One Wes Moore was a Rhodes Scholar

the other Wes Moore is in prison for killing a police officer

‘The Other Wes Moore’ tells a tale of two inner-city destinies

April 30, 2010|By Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

"Baltimore Sons." Wes Moore says that could have been the title of the combined autobiography and biography that he wrote about himself and a different Wes Moore. Both Wes Moores come from Baltimore. But one has become a Johns Hopkins University graduate and global-banking strategist, while the other is serving a life sentence for the murder of a security guard (an off-duty policeman) during the robbery of a Pikesville jewelry store.

On December 9, 2000, one Wes Moore was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. On February 7, 2000, another Wes Moore was committing a heinous crime. Seeing his own success story and his doppelganger's deplorable acts chronicled in the Baltimore Sun set off an urgent fascination in the Moore who went to Hopkins.

That fascination has grown into the book, "The Other Wes Moore: One Name and Two Fates —A Story of Tragedy and Hope," a moving and tough-minded account of growing up in volatile urban spaces. It contains nuanced characterizations of supporting characters, like the author's mother, Joy, and the other Moore's mother, Mary. But what makes it so provocative is the insight and energy it derives from the twin narratives of the two young men at its core. It's a tale of two inner-city destinies.

Moore took time this week to answer questions about himself, the other Wes, and what he hopes readers will take from "The Other Wes Moore."

Q: What beyond the coincidence of your names ignited your ambition to investigate this other man's life — and your own early life?

A: When the stories started coming out early in the investigation, and reported that his mother had started to co-operate with police, and was making public statements to Wes and [his half-brother] Tony, saying, "come home, I'm worried about you, turn yourself in" — just knowing the community, I guessed that the mother was the only parent in the house. And that was confirmed pretty quickly when I started corresponding with and talking to Wes. It resonated with me. I had seen my mother's pain when she had to do things on her own.

Q: Your father died young, when you were 3. The other Wes Moore told you, "You're father wasn't there because he couldn't be; my father wasn't there because he chose not to be." Did you see the parallels as well as the differences, immediately?

A: Even when I was young, there were times I could tell my mother wasn't handling my father's death well, but she was trying to make life for us as normal as possible. She was shielding us from loss and the meaning of loss, though she ended up losing control of her own life in many ways. That was the impetus for her calling up her parents and saying, "I need help." Her kids were getting older, ready for school. We had a lot of relatives from my father's side of the family in Maryland, and she had lots of college friends; everyone was being very supportive. But she found something compelling about the idea of going to live with her parents, at the home they had lived in for decades in the Bronx.

Wes' mother Mary didn't have that option as a single parent. Her own mother died when Mary was a teenage mother herself, and that death devastated Mary's father. Mary did what she could do, moving to different neighborhoods, from Pennsylvania Avenue and Cherry Hill to Northwood and Dundee Village. But the challenge of being a mother is so daunting.

Q: The Bronx wasn't the answer for you, even when your mother sent you to Riverdale School in the one plush part of the borough. Isn't part of the book's point that when you're trying to course-correct the lives of "at-risk" kids, you can't just take them back and forth between some protected enclave and the streets?

A: Sometimes you think the answer is plucking kids out their communities, but that can be almost the worst thing. The Riverdale story illustrates that. It's a beautiful school, and my mother knew all about it from the time she was a girl; she knew that JFK went there. She thought that would be it: that's where I needed to go. But that's where I got lost. Unless you have help making that transition, that kind of move can be counter-productive. You need to have people who can make the ties between what you learn in a place like that and how you experience life in your neighborhood. There's got to be a more holistic way to address coming to adulthood. Transplanting is not the solution.

People ask me, "Wasn't the answer for you being sent to Pennsylvania [to the Valley Forge Military Academy]? That's missing the point. The important change wasn't the physical change. It was the psychological change. It was a growth in understanding about personal responsibilty, leadership and accountability.

Q: Isn't part of the point of the Valley Forge story that your mother made sure you had people in your corner there, making you want to succeed?

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