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One Book - One Community

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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 MooreWes 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

The Other Wes Moore book coverTwo 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., Caudill Hall, 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