March 1, 2017 – Wes Moore has a story to tell. Actually, he has two stories, intertwined. The first concerns himself, a Rhodes Scholar. The second is about another man of the same name, who lived blocks away growing up in Baltimore. He ended up in prison.
In “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” a New York Times Best Seller, author Wes Moore tells the story of two kids with the same name. They grew up in the same city with similar backgrounds, but they took drastically different paths.
“One of us is free and has experienced things that he never even knew to dream about as a kid,” wrote Moore, a featured speaker at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 2017 Annual Meeting & Conference (AMC) in June. “The other will spend every day until his death behind bars. ... The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”
At AMC, Moore will tell the stories that invite conversation about the different factors that propelled one African-American kid to successes, the other to a life behind bars.
Lawyers Can Lead the Conversation
Moore, in a phone interview, said lawyers play a significant role in starting and leading the conversation on important issues of the day, including one that has long plagued Wisconsin: mass and disparate incarceration.
“When you look at the things that are happening, particularly the reality of mass and disparate incarceration, these things have not happened by accident,” Moore said.
“These issues are largely the result of policies and laws. No one can help decipher that more than lawyers. On issues like this, this becomes a key opportunity for lawyers to not only become part of the conversation, but to lead the conversation.”
He says a collective group like the State Bar of Wisconsin can help people understand the need for addressing crime, criminal justice, and policing. “The guiding principle is to remember that lawyers are in a very good place to lead that conversation.”
Moore should know. The Rhodes Scholar, White House Fellow, author, social entrepreneur, social justice advocate, producer, political analyst, and decorated U.S. Army officer has been leading conversations on various issues for many years.
He’s excited about the opportunity to speak with Wisconsin lawyers, he says, because of the influence that lawyers can have on shaping the path of real change.
“These are people whose job is to uphold the things we hold most true and most dear, and to defend that,” Moore said. “Talk about impact. Lawyers have an opportunity to define and shape the impact on communities and how we support those around us.”
The Power of Storytelling
In his book, Moore talks about his childhood, growing up in a crime and drug-plagued area of Baltimore. His father died when he was young. When Moore starting finding trouble, his mother made good on a threatened promise to send him to military school.
Ultimately, Moore graduated as a commissioned officer from Valley Forge Military College. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from John’s Hopkins University, where he also earned a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University.
A U.S. Army captain, Moore served a tour of duty in Afghanistan and upon his return, as White House Fellow, special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
But in 2000, the same time the Baltimore Sun ran a piece about a local student named Wes Moore who earned a Rhodes scholarship, the Sun was reporting on an armed robbery that left one police officer dead. One of the suspects was named Wes Moore.
Moore, in his book, explains how this information impacted him. He could not stop thinking about the other Wes Moore, who grew up in the same environment. Ultimately, he began to correspond with the other Wes Moore, who was serving a life sentence.
But Moore says the nonfiction book is about much more than two kids who grew up poor and black in Baltimore. “People see that this wasn’t just about two kids, and it wasn’t about one city, or one neighborhood. It wasn’t about one generation. It is really about all of us. People resonate with stories that relate to them personally,” Moore said.
“There is an interesting combination of societal and personal issues that impacted those two stories,” Moore said. “It’s also a combination of family and community support, individual diligence, societal responsibility, and luck.
“I try to emphasize that if you put too much weight on one of these factors, by its nature, you are washing the hand of responsibility from the other, and that becomes the danger. It’s not all personal. It’s not all societal. It’s an intricate marriage of numerous factors.”
Moore, who escaped a cycle of poverty and crime that many young people do not escape, has used the opportunity to try and stop the cycle.
Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.
He’s the founder and CEO of BridgeEDU, which helps students transition from high school to college with programming that encourages long-term success. And he founded STAND!, which works with youths involved in the criminal justice system.
The program helps young first- and second-time offenders through mentoring and tutoring. The program has assisted hundreds of children over the years.
“Getting them back into the schools is a challenge for students involved in the juvenile justice system,” Moore said. “We really just help people understand that their past mistakes don’t have to define their future. Everybody makes mistakes.
“We wanted to show how change can happen when society embraces second chances, and we are seeing that. Even for students with the most challenging situations, the frequency and efficacy of our contact with them matters. When students feel engaged, they want to have a greater positive impact in the communities they call home.”
As the State Bar continues with initiatives like disparate incarceration, Moore says lawyers should not forget the guiding principle. “You have a big voice, and it can make a big difference. Lawyers can start these important conversations, and help lead them.”
More on the State Bar's Annual Meeting & Conference
Don’t miss in-depth CLE programming and a chance to network with judges, lawyers, legal staff, and other legal professionals at the 2017 Annual Meeting & Conference, June 15-16, at Glacier Canyon Lodge at the Wilderness, Wisconsin Dells.
Register now to choose from dozens of CLE sessions, hear two plenary speakers, visit the Legal Expo, cheer on your colleagues at the Member Recognition Celebration, join the networking luncheons, celebrate at the Presidential Swearing-in Ceremony, and enjoy the Western BBQ All-Conference Bash.
Learn more about AMC.