This morning I attended a meeting that brought together some of the VCU faculty, staff, and administrators who will lead discussions of The Other Wes Moore—VCU’s 2011 Summer Reading Program selection–during Welcome Week, August 21 – 28. Each of us will meet with a group of first-year students and their Resident Assistant to discuss Moore’s book, which chronicles the lives of two young men from Baltimore, born within a year of each other and bearing the same name, one of whom, the author, became Johns Hopkins‘ first African-American Rhodes Scholar; the other of whom will spend the rest of his life as an inmate at the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland. In his introduction, Moore writes: “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his ” (xi). Several of the meeting’s attendees referred to those lines, including the woman sitting next to me, who turned to me before we began and asked: “Do you think it’s true?” I didn’t have time to respond–much less formulate a response–before the meeting began in earnest.
Though I haven’t finalized my plans for the discussion that I will lead on August 24, I know that I will ask the students to consider those lines from the introduction, the “moments of decision” (xi), when they could have chosen different paths, and the impact of mentors in their lives.
In Chapter Seven, Wes Moore recounts how his mother “sensing [his] apathy toward reading” (130), bought the teenage Wes a copy of Mitch Albom’s The Fab Five: “I was riveted by that book. The characters jumped off the page, and I felt myself as engulfed in their destiny as I was in my own. I finished The Fab Five in two days. The book itself wasn’t what was important–in retrospect I can see that it was a great read but hardly a great work of literature–but my mother used it as a hook into a deeper lesson: that the written word isn’t necessarily a chore but can be a window into new worlds” (130-131).
I hope that The Other Wes Moore will serve as a hook to deeper lessons as well.