Author/decorated combat veteran/former White House fellow/Rhodes Scholar Wes Moore is no different than the rest of us. Really! He had moments in his life when the turn in the road could have led to a downward spiral of disaster or a stairway to incredible wonders. But unlike the rest of us, and more like a “Twilight Zone” segment, he was confronted full face with his counterpart — “The Other Wes Moore,” who is serving a life sentence for felony murder.
The Wes Moore who was the keynote speaker June 5 at Jonathan’s Place‘s “A Chance To Soar” at Brook Hollow, not only acknowledged the people in his life who guided him on his road to the Rhodes scholarship, New York Times bestseller list and mega success, he stressed the importance of Jonathan’s Place in young lives.
But before he took the stage with his 20-minute talk, he was “the man” at the pre-lunch reception. Veteran luncheon guests were a bit in awe of the ease with which he talked with total strangers. Watching his body language and the intensity of his eyes, you could see he was fully engaged in the topic and with the person. In fact he never seemed to blink. His hands moved constantly, like an orchestra conductor.
Let’s face it. There are people who have a certain aura about them like the rest of us have skin.
It was only fitting to have such a dynamic and caring headliner. After all, the luncheon Chairs Tiffany Rubi and Stacey Walker had arranged to have the luncheon honor Jonathan’s Place’s Board Chair Pam Busbee. Everyone from nonprofit workers (Jonathan’s Place’s Allicia Frye, Contact’s Benaye Rogers, Baylor Foundation’s Lindalyn Adams), Jonathan’s Place friends (Marianne Staubach and her girls and grand girls, Ellen Winspear, Tiffany Divis, Carolyn Lupton, Jill Rowlett, Connie Miles) to Crystal Charity Ball fundraiser buddies (Pam Perella, Lynn McBee, Robyn Conlon) were front and center — all the elements that provide support for future Wes Moores to become the success-story versions.
But before Wes took the mic, the story of Jonathan’s Place was told: how Lois Mathews took that first step in its creation when she took in a young boy in need named Jonathan. To the crowd’s delight that “young boy” was not only all grown up and now known as Tyler, he was introduced at the luncheon along with “brother” Major Joseph Matthews, who will be heading to Afghanistan soon.
When Wes took command of the stage with wireless mic sans podium, he utilized the entire stage. Just before he started, you could hear chairs scooting around to get a good view of this charismatic man.
He thanked all the guests for their attendance and Maj. Joey for serving our country. Then he spoke of his year-old daughter and what he wanted from her. The answer was “to be empathetic” like the members of the audience. With the power of empathy, “the greatest human capital” is possible.
One member of the audience leaned over to another and whispered, “He’s good. . . very, very good.”
He then discussed how the title of his book, “The Other Wes Moore,” came about, and how the most important word in the title was “other.”
“How we think about the ‘others’ is what matters. That’s why Jonathan’s Place matters because it’s about who you fight for — the others.”
He then discussed the loss of his father, living with grandparents, his lackluster attendance in school, being forced to attend military school and how concerned adults made the teenager realize the importance of needing each other.
After this epiphany and extreme change of attitude, he quickly became a rising star. So much so, that his hometown paper “The Baltimore Sun” ran an article about his achievements including obtaining a Rhodes scholarship. At the same time they reported a jewelry store robbery and murder of an off-duty policeman. After a 12-day manhunt the robbers, including “the other Wes Moore,” were captured.
Yes, both Wes Moores had had painfully similar backgrounds, but the Rhodes Scholar wondered what had been his point of change. He wrote Wes in prison and got a reply in a month. Instead of an illiterate letter, it was articulate that only posed more questions for the Wes on the rise.
- Why was the felonious Wes’s fate sealed on that day of the robbery?
- How do we keep these avoidable situations from happening?
- What was the one difference?
The answer to that last question was, “There was no one thing. Raising kids is tough.”
Over the years, the two Weses have continued a conversation, resulting in the Rhodes Scholar’s understanding that “We’re all products of expectations,” as prisoner Wes explained.
In closing, the man on stage recalled a colonel in his military school that all the students admired. When he left the school after being diagnosed with cancer, he told the cadets, “When it’s time to leave, make sure that it matters that you were ever here.”
With that the audience let this Wes Moore know that his presence had mattered for Jonathan’s Place.