When my friend Richard met me for lunch the other day, he gave me a copy of a book title The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. The book will be read by all first-year students at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities this year, and other members of the university community (which includes my friend Richard) are invited to read it along with them. Richard ha an extra copy and thought I might be interested in reading it. He was right. I finished reading it within 48 hours after our lunch.
The book, written by Wes Moore, tells the story of two boys named Wes Moore, one of whom is that author. Both boys grew up fatherless in Baltimore, both had difficult childhoods, both had trouble with the police. But whereas the author grew up to join the military, graduating college with distinction, become a Rhodes Scholar, a White House Fellow and then a successful business leader, the other is serving a life sentence for felony murder.
The book does not try to explicitly answer the question so many people have asked the author: What made the difference between the two Wes Moore’s? How do we explain how two boys with similar backgrounds and identical names ended up in such radically different places?
There is clearly no one answer to that question. It is no more possible to answer it with respect to these two boys than it is to understand why the lives of some people are easier than others. Why do some seem to get all the breaks and others none? Why does every step seem difficult for some and paved for success for another?
One thing is clear, however. As a society we can and must acknowledge that we need to do a better job than we are doing to be sure that all of our young people are given a chance to make the best decisions possible about what to do with their lives. To make sure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. That no one is viewed as expendable. That we are providing a good education to everyone, not just those with family resources. That no young person views selling drugs or other crime as their only way to make ends meet.
And each of us has a role to play. Whether it is providing necessary mentoring for young people without reliable adult figures in their lives. Or advocating on behalf of the vulnerable. Of contributing resources to those who do. Or finding some other way to make a difference.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church speaks of the need to have the good of all people as it primary goal, reminding us that everyone “has the right to enjoy the conditions of human life brought about by the quest for the common good.” It also advises us of the fact that no one is exempt from cooperating in advancing the common good. Right now, a lot of people are being left behind and we can all do a better job of helping them.
In the book, one boy was given a chance and the other wasn’t. My heart rejoices for the Wes Moore who had people who went out of their way to ensure that he has options. And my heart grieves for the Wes Moore who will remain in jail for the rest of his life.