One Book - One Community
Volunteer State Community College is providing an opportunity for the residents of Sumner County to read the same book and get together with friends, family and neighbors to discuss it. The Vol State Thigpen Library is partnering with the public libraries of Gallatin, Hendersonville, Portland, Westmoreland and White House in what is called One Book One Community. It is a community book read with special events and discussion sessions.
2015 Selection: The Other Wes Moore
“The Other Wes Moore” is the story of two kids growing up in the same city and facing many of the same challenges. As adults, one ends up working at the White House and the other spends his time in prison. They’re both named Wes Moore. The book is author Wes Moore’s exploration of his life compared to a kid he first read about in the newspaper. It tackles decisions and outcomes as framed in urban America.
About the Author
Wes Moore is a youth advocate, Army combat veteran, social entrepreneur, and host of Beyond Belief on the Oprah Winfrey Network. His first book The Other Wes Moore became an instant New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller.
Born in 1978, Wes and his sisters were raised by their widowed mother. Despite early academic and behavioral struggles, he graduated Phi Theta Kappa in 1998 as a commissioned officer from Valley Forge Military College, and Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University in 2001, where he also played football and earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations. He then became a Rhodes Scholar, studying International Relations at Oxford University.
After his studies, Wes, a paratrooper and Captain in the United States Army, served a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. Wes then served as a White House fellow to Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice. He serves on the board of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), The Johns Hopkins University, and founded an organization called STAND! that works with Baltimore youth involved in the criminal justice system. (from the author website)
Synopsis of The Other Wes Moore
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. Here is the story of two boys and the journey of a generation.
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.
Told in alternating dramatic narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a challenging and at times, hostile world. (from the author website)
Discussion Events at Vol State
February 10 Film: “American Promise”, two showings, noon and 3:30 p.m., Thigpen Library
February 16 Effects and possible solutions to the issue of “deadbeat dads”, 12:30 p.m., Nichols Dining Room, Wood Campus Center
February 24 Tense relationships between the police and the African-American community and possible solutions, 12:30 p.m., Nichols Dining Room, Wood Campus Center
March 2 The effects of Hip-Hop on Society, 9 a.m., Pickel Field House
March 19 Fear of (or low expectations of) young African-American males and possible solutions, 12:30 p.m., Nichols Dining Room, Wood Campus Center
March 24 Final discussion: Lessons learned and where do we go from here?, 6 p.m., Thigpen Library
Discussion Questions for The Other Wes Moore
1. The author says to the other Wes, “I guess it’s hard sometimes to distinguish between second chances and last chances.” What do you think he means? What is each Wes’s “last chance”? Discuss the differences in how each one uses that chance and why they make the decisions they do.
2. During their youth, Wes and Wes spend most of their time in crime-ridden Baltimore and the Bronx. How important was that environment in shaping their stories and personalities?
3. Why do you think the incarcerated Wes continues to proclaim his innocence regarding his role in the crime for which he was convicted?
4. The book begins with Wes and Wes’s discussion of their fathers. What role do you think fatherhood plays in the lives of these men? How do the absence of their fathers and the differences in the reasons for their absences affect them?
5. Wes dedicates the book to “the women who helped shape [his] journey to manhood.” Discuss the way women are seen in Wes’s community. What impact do they have on their sons?
6. The author says “the chilling truth is that [Wes’s] story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.” To what extent do you think that’s true? What, ultimately, prevented their stories from being interchangeable?
7. Throughout the book, the author sometimes expresses confusion at his own motivations. Why do you think he is so driven to understand the other Wes’s life?
8. The author attributes Wes’s eventual incarceration to shortsightedness, an inability to critically think about the future. Do you agree?
9. Wes states that people often live up to the expectations projected on them. Is that true? If someone you care for expects you to succeed—or fail—will you? Where does personal accountability come into play?
10. Discuss the relationship between education and poverty. In your discussion, consider the education levels of both Weses’ mothers, how far each man got in his education, the opportunities they gained or lost as a result of their education, and their reasons for continuing or discontinuing their studies.
11. The book begins with a scene in which the author is reprimanded for hitting his sister. Why is it important for conflicts to be solved through means other than violence? In what way do the Weses differ in their approaches to physical confrontations, and why?
12. Why is the idea of “going straight” so unappealing to the incarcerated Wes and his peers? What does it mean for our culture to have such a large population living and working outside the boundaries of the law?
A special thanks to our One Book, One Community partner, Sumner County Schools, and our partner libraries. Visit their websites for more events:
Gallatin Public Library – www2.youseemore.com/gallatinPL/
Hendersonville Public Library – www2.youseemore.com/hendersonville/
Portland Public Library – www1.youseemore.com/portland/
White House Library – www1.youseemore.com/whitehouseinn/
Westmoreland Public Library – www.westmorelandtn.com/library.htm