Best-selling author Wes Moore gave an impassioned lecture at Groton on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, channeling Dr. King’s belief in the power of action, rather than just conviction.
“That thing that does make your heart beat a little bit faster—do something about it,” he urged students.
The author of The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates told audience members not to focus on the questions they will hear endlessly in years ahead—what’s your major, what are you studying?—but instead to ask themselves whom they are choosing to fight for, especially when it isn't easy.
Moore stressed the importance of standing up for the “other,” those who may not have a voice—a message also delivered in an animated chapel talk that kicked off the day's activities. In a special MLK morning chapel service, Kenyan Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi, who has a master’s of divinity from Harvard and is pursuing a doctorate in practical theology at Boston University, shared a compelling story of an outsider—an "other"—who fell from a windowsill during an important meeting. She eventually revealed that the seemingly contemporary tale was from Acts, the fifth book of the New Testament, and that the person who tended to the victim was the apostle Paul.
“Who in this community has a voice that is always left out?" she asked. "Who is on the windowsills of issues you care about?”
Her theme of the "other" was a fitting prelude to Moore’s talk, which coupled details of his book with motivational appeals. The Other Wes Moore chronicles the similarities of Moore’s life with that of another man in his native Baltimore also named Wes Moore, who is now serving a life sentence for murder. The “other” Wes Moore could have taken a path valued by society, just as the speaker might have gone astray. The speaker indeed did lose his way during a period when he lived in the Bronx, but a difficult stint in military school, and people who cared about him, ultimately steered him away from trouble.
When the writer Wes Moore first reached out to the man who shared his name, he was surprised to receive a well-written, articulate letter from prison, driving home the failed potential of the “other” Wes Moore and piquing curiosity about what had derailed his life.
The speaker took issue with the often cited dictum that people are a product of their environments, instead saying, as the "other" Wes Moore once told him, that they are the product of expectations. “I’m a firm believer that the potential in this country is universal,” he said. “Opportunity is not.”
He remains in touch with the “other” Wes Moore; to those who criticize him for relating to a murderer, he says, “Even our worst decisions don’t separate us from the circle of humanity.”
Moore said he was hesitant to have his name in the book title, but publishers insisted the important word was “other.” The book, Moore said, is about people “straddling this line of greatness and they don’t even know it.”
The audience delivered a standing ovation after Moore's speech, and again after his question-and-answer session.
Moore frequently referred to Dr. King during his talk, and urged students to read the reverend's Letter from Birmingham Jail, and to read it often. He pushed students to find the issues they care about, and as Dr. King did, stand up for them.
“A certain degree is not required to make an impact. There is no age limit,” Moore said. “There is not income level. It’s just a matter of you saying, ‘There’s work to be done.’”