding out that the other Wes Moore had been convicted of murder and was serving life without parole mailed a letter to the other West Moore and asked questions that had plagued him asking the other Wes Moore who he was actually and how did it happen that he had killed someone and was now in prison without a chance to parole. The correspondence turned into a relationship that lasted for quite a few years. Wes Moore, the author visited the other Wes Moore in prison and discovered that each had grown up in neighborhoods that were similar and neither Wes Moore had a father in the home and both had particularly difficult childhood experiences. Each Wes Moore had hung out “on similar corners with similar crews and both had run into trouble with the police.” (Waco Chamber, 2011, p. 3) Most importantly, Wes Moore, the author learned that “at each stage of their young lives they had run into trouble with the police. At each stage of their young lives they had come across similar moments of decisions, yet their choices and the people in their lives would lead them to astonishingly different destinies.” (Waco Chamber, 2011, p. 3) Wes Moore the author wrote the book in an attempt to relate how the two young men, so similar, from such similar backgrounds, would have such very different and contrasting destinies.

II. The Home Lives of the Two Wes Moores

As the book informs the readers, both of the young Wes Moores had mothers who worked very hard and who were interested in the best chance for their sons. However, the difference that is noted is the response of each of these mothers to their son’s challenges and obstacles. For example, the mother of Wes Moore, the author was raised by parents who had received a college education and had spent her entire life working toward achieving for not only herself but for her family. Wes Moore, the author’s mother relocated several times in an attempt to find a more stable environment in which to rear her kids and she also worked multiple jobs in able to send her children to private schools. At the time that Wes Moore, the author appeared to be headed into the wrong lifestyle with the wrong set of friends, she made emotional and economic sacrifices in order to place her son into military school. She did not allow for herself nor for her children to give in to the negativity in their environment. In contrast, the other Wes Moore’s mother, while initially attempting to resist the negativity in her and her child’s environment did eventually wax weak and gave up and this resulted in her children viewing violence as a given and something acceptable to use in search of resolutions to problems in their lives. The other Wes Moore lives out a life exposed to his father’s residence, The Murphy Homes Projects which were constructed in 1962 and reported to be named after “George Murphy a legend in Baltimore for his work as a groundbreaking educator, but just as often they went by a self-explanatory nickname, Murder Homes.” (Moore, 2011, p. 27) These were some of Baltimore’s most dangerous projects and it is reported that the walls and floors were “coated with filth and graffiti.” (Moore, 2011, p. 27) The fluorescent tubes partially broken flickered in the cinderblock hallways, the elevators were always broke and the stairways urine scented. It is stated that he drug game “was everywhere, with a gun handle protruding from the top of every tenth’s teenagers’ waistline.” (Moore, 2011, p. 27) The other Wes viewed his brother tony as a “certified gansta” since tony had begun dealing drugs at Murphy Homes prior to the age of ten. It is stated that the eyes of Tony “inspired fear” and Moore states that the term in the hood for Tony’s face that a “cold, frozen stare” or the “ice grille” characterized by a “look of blank hostility that makes two intense feelings — the fire evoked by grille (which is also slang for face), and the cold of the ice.” (Moore, 2011, p. 28) Moore states that the tough facade “is just a way to hide a deeper pain or depression that kids don’t know how to deal with. A bottomless chasm of insecurity and self-doubt that gnaws at them.” (Moore, 2011, p. 28) Moore importantly states that young boys “are more likely to believe in thems3elves if they know that there’s someone somewhere who shares that belief. To carry the burden of belief alone is too much for most young shoulders.” (2011, p. 28)

III. Diverging of the Paths of the Two Boys Named Wes Moore

Wes Moore, the author and his family moved to live with his mother’s parents not long after his father passed away. His grandfather was a retired minister and his grandmother a retired elementary school teacher who had taught in the Bronx. Wes, the author was very happy about moving in with his grandparents although he could tell his mother was quite nervous. Wes, the author reports that when his grandparents first moved to the United States that they set a goal to purchase the house that they lived in on Pauling Avenue. The house was their “stake in their new country. America allowed them to create a life they couldn’t have dreamed of in their home countries of Jamaica and Cuba.” (Moore, 2011, p. 49) However, his grandparents spoke of how “drugs and violence had slowly crept in” to their neighborhood and how “fear and apathy had become the new norm in what had once been a close-knit community” and they even spoke of something that Web had not heard before and that was ‘crack’. (Moore, 2011, p. 50) Wes the author’s grandfather wanted to follow his footsteps in the ministry and lead his own congregation however, he had to finish school. After marrying Wes’ grandmother, his grandfather left both his newly wedded wife and homeland to attend “Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania.” (Moore, 2011, p. 50) When his grandfather first arrived at college a man took his to get the clothes he needed as the ones he was wearing from Jamaica were not suitable for the winter. It is stated in Moore’s book that “the shipping excursion was the first of many encounters between my grandfather and this man, who would become a mentor, teacher, and friend to him. They spent many hours talking about the changing world and the dawning of independence and liberation movements across the African Diaspora.” (Moore, 2011, p. 41) Wes, the author speaks of his new home with his grandparents and the environment in which it was situated stated “whole blocks were abandoned buildings blackened and hollowed by fires set by arsonists…drug fiends were still making sue of those abandoned buildings for activities that would’ve blown my mind. I walked past neighbors whose eyes overflowed with desperation and expression, people who had watched their once-proud neighborhood become synonymous with the collapse of the American inner city.” (Moore, 2011, p. 43) Moore states that as he traveled along the cracked sidewalks in his grandparent’s neighborhood that he “passed a new signifier or urban decay…with every step.” (Moore, 2011, p. 43) Moore stated that he quickly learned that the basketball court in the Bronx had something special about it “The basketball court is a strange patch of neutral ground, a meeting place for every element of a neighborhood’s cohort of young men. You’d find the high school phenoms running circles around the overweight has-beens, guys who’d effortlessly played above-the-rim years ago trying to catch their breath and salvage what was left of their once-stylish games. You’d find the drug dealers there, mostly playing the widelines, better major money on pickup games and amateur tournaments but occasionally stepping onto the court smelling like a fresh haircut and with gear on that was too fine for sweating in.” (p.44) Moore states that also found on the Bronx basketball court were the “scrubs talking smack a mile a minute and the church boys who didn’t even bother changing out of their pointy shoes and button-up shirts. You’d find the freelance thugs there as well. Wes, the author’s mother determined after they moved to the Bronx that he would most definitely not attend public school. And states that “no matter how much the wo5rlda round us seemed ready to crumble, my mother was determined to see us through it. When we moved to New York, she worked multiple jobs, from a freelance writer for magazines and television to a furrier’s assistant — whatever she could do to help cover her growing expenses.” (Moore, 2011, p. 47) Wes, the author states that his mother was determined to provide for her children and to help out her own parents living on small pensions and a Social Security check. Wes’ grandparents would pick the children up from school and make dinner for the children and get them to bed and his mother would come in late at night from the last job of the day walking straight to their bedrooms an covering them up and kissing them goodnight.

Wes, the author relates the damage that crack cocaine had done to the communities in the country and states that the Bronx was just such a community and he relates that crack was quite different from other preceding drugs in that crack cocaine was “crazily accessible and insanely potent- and addictive.” (Moore, 2011, p. 51) As well the methods of distributing crack was different from other drugs and money could be made quite quickly with crack cocaine. The crack epidemic had everyone feeling “threatened and defensive.” (Moore, 2011, p.51) Additionally Moore relates that the situation was “almost surreal. In 2008, there were 416 homicides in New York City and in 1990 there were 2,605 and those murders “were concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods, and the victims were concentrated in a single demographic: young black men. In some neighborhoods, the young men would have been safer living in war zones.” (Moore, 2011, p. 51) Moore sates that after starting Riverdale, the school his mother wanted him to attend and the school attended by John F. Kennedy Jr. that his confidence fell and his grades fell as well. He states he was “disappointed with Ds, pleasantly satisfied with Cs and celebratory about a B” allowing his standards at school “to become pathetic.” (Moore, 2011, p. 54) Moore relates that in third grade he was reading at a second-grade level and learned alter in his life that “the way that many governors projected the number of beds they’d need for prison facilities was by examining the reading scores of third graders.” (Moore, 2011, p. 54) Wes the author made a close friend, Justin and Justin would question him about his study habits and the thing about this was that Justice “had it worse than I did but was still one of the best-perfuming kids in the class.” (Moore, 2011, p. 55) Wes the author explained to his friend Justin that his mother as threatening military school but despite her threats he did not believe that she would ever send him away to military school. Moore states “My mother couldn’t send me away. She needed a man in the home to look after Shani and Nikki, not to mention her right? She had to be bluffing. Plus in Caribbean households, boys were often indulged little princes, Minor infractions were tolerated and ‘he’s just being a boy’ was an all-purpose excuse for anything short of a felony. And what was a military school anyway? A bunch of countrified folks yelling and screaming, waving guns, and chewing tobacco, forcing confused kids to crawl through mud, preparing them to get killed in a war? My mother wouldn’t even let me have toy guns in the house. It was absurd.” (Moore, 2011, p. 55) His friend Justin answers him by simply stating “We’ll see what happens” and smirking as he said it. (Moore, 2011, p. 55)

The other Wes lived in four neighborhoods and finally would up in Baltimore County. There were two reasons that his mother decided to move: (1) Tony, his brother was shot in the chest during a drug deal; and (2) Wes failed the sixth grade and was required to repeat it. The dropout rate in Baltimore City was 70% at the time, Tony had already dropped out and Mary, the other Wes’ mother did not want him to follow suit. The book relates that the other Wes noticed a kid standing on the corner with a set of headsets wearing a diamond ring and asked where he could get one. They kiss told him that “All you have to do is wear one and every time you see jakes roll by, you just push this button and say something. When your shift is over, you come by and I’ll give you your money.” (Moore, 2011, p. 58) Moore states that the other Wes was “sold, It seemed like a sweet setup. Simply wear a headset, hang out with new friends, notify people when you see police coming and get paid at the end of the day. He knew what game this was, the same game that had consumed Tony and put a bullet or two in him.” (Moore, 2011, p. 58) It is stated that Wes “rationalized” that he was not really selling drugs. After all he was not doing well in school and he just really wanted to play football or become a rapper and if he could make some money in the time being…”just a little pocket money to hold him over till he was running in the end zone of RFK Stadium or rocking a sold-out crowd in Madison Square Garden — why not? This game didn’t require studying or exams. It didn’t require a degree or vocational skills. All he needed was ambition. And guts. And, as Wes was soon to understand, an ability to live with constant fear.” (Moore, 2011, p. 58) The other Wes had his first experience with smoking marijuana and although it was a sickening experience for him since he was also drunk, after he had recovered he felt powerful and exhilarated and realized “how time seemed to stop when he was how, how the drug — smoking it, felling its effects, recovering from it — made him forget everything else. And how he understood, faintly, how addictive that feeling could be and how easy it would be to make money off selling that feeling to people who needed it.” (Moore, 2011, p. 62) Therefore, it was with great resolve that Wes “placed the headset over his freshly cut fade and adjusted it..there was definitely money to be made.” (Moore, 2011, p. 62)

Wes admired his brother Tony greatly however, he realized that the more he wanted to be and became like Tony the more he was rejected by his brother. The other Wes eventually fell into selling drugs and after a fight with Tony and his mother discovered and flushed four thousand dollars worth of drugs Wes knew he had to figure out how to make that money back to pay those he owed for the drugs. It is sated that as the “door slammed behind Wes” that his mother sat down and questioned who was to blame for Wes’ decisions, “Tony, the neighborhood, the school system, Wes’s friends….” (Moore, 2011, p. 74) Wes, the author’s mother had been told by his teacher that he was slow in learning and in retaining information however, while driving along with his mother in the car he recites a verse from “the Chubb Rock song…the road lost my mother’s full attention momentarily and she stared down at me. She looked incredulous.” (Moore, 2011, p. 73) Wes, the author’s mother realized that there was nothing slow at all about her son but that instead he was simply lazy and not applying himself to his learning. Wes, the author was headed to military school. About this same time the other Wes was headed to a program called Job Corps however, Wes the author succeeded where the other Wes failed and was sucked back into the drug game.

IV. Examining the Views of the Two Wes Moores

In a conversation between the two men named Wes Moore, the other Wes asked Wes the author when it was that he felt like he had become a man. Wes, the author told him “I think it was when I first felt accountable to people other than myself. When I first cared that my actions mattered to people other than just me.” (Moore, 2011, p. 66) The other Wes states “From everything you told me, both of us did some pretty wrong stuff when we were younger, And both of us had second changes. But if the situation or the context where you make the decisions don’t change, then second chances don’t mean to much huh?” (Moore, 2011, p. 66) In an interview, Wes the author is asked the question as follows: “Both you and the other Wes Moore make some bad decisions — at one point he tries to stab somebody — because you’re unwilling to lose face. Do you think the culture of machismo among many young black men is part of the problem?” (Rogers, 2010, p. 1) Wes, the author answers by stating “I think there’s a larger problem in terms of understanding what manhood is. We have so many families in so many situations where people don’t have men in the home, so they don’t know what manhood really means. There are so many women across the country who have the extraordinary burden of raising their children on their own. My mom said, “I can try to teach you how to be a good human being, but I can never teach you how to be a man.” (Rogers, 2010, p. 1) According to Wes Moore, the author “We need to have a stronger system of support in order for that to change. Seeing so many kids feeling so alone and looking for acceptance, if we’re not willing to show these kids a larger sense of community, those guys in the gangs will. One of the great things about this book was creating ties with organizations across the country doing work with communities and kids that are largely forgotten about.” (Rogers, 2010, p. 1)

V. Analysis

The difference in the lives of these two men, both named Wes Moore, both having similar backgrounds, both being African-American, both living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and families, is the mentors that were in the lives of these two individuals. While Wes the author’s mother never crumbled in the face of circumstances, the other Wes’ mother was not as strong and perhaps because she herself did not have the mentors needed in her life to remain strong. Wes the author’s mother was the child of a retired minister and elementary school teacher and she had her parent as mentors that imparted strong values and standards and who assisted her in learning how to set goals and achieve those goals as she did by working multiple jobs and even when she admitted after her husband died that she could no longer raise her children alone without assistance from a broader base of support which her parents were able to provide taking up her slack while she worked late at night by picking up the children after school and seeing to it that they did their homework, ate their dinner and went to bed on time. While Mary, the mother of the other Wes, chose to turn her head aside rather than to see the facts staring her in the face about the direction that her son’s life had taken, Wes, the author’s mother never flinched always looking the truth straight on and dealing with the facts just as they were. In other words, no hiding from the pain or harsh reality for Wes the author’s mother and this one quality served to provide Wes the author the support required to situate him in a different setting that would challenge and discipline him and enable him to mature in a healthy manner. Wes the author learned to set goals that were rational, reasonable, and achievable unlike the other Wes who planned to be a Rapper or NFL football star. The other Wes did not have the mentors needed in his life to direct him in a rational and planned path that would lead to better outcomes than drug dealing and ultimately committing murder and being imprisoned without the possibility of parole.

It is notable that mentoring is something that is passed from one generation to another once one generation of individuals has been on the receiving end of healthy mentoring relationships such as Wes the author’s grandfather who upon arriving in the United States to attend school met a man that became a close friend and mentor to him and this assisted the progression of his life path and influenced his decisions. Because Wes the author’s grandfather had the benefit of a mentor that positively impacted his life, then he was able to provide his children with positive guidance so that they too could realize success and so that they would have the coping skills and standards to negotiate their own destiny in a positive way. Ultimately, Wes, the author, also had the benefit of people in his life to mentor him and to guide him so that he would not, like the other Wes, have unrealistic goals and so that he would not be sucked into the games of the street and drug trade realizing that hard work brings about making reasonable money rather than him entering into a life of drug dealing to make quick money that was also deadly money that would land him nowhere but in prison.

Conclusion

From the view of Wes Moore, the author, the only difference between him and the other Wes Moore, were the mentors available in their lives to assist them with decision-making at specific junctures in their growing up and these mentors and the advice they provided made all the difference because each of these young men were very similarly matched in terms of their family life, their socio-economic status, their level of intelligence, and their chance at either succeeding or failing.

Bibliography

Moore, W. (2011) The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. Random House LLC. 2011. Retrieved from: http://books.google.com/books?id=bjvUKLdN-eQC&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Rogers, T. (2010) The Other Wes Moore: The Felon and the Rhodes Scholar. Salon. Retrieved from: http://www.salon.com/2010/05/09/wes_moore_interview/

The Other Wes Moore One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. Spiegel & Grau trade paperbacks, 2011. Book Review. Waco Chamber. Retrieved from: http://www.wacochamber.com/images/WesMooreDiscussionGuide.pdf


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