Wes Moore: Author, scholar and soldier in the spotlight

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There’s lots of buzz these days about author Wes Moore. His new book, The Other Wes Moore, has reached the top 10 of the New York Times best-seller list. Meanwhile, he’s appeared on Oprah, NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS Sunday Morning, NPR and beyond.

Moore’s true-life tome examines the lives of two boys in Baltimore with the same name. One grows up to become the first African-American Rhodes Scholar at Johns Hopkins University, a White House Fellow, and a decorated Army combat veteran in Afghanistan. The other is currently serving a life sentence in prison after being convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer.

Haunted by their diverse paths, Moore wrote a letter to his namesake in prison, sparking a friendship that would eventually lead to the book. He wanted to explore a deceptively simple question: how could two youngsters from similar backgrounds experience such radically different life outcomes?

Moore, 31, is an investment professional at Citibank in New York City. He’s currently in the midst of a whirlwind book tour that’s taken him from coast to coast.

TheGrio contributor Donna M. Owens caught up with Wes Moore, first by cell phone as he disembarked a flight from Chicago. Later, they chatted in person during a book-signing reception at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture in Baltimore. Moore weighed in on topics that ranged from perceptions about African- American males, to meeting Oprah.

TheGrio: What do you think of all the attention your book is getting?

Wes Moore: The response has been so humbling. It’s amazing. Books about social issues don’t [usually] make the New York Times list. People are talking about how we can advocate for kids and that’s extraordinary. We’re starting a movement.

TheGrio: Are you still in touch with the other Wes Moore? What was his reaction to the book?

Moore: Yes, there is still a relationship. I have also met his mother, aunt, and children. And he’s a grandfather now. While I didn’t get in touch with Wes [initially] to write a book, he agreed to do it if some good could be done. He’s had two reactions: the first is that he was amazed at all the research that I did; it was intensive, more than 200 hours. His other reaction is that after reading it, he felt he’d done so little with his life. It was all laid bare, and I think he’d never had a chance to evaluate it before.

TheGrio: How has the family of the slain police officer, Sgt. Bruce Prothero, reacted to the book? I know this case was a very sad one; he left behind a wife and five young children.

Moore: Some members of Sgt. Prothero’s family have been encouraging of the project. His widow has not been supportive, and I completely understand. I have been very clear, that [the book] is not about revisionist history. I can never forget the crime.

TheGrio: Does the other Wes Moore ever discuss the crime?

Moore: He has always asserted that he was not there [at the scene] when the murder was committed. He’s made some bad decisions, but I don’t think even our worst decisions in life necessarily remove us from the circle of humanity. There’s something we can learn from him.

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TheGrio: One of the things that always strikes me when a young black male—be it President Obama, or someone with your academic and other credentials comes along—is how “impressed” and somewhat surprised the larger world seems by those achievements. Yet we know there are many African-American males doing positive things who don’t get much attention. What’s your reaction to how people perceive you?

Moore: That’s a good question. People often highlight the exceptions at either end of the spectrum—be it Wes or myself—when there are everyday heroes who’re helping to shape us [the community]. What I think is most interesting is there’s this common perception that no one is doing anything positive to help [combat problems], and that is absolutely not true! One thing we did was include a resource guide at the end of the book with all the organizations on the ground and people who are doing the work. We also wanted this to be about the larger community, and book proceeds will benefit organizations like the National Law Enforcement Memorial, the U.S. Dream Academy and Break the Cycle in Maryland, which works with children of the incarcerated. They’re seven times more likely to go to prison.

TheGrio: You and I both have roots in Baltimore where Oprah spent many years, so I’m sure it was especially exciting to meet her. What was it like to appear on her show?

Moore: To sit right across from Oprah was surreal. After the show, she came and sat down with me. We talked for awhile about my life, and all sorts of things. She was very nice.

TheGrio: I hear there’s talk of a movie about the book?

Moore: It would have to be the right project, one in which I could have a great deal of creative input.

TheGrio: What’s next for you? With your newfound popularity, is a possible political run in your future?

Moore: I don’t want to sound morbid, but my father died suddenly at age 34. One thing I learned is you can’t necessarily make long term plans. I know to my core that I am a public servant, and that’s my way of life. I’m not sure where that will take me. But one of the tenants is having a voice. My faith has also been very meaningful to me. I used to have anger issues. But when I finally grew up, to paraphrase Scripture, `I put away childish things.’ I saw that there is a larger hand guiding me. If I am willing to listen, it will continue to lead me.