By Kayla Burrow, Marketing and Communications Specialist, AVID Center
Wes Moore is a youth advocate, social entrepreneur, Army combat veteran, and the bestselling author of The Other Wes Moore. He is impressive, inspiring, and innovative, and he will be a featured speaker at this year’s AVID National Conference in San Diego this December.
I first learned about Wes Moore when he made an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s T.V. show - I was curled up in bed, ready to have a little laugh and drift off to sleep. I had no idea that his interview would keep me up that night, his words spinning through my mind as I thought about my AVID students, myself, and my community.
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates is the story of two men named Wes Moore and the complex web of opportunities, challenges, and choices that resulted in two very different lives. One Wes Moore ended up on The Colbert Report that night, promoting his book and receiving kudos for his extraordinary accomplishments: Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, and bestselling author. He has traveled the world, spoken to thousands, and been featured by Oprah, Charlie Rose, NPR, The New York Times, and many more. The other Wes Moore is behind bars for an armed robbery that resulted in the tragic death of a police officer. He will live every day in a jail cell- told what to eat, when to sleep, and where to go.
You may think that these two Wes Moores only share a name, but they have many similarities. Both are close to the same age. Both were raised in single-parent households. Both spent time living in the same neighborhood. Both experienced academic and disciplinary troubles. Wes Moore the author often says, “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.” That thought haunted him and eventually led him to contact the other Wes Moore in prison. Moore examined the minute details of this other Wes Moore’s life and his own; he wanted to know what made their destinies so different when their beginnings were so eerily similar.
There is no easy answer, no magic bullet that can ensure every person will have the chance to meet his or her potential, but Moore’s work points to an intricate dance between personal choices and the communities in which those choices are made as determining the course of every individual’s life. Moore said it well when he stated that, “In many ways you find Wes Moores of all types in communities all over, and every day we are helping to foster these different Wes Moores. So the question becomes, which types of Wes Moores are we helping to foster, and that comes with things like parental involvement, mentors and role models, educational reform and educational involvement. All of these things are factors that help determine what kind of a nation we are going to become.”
Seemingly small differences between the two Wes Moores led to tremendously different outcomes for both men. Small interventions, small seeds that were planted, in each of these young men’s lives resulted in decisions and opportunities that made one Wes Moore a bestselling author and the other Wes Moore an inmate serving a life sentence.
Expectations are another important part of these two stories, and truly all of our stories. In the novel, Moore describes a visit when he asked the other Wes Moore, “Do you think we’re all just products of our environments?” He answered, “I think so, or maybe products of our expectations…We will do what others expect of us” (126). The expectations that others have of us will affect the opportunities they offer us and the choices we make for ourselves.
Teachers play a pivotal role in their students’ lives. One moment, one connection, one seed planted, can influence our students’ choices. In our classrooms, we create ripple effects for our students and our communities. We’ve all had the teacher who expected more, pushed harder, and helped us believe in our abilities. Our interactions with our students are more powerful than many of us will ever know. A teacher can change the whole trajectory of a student’s life, opening doors and nudging students forward into a world of new possibilities. Our relationships with our students and our expectations of them are truly life altering.
We all need champions. Moore often expresses his gratitude to people who have read his book and “answered the call.” He thanks them for “…being champions for those who need champions the most” (183). We all need people who believe in us, who show us the way, who connect us to the lives we want to live. The most important thing I have learned from reading The Other Wes Moore is that we are all champions – we all make a difference in the lives of others. What difference do we want to make? What kind of champions do we want to be?
AVID has been a champion for countless students on their journeys to college and career success. AVID opens doors and offers support. I cannot wait to hear Wes Moore speak at our AVID National Conference. On December 6, at 5:00 p.m., I will be in the front row, ready to hear this great champion share his wisdom.
Kayla Burrow is a Marketing and Communications Specialist for AVID Center. She was a first generation college student and received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Texas at Arlington in English and Secondary Education. Kayla has worked in education in many roles, including AVID tutor. She taught English at Grand Prairie High School Ninth Grade Center in Grand Prairie, Texas, and was also the AVID Elective Teacher and Coordinator there.