Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee
Wes Moore's story began in circumstance and ends in understanding despite circumstance. In one compelling story after another, he points out that it might easily have been the other way around.
Finding himself getting "caught up" in Baltimore following the death of his father, this future Rhodes Scholar began, before he was 10, began to decide what days he would skip school. His mother noticed. His mother was not amused.
"My mom was always assertive and creative with her punishments," he says, joking.
But military school? After numerous failed promises to straighten up, to do right thing, she one day tells him that he was off to military school "next week." And when the time came, thinking that she would drive around the block a few times, he said she "just kept on driving" and deposited him at a school in Pennsylvania deep in the woods. No joke. His attempted escape in the middle of the night using a map offered to him as part of an elaborate and painful prank was the beginning of understanding, and over time he accepted and used the opportunity - decent grades, permission to participate in athletics, command of a small group of fellow cadets.
The following year he declined the opportunity extended by his mother to come home.
Unknown to him the other Wes Moore - a father - found himself incarcerated for felony murder, having participated in a robbery that resulted in the death of an off-duty police officer, himself a new father of triplets. One decision, dozens of shattered lives.
"We are not products of our environment, we are products of our expectations" this Wes Moore stresses. Someone, at some point, put those expectations in our minds "and we either live up to them, or live down to them. The only difference in my life was that there were people who were willing to hold on to my long dreams long enough for me to grow and to mature and to find out that they, too, were my dreams."
Questioned on stage by a perceptive Ellen McGirt, the Wes Moore sitting on stage confesses to not one, but two middle names, the spelling of which I will now butcher. They are "Watende," or "revenge will not be sought," and "Omare," meaning "the highest," deposited by his father and mother, respectively, because they could not agree on a single middle name. They believed.