I recently attended the College Board New England Regional Forum and had the pleasure of introducing the guest speaker, Wes Moore, author of the book, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. I had not read Wes' book yet, but I was certainly impressed with the author's background and his ability to ignite a room of about four hundred educators (no small task, as we all know). Through preparing my introduction, I learned that Wes Moore is a youth advocate, an Army combat veteran, a businessman, and a non-profit leader, as well as an author.
When Wes was quite young, his mother shipped him off to Valley Forge Military Academy because she feared the dangers of the streets of Baltimore. He graduated from Valley Forge and went on to John Hopkins University and later completed an MLitt from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Wes was a captain in the U.S. Army and a paratrooper; he completed a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was a White House Fellow and served as a Special Assistant to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Wes was a speaker at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and was featured by Oprah, People Magazine, USA Today, Essence, The View, Meet the Press, and Charlie Rose.
I waited in line nearly forty-five minutes to purchase Wes' book and to have him sign it -- and it was worth every minute. The Other Wes Moore is an extremely powerful book that will inspire teens and encourage them to think about the decisions they make in their lives and the consequences of their actions. It will help them to think about the road they are on and where they intend to go in their lives.
Wes Moore told the packed audience that one day he found out there was another Wes Moore living in Greater Baltimore; however, this Wes Moore was wanted for killing a police officer during a botched jewelry heist. Wes met his double and was struck by the similarities in their backgrounds: both Wes Moores lived in poor, black neighborhoods in Baltimore, and both grew up in fatherless families. Both were drawn to the lure of fast money that drug dealing and criminal life could bring. Both were part of a culture where violence made you a man. How is it that one Wes Moore became a Rhodes Scholar, a decorated war veteran, White House fellow, and business leader, and the other is serving a life sentence without the chance of parole for felony murder? This is the question the author ponders, and he believes that it was the influence of family members, mentors, and high expectations that made the difference in his life.
The Pact: Three Young Men Make A Promise and Fulfill a Dream by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt, and Lisa Frazier Page is another truly inspirational book, that tells the true story of three young men who grew up on the rough streets of Newark, NJ. They, too, felt the temptations of the street, and they made a pact to fight that lure together in order to go on to become doctors. With the help of Seton Hall University's assistance package for minorities in its Pre-Medical/Pre-Dental Plus Program, the men were able to achieve their dream. Their story is one of commitment, friendship, perseverance, and overcoming obstacles. Today, Hunt and Davis are doctors, and Jenkins is a dentist.
Both of these books reiterate the importance of teachers, educators, mentors, and the programs that can assist the youngsters who need them the most. Every day, we, as teachers, have the power to positively impact the students that we teach. We need to continue to fight that good fight and help students make the right choices and decisions in life, and to make sure that students see that there actually are choices and decisions to make -- that their lives are not predestined because of the neighborhood they live in or the family they were born into. As Wes Moore wrote on the inside cover of his book when he signed it for me, we need to ELEVATE.