Wes Moore – Leadership
“The chilling truth is that Wes’ story could have been mine; the tragedy is that my story could have been his.”
Wes Moore graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2000 — one of America’s most elite universities — and then was admitted to England’s preeminent Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. The latter is a huge honor won only by 32 graduating scholar-athletes each year. Moore was rightly proud of himself, and he looked for this story in his daily newspaper, The Baltimore Sun. There it was, right on the front page. After reading it, he scrolled down to the bottom of the page only to spot another story that proved to be of even more interest to him. That second story was of another young man who shared his name.
This other Wes Moore had been arrested for an armed robbery that resulted in the death of an off-duty police officer. He had just been convicted of these crimes and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Our Wes Moore was intrigued by the story of this other Wes Moore. He did some preliminary research and discovered that they had a lot in common. For starters, they were born in the same year, in the same city of Baltimore, Maryland. Both men were Black and had been raised predominantly by their mothers. Both had been involved in petty crimes as young children and both struggled to succeed in school. However, our Wes Moore was about to travel to England to attend Oxford University on the most competitive academic scholarship in the world. The other Wes Moore was set to spend his life in a 6 x 9 cell at Jessup Correctional Institution.
After receiving his master’s degree in international relations at Oxford University, Moore couldn’t shake the story of the other Wes Moore. He felt a gnawing connection to this man whom he had never met. Finally, Moore sat down and wrote the other Wes Moore a letter. He introduced himself and asked a lot of questions. About a month later, the other Wes Moore wrote back: “Greetings, Good Brother, I send salutations of peace and prayers and blessings and guidance to you for posing these questions, which I’m going to answer.”
For the next several years, these two young men started writing back and forth to each other. Moore also visited the other Wes Moore in prison numerous times. He wanted to juxtapose their life stories to understand what led one of them to go one way and the other to go 180 degrees in the other. He also conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with the other Wes Moore’s family and his circle of friends. The end result was a national best-selling book entitled, “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates.”
“The Other Wes Moore”
The other Wes Moore was born and raised in a dangerous section of Baltimore. His mother, Mary, had become pregnant at the age of 16 and gave birth to Tony. Two years later, she got pregnant by another man and gave birth to Wes. Wes’s father never even made it to the hospital for the birth. Neither adult relationship worked out. “Mary was left with two alcoholic, abusive men who shared the DNA of her two children. But no husband or dad for her boys.” Wes only met his father a handful of times, and each time was more disappointing than the last.
Mary had to work long hours at her job. This mainly left older brother, Tony in charge of supervising Wes. At first, this was not ideal because Tony was just a child himself. Later, it was problematic because Tony became a drug dealer who had gained a reputation as a tough kid in the dangerous projects of Baltimore. According to his little brother “Tony was a certified gangsta.”
Furthermore, the other Wes Moore struggled in school; not because he wasn’t smart enough, but because he didn’t try. He cut classes and didn’t do his homework. By the time he was eight, Wes was arrested for threatening another boy with a knife in a fight. Despite Tony’s fierce warnings about following in his footsteps, Wes graduated to selling drugs for a local gang. He initially took a job as a “lookout” who alerted the dealers that the cops were coming. Within months he began storing thousands of dollars of drugs in his room and selling them on the streets.
At the age of 13, Wes met Alicia. Following several months of unsupervised dating and unprotected sex, she became pregnant. And, just like that, his family life cycle continued into a new generation. In 1991, 12% of teenage girls in Baltimore had given birth. Like many of them, Alicia believed that Wes would stay with her and help raise the baby. Wes, however, lacked any type of positive male role model, and followed in his father’s footsteps. He left Alicia and began dating another teenage girl.
This new girl was shacking up with Wes at his mother’s house. One night when she got up to leave, her ex-boyfriend was waiting for her at the door. An argument ensued. This boy punched Wes in the face multiple times. Wes then ran upstairs and grabbed his 9mm handgun and bolted outside. A friend of Wes also grabbed a gun and together they chased this boy down and shot him. This was the second time Wes had been arrested. But this time the charge was for attempted murder and Wes was placed in the Baltimore County Detention Center. Then, upon release from juvenile detention, Wes became the head of a drug-dealing crew — which led to more arrests. Wes also produced three more babies with multiple women.
Clearly the life of the other Wes Moore had spiraled out of control. By the age of 20, he felt that he was too old to go back to school, but too old to continue gang banging and pedaling drugs. Wes was tired. He made an honest attempt to join the Job Corps Center. While there he earned his GED and chose a life-long skill as a carpenter. Consequently, Wes felt like a changed man. He attempted to provide for his kids and his babies’ mamas. He stopped dealing drugs and hanging out on the corner.
Unfortunately, the temptation of thug life was just too appealing. At the urging of older brother Tony, Wes and three other armed men put on ski masks and robbed a jewelry store. Collectively, they stole over $438,00 worth of jewels. After they ran out of the store, a security guard named Bruce Prothero, an off-duty policeman and father of five children, followed the gunmen into the parking lot. Tony got the jump on the officer and shot him three times at point-blank range. Officer Prothero died on the spot.
An intensive manhunt ensued. To make a long story short, all four men were apprehended. In a plea deal to avoid the death sentence, Tony admitted to killing the officer. Wes elected to go to trial and a jury found him guilty of first-degree felony murder. The sentence was life in prison without the possibility of parole. At the sentencing trial, the judge lectured: “You committed an act like something out the Wild West, and you didn’t even realize how dangerous it was. That makes you a very dangerous person.” And with that, the life of the other Wes Moore was finished.
Like the other Wes Moore, the Wes Moore we are featuring in this chapter was born in 1978. His mother, Joy, was an immigrant from Jamaica and his father, Westley Moore, was a hard-working broadcast news journalist. Together, with older sister, Nikki, and younger sister, Shani, they lived in a middle-class neighborhood in the urban city of Tacoma Park, Maryland. Their proximity to Washington DC brought them closer to dangerous crime, but it also allowed the father to easily commute to his work as the host of a radio show on WMAL.
This story had all the beginnings of a beautiful life for Wes. Nevertheless, he gradually began to look similar to the “other Wes Moore.” Tragedy struck the family when Wes was only 3. Right before his eyes, his father collapsed and died. It was a totally unexpected event. It was dreadful to see a young promising Black man with a bright career in broadcasting die so young. However, for Wes and his family, it was an even greater loss. Wes lost the loving father who would never get the chance to guide him through life.
His mother, Joy, understood that their neighborhood was becoming more dangerous and that there had been an uptick in break-ins. She recognized and adapted to the difficulty of raising three children on a single income in an unsafe environment. She began sleeping on a couch in the living room after her husband’s death. Joy rightly reasoned that by sleeping by the front door, she would be the first person whom an intruder would encounter. She also led a strict household with strict rules to protect her children from the crime that existed outside their doors.
These family dynamics continued for two years until Joy phoned her mother and confessed, “Mom, if it’s still all right, I think we need to move up there. I can’t do this anymore.” Three weeks later, the family made the move from Maryland to the Bronx, New York. This is where Joy was raised by her parents. The neighborhood was safe and she would have the support of her parents. This was clearly going to be a positive move for the family.
However, as they drove down the burned-out streets in the Bronx, she quickly learned that things had changed in her old neighborhood. While driving to their new home for the first time, Joy witnessed a drug deal on a street corner between a junkie and a seasoned drug dealer. Drugs and gangs had always played a role in the inner-city, but the introduction of crack cocaine in the 1980’s accelerated the destructive forces of gangs, crime, poverty and fear.
Moore’s grandparents were retired. His grandfather was a retired minister for the Dutch Reformed Church, a rather strict religion. “I had thought my mother’s rules were strict,” wrote Moore. “But soon realized that my grandparents’ were many times worse.” All chores had to be completed before the children were allowed to go outside and play. When the streetlights came on, kids had to come home. Most importantly, if gunfire or other “foolishness” was heard, children were to immediately return home. Joy also determined that the public schools were not safe, so she enrolled each of her children into private schools. Wes went to Riverdale Country School, the same school that President John Kennedy attended as a child.
Even though this Wes had the structure and support the other Wes did not have, like him he found ways to get into trouble. For starters, he was suspended from school for fighting within the first two weeks. When he discovered that his school only took attendance in homeroom, he frequently spent the rest of the day elsewhere. Consequently, Wes fell behind and received barely passing grades. The Dean of Riverdale School made frequent calls to Mrs. Moore to discuss corrective behavior. And, when Wes did not change his ways, he was placed on academic and disciplinary probation.
While all this was going on, Wes fancied himself as a graffiti writer with the self-declared nickname of “Kid Kupid.” He had a street friend named Shea with whom he tagged the neighborhood. One day they decided to improve the exterior walls of a local pool hall. Within seconds of completing their “work of art,”, a police cruiser turned on its siren. Wes took off running but was caught by an officer and slammed against the hood of the police car. With both hands behind his back, the officer slapped the cuffs on young Wes. “I understood where I was going,” he would later write. “I was being arrested.” Within seconds, Wes and Shea were thrown into the backseat of the police car. The police officer delivered a stern lecture to Wes and his young friend and were let go with a warning. Of course, the warning didn’t work. Within a week, Wes was at it again.
Wes’ mother was beside herself. She was worried about her son’s future. She had been threatening military school for years, but no one took her seriously, including Wes. However, she knew she was losing Wes to the streets. Without the right intervention she could lose Wes altogether. She felt like she was out of options. This was the pivotal, make-or-break moment for her young son’s life. The grandparents agreed to re-mortgage their house to help pay for the first year of military school. Joy wrote letters to all her relatives. She explained the dire situation and asked for financial support. Within a few weeks, 13-year-old Wes found himself living in the barracks at Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania.
To a 13-year-old who was trying to figure out life and explore his options, military school must have felt like a straight-jacket. Military school is a place of strict discipline and unbending rules. Shining shoes, cleaning toilets, and making your beds with military style precision were mandatory parts of a student’s life. New students were called “plebes,” which basically meant that they had not yet earned the right to be called student-cadets. A plebe had no rights. They had to ask permission for everything, including permission to go to the bathroom. Plebes were not allowed to make phone calls, watch television, listen to music, or have visitors. They were ordered around by upperclassmen and commanding officers.
When Moore refused to get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. on his first day at the school, he was yanked out of the top bunk by eight ranking members in his chain of command. This was followed by a lot of yelling and choice words directed at the defiant plebe. Moore would later say, “For the first few days, I woke up furious and went to bed even more livid.” He hated military school so much that he unsuccessfully tried to run away four times in the first week.
Military schools specialize in instilling structure, discipline, and respect. They teach these tenets because this process has proven to be successful for hundreds of years. They produce great soldiers and great leaders. Over the next several years, this proven process paid dividends for the young Wes Moore. He was compelled to live the school motto, “No excuses, no exceptions.” He became a new person. He was well on his way to meeting his full potential and finding purpose in his life.
Over time, Wes became a platoon sergeant, a cadet master sergeant, and the youngest senior noncommissioned officer in the entire corp of cadets. He also thrived as a starter, and later as a captain, of the basketball team. He was on his way to becoming a leader. As a senior at Valley Forge, Moore was selected to be the regimental commander for the 70th Corps of Cadets. This promotion made Moore the highest ranking cadet at the school, which meant he was given the responsibility of leading all the other student-cadets.
So, to sum up, in four short years, Moore went from being a troubled teenager with a sketchy future to becoming a capable leader with serious goals and ambitions. Before graduation, Moore decided that the Army was going to be a part of his future plans:
“My next decision was clear. I wanted to stay at Valley Forge and attend its junior college, which would allow me to go through the early commissioning process, receive my associate’s degree and become a second lieutenant in the Army. I wanted to lead soldiers.”
Moore executed this plan with great precision. Upon graduation with his associate’s degree and receiving his commission as a Lieutenant of the U. S. Army, he was accepted to Johns Hopkins University, where he subsequently earned his bachelor’s degree in international relations and economics. During this time, he played football for the university and served in the United States Army Reserves. As was presented earlier, Moore then became a Rhodes Scholar and attained his master’s degree from Oxford University. As a member of the 82nd Airborne Unit, he also was briefly deployed to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Gulf War.
Moore certainly had an impressive resume. It all looked good on paper, including a notable internship with Mayor Schmoke of Baltimore and as a White House Fellow assigned to Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Moore understood that he was acquiring the necessary character, wisdom and experiences to make substantial contributions in this world. This is when he set out on his own journey.
First, Moore felt that he had a lot to say to the next generation. Consequently, he placed many of his life lessons within the five books that he wrote between 2010-2015. The central theme of these books is an individual’s struggle with life’s journey, the social-cultural variables that shape life decisions, and the greater search for purpose and meaning. In his own struggles with his personal journey, Moore asks the reader to join him in wrestling with these big-picture ideas of life. Cumulatively, Moore has sold millions of copies of his books and has inspired the next generation to strive for greatness within themselves. He also has founded a television production company to create meaningful content to further inspire young people.
At the same time, Moore also has made his mark in the world of finance. He worked for several investment companies on Wall Street and then took what he had learned to create the Robin Hood Foundation. Fundamentally, he had come to conclude that investing in the stock market is the best way for average Americans to reach their financial goals. The trouble is, most American don’t start investing until later in life. Robin Hood provided investment strategies that empowered poor Americans to begin investing now. Among other ideas, this firm allowed individuals to buy quarter or half shares of a stock to get themselves started. Also, whenever individuals bought something at a store for, say $2.12, the leftover 88 cents would automatically be invested in the stock market. (It may not sound like much, but it adds up over time.) There also was a charitable component of the foundation that focused on alleviating the problems caused by poverty. From the time that Moore was CEO (Chief Executive Officer) from 2017-2022, the company donated over $650 million dollars to schools, food pantries, and homeless shelters.
Finally, it should come as no surprise that Moore always had his eyes set on politics. He has wanted to serve his country, and he believes that, with the right team, he can make sweeping changes that positively impact American citizens. So, in February of 2021, Moore announced his candidacy to be Governor of Maryland. He ran as a Democrat with the campaign slogan of, “Leave no one Behind.” He won the election with 64.7% of the vote, becoming the first Black American to serve as the governor of Maryland.
As the reader can appreciate, at every step in his life Wes Moore has been a proven leader. He became a leader at Valley Forge Military Academy. He was a leader in the United States Army and as the CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation. Moore also has been a good husband and a loving father to his two children. At the time that this chapter is written, it is unknown what type of political leader he will become. But Wes Moore has put into place a solid team and is executing his vision for the people of Maryland. It will be interesting to watch his career and see where he ends up in the next several decades.
To conclude this chapter, we want to bring your attention back to the comparison between this Wes Moore and the other Wes Moore. This Wes Moore believes that there is not one singular variable that leads people to move in one direction or another. Instead it is a combination of factors that play out over time. He is convinced that his family was the anchor of his life and set a solid foundation. When that wasn’t sufficient, the family rallied together to create an effective intervention to set him on the right path. Military school then removed unhelpful distractions while offering him positive role models and mentors. Those mentors taught Moore that “no accident of birth – not being Black or relatively poor, being from Baltimore or the Bronx, or fatherless – would ever define or limit me.” Moore wants every American to learn this important lesson. He learned how to become a Leader and he believes that you can too.
Moore rightly points out in his conclusion to The Other Wes Moore: “The chilling truth is that Wes’ story could have been mine; the tragedy is that my story could have been his.” He further states: We too can come to recognize the potential in ourselves and in our surroundings, dream big, make it happen, and lead our worlds (small and large) to a better place — while nurturing yet another generation of leaders in the process.
- In your opinion, what factors contributed to the outcomes of the featured Wes Moore and the “other Wes Moore?”
- What advice would you give a parent of a struggling child who was mixed up in drugs, violence and truancy?
- What kind of impact did military school have on Wes Moore? Do you think that type of school would have a positive impact on you? Why or why not?
- What inspires you about Wes Moore and how can his life inspire you to be a better person?