September 29, 2011
Wes Moore: The Journey of a Generation & How to Transform Our Youth
Wes Moore is a youth advocate, Army combat veteran, promising business leader, most known for his book entitled The Other Wes Moore and spearheading the American strategic support plan for the Afghan Reconciliation Program that unites former insurgents with the new Afghan Government.
He is recognized as an authority on the rise and ramifications of radical Islamism in the Western Hemisphere. When he was a White House Fellow from 2006–2007, he served as a Special Assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In other words, a man who is doing something big, bold and electric with his life and my list of accolades has barely touched the surface.
Wes is passionate about supporting U.S. veterans and examining the roles education, mentoring and public service play in the lives of American youth. This passion came from his own childhood, where he didn't believe he would have made it if it weren't for his mother believing in him and making sacrifices so he could be where he is today.
He had people around him willing to say that this kid isn’t perfect and that he was worth fighting for. He emphasized this message in a recent talk I heard him give at the Idea Festival: Kids need to know that they're worth fighting for and someone is there standing by them to prove it.
Wes shared his journey and what led to him writing the book: The Other Wes Moore. The history and how it plays out: two kids with the same name, living in the same city. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder, a story of two boys and the journey of a generation.
Here's how the story came to light:
In December 2000, the Baltimore Sun ran a small piece about Wes Moore, a local student who had just received a Rhodes Scholarship. The same paper also ran a series of articles about four young men who had allegedly killed a police officer in a spectacularly botched armed robbery. The police were still hunting for two of the suspects who had gone on the lam, a pair of brothers. One was named Wes Moore.
Wes just couldn’t shake off the unsettling coincidence, or the inkling that the two shared much more than space in the same newspaper. After following the story of the robbery, the manhunt, and the trial to its conclusion, he wrote a letter to the other Wes, now a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His letter tentatively asked the questions that had been haunting him: Who are you? How did this happen?
That letter led to a correspondence and relationship that has lasted for several years. Over dozens of letters and prison visits, Wes discovered that the other Wes had a life not unlike his own: Both had grown up in similar neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods, both were fatherless; they’d hung out on similar corners with similar crews, and both had run into trouble with the police. At each stage of their young lives they had come across similar moments of decision, yet their choices and the people in their lives would lead them to astonishingly different destinies.
He was in Kentucky not only to inspired the Idea Festival attendees, but everyone he came into contact with. Moore references a moving memory he had while he was in the army. A sergeant left parting words with his crew, which was: when it’s time for you to leave this planet, make sure that it mattered that you were ever here. What did you do to make humanity better and how did you used your time.
Hear hear Moore's sergeant who is clearly no longer with us, but his words live on.
What matters in life he asked the crowd? "Education, parenting and service matters," he responded before anyone else. "BUT," he adds, "expectations matter even more. We're products not of our environments but of our expectations." If Tony Robbins and Wes Moore haven't met, they should since they're in the same camp of thinking and something I subscribe to whole heartedly as well. As Tony so often says, "change your expectations, change your life."
Wes Moore was an inspiration and his words not only resonate but sit me days later as I'm sure they will years later. All it takes for people to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Isn't that the truth?
This is also the truth: don’t let where I am ever fool you where I’ve been AND don’t let wherever I am now fool you about where I’m going.
I really love this. As long as our thoughts and our actions can be aligned with the above statement, there's no telling what we can achieve.
I often think back to my own childhood and who inspired me most. Sure, I had family members and teachers make a huge difference like we all did, but so often, I hear something someone told me I barely knew -- in a hallway, on a sidewalk, on a mountain, in an elevator, on a bus -- in so many random places, that have changed the way I think about the world and had an impact on my decision making along the way.
Believing in kids and taking the time to be present with who comes into your path along the way can change lives. As long as kids know someone is willing to fight for where they’re willing to go and stand by them in the process, they have a chance to thrive. It could be the difference between success or death.
Wes adds insight that my grandfather also shared with me growing up. "Take the 5 second pause on all decisions. Whenever we make flash quick decisions, that’s when we get into trouble." I'd modify that timeframe to 5 minute pause, but you get the idea. This obviously doesn't just apply to kids.
Ask yourself: what’s the best case scenario about what I’m about to do and what is the worst case scenario about what I’m about to do? Take the pause and understand that there are people fighting for you and making sacrificing for you and that can change the entire direction of where you’re going.
He said he probably wouldn’t have written the book if it wasn’t for the other Wes. "My story isn’t interesting unless you understand my story in context," he says in response to the question. On the surface, they can look at these two people’s lives and what they have in common except for a name.
A split decision can either close or open doors and many times we don’t even realize how thin that line can be. "That’s why," says Wes, "its important to add a bit of compassion to how we look at the world."
That brings up the question of how do we all think about second chances? There’s not one person in the world who hasn’t needed a second chance in our lives, is there? And, it's important to remember that there’s a very thin line between second chances and last chances.
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