Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 25, 2014

'Bigger than themselves'

Author Wes Moore discusses youth's potential for positive impact

By Lauren Fitch
Kokomo Tribune

---- — A best-selling author, Rhodes Scholar and Army veteran from Baltimore found common ground Friday with a student half his age from central Indiana who’s still on probation after his latest arrest.

Youth advocate and social entrepreneur Wes Moore spoke to a group of high school and college students Friday as part of Ivy Tech Community College’s 10th annual “Doing the Dream” event in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. He gave another presentation for community members later that evening.

At the student convocation, Moore shared stories from his troubled childhood, many of which are recorded in his New York Times best-selling book “The Other Wes Moore.”

Those stories connected with Dallas Wilkinson, 17, a student at the Crossing Education Center in Frankfort.

“When I heard him say that, I felt like he knew my life story and was speaking it,” Wilkinson said. “Ever since I’ve been [at the Crossing], I’ve just been striving. I’m trying to turn my life around.”

Like Moore, Wilkinson grew up without a father, and his mother was his main supporter. He and Moore both got into trouble with the law at an early age. While Moore was sent to military school in an effort to provide more structure in his life, Wilkinson spent four-and-a-half months at Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility.

Wilkinson got in trouble again after leaving the facility and recently spent time in jail. Now, he is determined to change his ways. After seeing so many similarities in their stories, Wilkinson reached out to Moore during a question-and-answer session for some advice on staying motivated to continue his positive path.

“There was never an ‘aha’ moment for me,” Moore told him. “My whole life has been two steps forward, one step back.”

Moore shared a few things he realized in his late teenage years that helped him sever ties with the negative influences of his past: understanding friendship and that true friends want the best for you, the responsibility for others that comes with leadership, and faith.

After Moore’s presentation, Wilkinson was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who came up to offer him words of encouragement and support. About 300 people were in attendance, down from the 1,000 students originally slated to attend before school cancellations changed plans.

Still, the Ivy Tech faculty members involved in organizing the event were pleased with students’ responses.

“I hate that there weren’t more students here because of the weather, the one thing we can’t control,” said Amber Williams, who served on the Doing the Dream committee with Emily Getty, Leo Studach and Robb Haywood. “Then when Dallas asked his question, I got tears in my eyes because I thought, ‘This is what it’s about.’”

One point Moore emphasized was that there are many students like Wilkinson, like himself, like the “other Wes Moore” who need to realize the consequences of their choices and that they have the chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

“So much of what we will be remembered as will not come down to what we accumulate, but who we fight for,” Moore said. “The truest definition of education is, ‘Have you figured out what your contribution and role in our larger society is?’ and ‘How can you help as many people as possible realize there is something bigger than themselves out there?’”

Moore has dedicated his career to spreading that message. “The Other Wes Moore” compares his story to the story of another man who grew up in Baltimore, around the same age, with the same name, who is currently serving a life sentence for his involvement in a jewelry store robbery that resulted in the shooting and killing of an off-duty police officer.

In the late 2000s, around the same time the Baltimore Sun printed a story about Moore being named a Rhodes Scholar during his senior year at John Hopkins University, the newspaper also ran coverage of the “other” Wes Moore’s arrest and sentencing. Moore reached out to the man who shared his name, and the two started exchanging letters and eventually meeting.

“The more I learned about this crime, about this tragedy and about the people involved, I learned Wes and I had more in common than our names,” Moore said. “The [first] letter I received from Wes was one of the most interesting and articulate letters I’ve ever received, and it only led to more questions.”

Moore spoke candidly as he recounted tales from his youth, transitioning easily from joking with students to imparting more serious messages.

“The whole point of this [book] was to have a much bigger and larger conversation about who we are and how we get where we’re supposed to be,” Moore said. “You’ve got a special opportunity here. The biggest question we have to answer is will we take advantage of it? When our time is done, who will people say that we fought for?”

To learn more about Moore and his book, visit www.theotherwesmoore.com.

Education reporter Lauren Fitch can be reached at 765-454-8587, by email at lauren.fitch@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LaurenBFitch.