When a book is about an author’s compelling personal history, nothing brings the book alive as much as actually meeting the author or seeing them in an interview. Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, was a featured guest on a recent installment of The Oprah Show about people with the same name (including an adolescent Oprah Winfrey) and how different they and their lives are. Sort of a parallel universe except that just having someone else’s name doesn’t signify much because, after all, there are only so many names.
Still the concept is interesting. And in the case of Wes Moore, it is eerily like a parallel universe — both young black men raised in inner-city neighborhoods by single mothers — so much so that it prompted the author to write about the experience.
Both were subjected to the same temptations of violence, drug use and dealing, they both stubbornly fought against the square path of school and good grades that might lead to careers that could land them securely in the middle class.
Wes Moore the author finally saw the light — or at least an early flicker — after several failed attempts to run away from the military school where his mother sent him as a last resort.
The other Wes Moore was also bright and rebellious, dabbling in crime and violence and finally convicted of participating in a robbery that resulted in the killing of an off-duty policeman. Sentenced to life in prison, Moore has converted to the Muslim faith and is helping to mentor other young black men from behind bars.
On his way to England as a Rhodes Scholar, Wes Moore (the author) read about the other Wes Moore and pondered the similarities in a kind of there-but-by-the-grace-of-God realization. After writing the imprisoned Wes Moore, meeting him and spending years writing letters and visiting, Moore felt compelled to write about their parallel universes.
There he was on Oprah’s show, a handsome, shining example of grit and fortitude and success juxtaposed against a young man in prison presented only via photograph because the family of his victim objected to the idea of notarizing him on national television. And there were the two mothers, women remarkably similar — stalwart black women who’d been single mothers, one widowed the other never married.
When Oprah asked how he accounted for the different paths their lives eventually took, Moore the author had no specifics to offer. But as was the case with his book, he argued for the kinds of support system that his family provided (through mentorship and other supportive programs) to help urban youth looking at the same grim choices as he and the other Wes Moore.