Arts & Features Assistant Editor
Wes Moore never saw himself as an author. He majored in international relations and he enjoyed math and numbers more than anything else.
And yet he ended up writing The Other Wes Moore, and it was chosen by UNC Asheville for this year’s incoming freshmen assigned reading. The First Year Experience Advisory Committee selects
a book as a means of introducing the new students to our campus’ values.
“The First Year Experience Advisory Committee is a collaborative committee between academic affairs and student affairs, it has faculty and staff on it and we read a lot of books,” said Jackie McHargue, dean of students and co-chair of the committee. “We choose the ones that might be the most applicable to learning and discussion on our campus.”
McHargue said she read The Other Wes Moore multiple times before recommending it to the committee.
“It’s fantastic. I’ve read it before and it’s been in my mind for a while,” McHargue said. “I think it would be great for our campus.”
McHargue said she appreciated how the book analyzed the impact of possibility, the importance of an individual’s decisions and how all of these factors provide and limit opportunity.
“Some of those are environmental, some of those are impacted by race, socioeconomic status, all of those things, but to have them put together in a book that was so readable, so approachable and you get to hear the living, breathing story from him is just amazing,” she said. “It was a unanimous decision once we all read it.”
The book follows the lives of two boys from Baltimore, both named Wes Moore. One grew to become an author, paratrooper and White House Fellow. The other now serves a life sentence in Jessup Correctional Institute for the murdering Sgt. Bruce Prothero of the Baltimore Police Force.
“So for The Other Wes Moore, the way it really came about was that there was a newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, which is my hometown paper in Baltimore. The day after I received the Rhodes scholarship, it was writing this article about a local kid who had just received this Rhodes scholarship and at the same time, they were writing an article about another guy, although it was really more about a crime that happened, where four guys ended up robbing a jewelry store,” Moore said. “In the process of robbing that jewelry store, they ended up murdering an off-duty police officer.”
Sgt. Prothero was a 13-year veteran of the police force, received Police Officer of the Year Award three times and was a father of five children when he was killed.
“They eventually captured all four guys after a national 14 day manhunt and I found out that one of the people that they were looking for, who was actually captured, tried and convicted, was this guy whose name was also Wes Moore. I knew that there were questions that they wanted to ask and I knew that he was the only one who could answer them, so one day I just decided to reach out to him,” Moore said.
Something about the familiarity of the other Moore struck a chord with the author. It was a familiarity that existed beyond a shared name and hometown.
“I first wrote him a note, the first thing I wrote him was kind of like, ‘Hey Wes, my name is Wes, here’s how I heard about you,’” Moore said.
Moore received a response about a month later.
“The honest answer is if it was like, he had wrote it with crayon, I would have looked at it and said, ‘I get it.’ And the problem is I never received that letter from him. The problem is that the letter I did receive was one of the most interesting and articulate letters I’ve ever received in my life. And it only led to more questions. And that one letter turned into dozens of letters, those dozens of letters turned into dozens of visits,” Moore said.
This relationship continued long after this first exchanging of letters and still exists today. At his lecture, Moore mentioned he planned to visit the other Moore after his trip to Asheville.
“I mean, I don’t know what time it is right now, but I can tell you what Wes is probably doing right now, only because I have his schedule memorized and it hasn’t changed in 17 years. It’s just been one of these things where I think to myself, I couldn’t even imagine what that must be like,” Moore said. “I think the reason we got so close is because in many ways, in just getting to know him, it continues to remind me how thin that line is between our life and somebody else’s life altogether.”
This line would eventually become a major theme in the story behind The Other Wes Moore.
“A friend of mine was an author and she said to me, ‘I think there’s a bigger story here, I think you should write about it,’” Moore said.
He initially brushed the concept aside, citing his time constraints and lack of creative writing experience.
“That’s not really my background,” Moore said. “I studied in national relations and economics, so I really have more of quantitative mind. I like data, I like numbers. I never was a writer, I never fancied myself to be a writer per se.”
Moore eventually indulged his friend’s wish when he went out to lunch with her and her book agent.
“We started talking and that’s when she said, ‘I think there really is a book here,’” Moore said.
One of the first things Moore did after agreeing to write the book was to visit the imprisoned Moore to ask for his opinion on the matter.
“He was not just encouraging to me, he said to me, ‘Listen, I have wasted every opportunity I’ve ever had in life. If you can do something to help people understand the consequences for their decisions, but also do something to help people understand the neighborhoods that these decisions are being made in, then I think you should do it,’” Moore said. “And that really became the entire fire and focus and framework behind all of my work and everything that I did was just trying to fulfill that.”
Devon Gill, a UNCA sophomore who attended Moore’s Thursday lecture in Lipinsky Auditorium, found herself incredibly inspired by his stories.
“Wes Moore’s lecture rekindled the flame that exists in all of us, that which fuels our hidden desire to fight for what we believe in,” Gill said.
Speaking personally, Wes Moore said he felt a sense of honor upon hearing UNCA selected his book for the freshmen class reading.
“I felt really touched and really humbled, particularly because it’s not why I wrote the book. I didn’t write the book so that it would end up being school reads,” he said.
Moore said he didn’t necessarily write The Other Wes Moore just to tell the story of the two boys.
“It was simply the idea that we have people who have just been, chronically left behind that are still very much being left behind and that there are consequences to it,” he said. “There are implications to us not being able to spend time and attention on issues and individuals that should fundamentally matter to us in ways that oftentimes they don’t.”
Moore said after he published the book, many people approached him and commented on the tragedy of the “other” Wes Moore, how it was tragic that the other Moore didn’t live up to his own expectations. The author disagreed. Moore believes the tragedy of the situation lies in the fact that both men lived up to their expectations, but because of their different positions in life, the expectations they created for themselves were drastically different.
“I’m lucky in my existence, but not in any way, shape or form can I control it. I think that’s something that kind of sits with me as well, simply the fact that we’re the beneficiaries of quite a bit of luck in all this work, in all our lives,” Moore said.
Moore’s perception of his luck in life might seem peculiar, as his father died when Moore was only four years old and his mother very abruptly dropped into the life of a single parent.
“It’s funny, my mom actually just released a book about single parents, which I’m really looking forward to,” Moore said, smiling a little. “It’s called The Power of Presence and it’s by Joy Moore and she asked me to do the foreword and one of things I really told her was that part of my childhood was the fact that people talk about single parents and single parent households like they are our nation’s burden, when in many ways they’re our nation’s backbone.”
Moore agrees there is a stigma that exists around single parents and single mothers in particular.
“We should be thinking and rethinking how we celebrate, how we castigate, how we look at single mothers because I really think that they have really been the core anchor and support for where our nation is and where we’re going,” he said.
Now a father himself, Moore attempted to comprehend some of his mother’s struggles.
“When I think about my own kids—we have a seven-year-old and a four-year-old—and they’re amazing kids, but I also know that they’ve got a ridiculously good mom, two grandmothers that dote over them, aunts, uncles, cousins, so I think about all the supports that they have and I’m still scared,” Moore said. “Considering that, I think on what it must be like for that single parent who’s coming through and coming up with no supports. They had no other options.”
At his lecture, Moore encouraged his listeners to consider people society often marginalizes and how UNCA students can grow to become the truly capable leaders who will change the world. His message influenced many in the audience.
“Each of us have something that we’re passionate about, that makes us angry, that unsettles our souls. He really took the time to unpack that idea to give us the motivation we need to stand up and speak out,” Gill said. “I think, especially now when we feel like we live in such a harsh world, we needed that lecture to feel like we can keep going.”