Posted January 9, 2014 by Missy Burgess 

The Other Wes Moore

As part of an inclusive excellence opportunity, several members of our student affairs division are taking part in a book club in the month of January with the book "The Other Wes Moore: One Name Two Fates." The book is based on a true story of two young men growing up around the same time in Baltimore, who share a common name, Wes Moore. The author sought to offer an explanation of how two young men, growing up in a similar environment could end up in such difference places—one a Rhodes Scholar and military veteran and the other a convicted murderer.StudentswtihTeacherArticle

In the book, the author tells stories of specific times in each of their young lives of triumph and success. He tells the stories of both young men having interactions with the police and getting second chances. He discusses how both young men grew up without a father. He discusses their time in school and both struggling to be successful and fit into that environment. One Wes Moore was sent to a military school as a result; the other dropped out of high school but later earned his GED. The role of mentors in each life is discussed; both young men had them, but some were more positive than others. He talks about those moments of decision where choices ultimately led them in different ways.

In the end, though, the lives of the two Wes Moores took very different turns. The author, the successful Wes Moore, reflected at the end of the book about the question of what made the difference between he and the other Wes Moore. He said it was difficult for him to identify a defining moment, but he credits the opportunity and access to information and stories from “friends, family members, mentors, or even books” with showing him that he could be successful. That collection of moments of wisdom and second chances he was given helped him to define a different path for himself. He reflects with the idea that, “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

This story offers a good reminder to me of how often we get the opportunity to talk with students and connect them with information and stories of success. These singular moments can truly add up to make a big difference. Each person ultimately makes their own choices, but how do we create environments where success is a viable option?

While each conversation we have with a student may not change the course of his/her life, each one could be part of a bigger network of moments leading to a path of success. How so we have these pivotal conversations with the young people in our world who may not see college as an option, even in 2014?

Ultimately, as I finished the book, I immediately thought of a young person in my world who is struggling with some of the same choices as the two Wes Moores and wanted to share this story with him to illustrate how he can make choices right now that will put him on a path to success, and there are people who are willing to help him do that. I suspect this was the author’s hope and intent.

Travis Smiley offers the following thoughts as part of his "Call to Action" after the book: “Fundamentally, this story is about two boys, each of whom was going through a personal journey and searching for help. One of them received it; the other didn’t. And now the world stands witness to the results. Small interactions and effortless acts of kindness can mean the difference between failure and success, pain and pleasure—or becoming the people we loathe or love to become. We are more powerful than we realize, and I urge you to internalize the meanings of this remarkable story and unleash your own power.”

This book is an excellent examination of power and privilege and a much needed reminder to examine how we use them, which we sometimes need in the work that we do. It is a captivating story that provides for a quick read. Consider checking it out!

Missy Burgess

Missy Burgess is the Associate Director for Student Involvement at University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh.

Missy supervises student leadership and involvement staff in the Reeve Memorial Union, including volunteer service, student organizations and emerging programs, Reeve Union Board, leadership, diversity and inclusion, and greek life. She holds a bachelor’s from Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, a master’s from Kansas State University, and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of North Dakota.

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