“The Other Wes Moore” Book Review

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“The Other Wes Moore” is a non-fiction account of two young men and their respective journeys into adulthood. One, whom I called “free” Wes Moore grows up in Baltimore, his father dies at a young age from a medical complication and his mother is struggling to raise him and her other two children as a single mother (but with some support from her parents). “Imprisoned” Wes Moore has a similar situation with some slight differences. His father is alive but disinterested in raising his child and his older brother is a major drug dealer in Baltimore. They share the same name, come from the same gritty streets of Baltimore but one Wes becomes a Rhodes Scholar, soldier in the U.S. Army and  a business man working on Wall Street. The other, a drug dealer with a G.E.D. who is currently spending his life behind bars for the robbery and attempted murder of a security officer. These stories point to agency and the ever lasting debate regarding nature vs. nurture. The distinction  between “free” Wes and “imprisoned” Wes are expectations. Unfortunately, society at large expects very little from young black men growing up in urban American cities. No one expects them to graduate from high school, get married, raise children and pursue their dreams by using their intellect. Thus, having a strong support system of at least one supportive parent, teachers, family members and friends who set standards for these young men creating a launching pad for success.This is what enabled “free” Wes to soar later on in life. “Imprisoned” Wes only had a series of bad role models. Adults who adhered to the adage, “do what I say and not what I do.” He had no one to hold him accountable for his actions. Without this, his take off was rocky, at best, and when he flew, the flight was brief and he came crashing down soon after. Having agency and the will to succeed is paramount but having people around at a very young age who consistently nurture those ambitions (particularly for young girls and boys growing up in dire environments) makes all the difference. Now there are some, I’m sure, who have done it without a strong support system, but they are the exception and not the rule. “The Other Wes Moore” is worth reading because it brings into question why and how we are successful and what can we do to ensure that others will “make it” as well. As long as poverty and disparity exists, these are questions worth pondering and answering.

 

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