CBR11 BINGO: True Story
The premise of this book is interesting. How can two people, born a year apart in the same neighborhood turn out differently? At what point could the path split to lead to a successful and happy life for one and life in prison for the other? What happened along the way and can something be learned from that?
As author Wes Moore is awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford, a man hunt is underway to arrest suspects wanted in a jewelry store robbery that resulted in the death of a Police Officer. One of the suspects is “the other” Wes Moore. Moved by their shared name, neighborhood and age, the author wonders what prevented him from following the same path.
Two years later, after returning from Oxford, the author sends a letter to Wes Moore who is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his part in the robbery. When this correspondence is reciprocated, the author begins visiting him in prison, and eventually interviewing family and friends.
My problem with the book is that race, gender, birthplace and age are just about the ONLY things that they have in common. While the author loses a father at a young age, the Wes Moore who would spend his life in prison has a father who is very much alive, but in no way involved in his life. The author moves from their shared Baltimore neighborhood to the Bronx. While that neighborhood is also rough, he is living with a very involved mother and very involved grandparents. Meanwhile, his counterpart remains in Baltimore with an overworked single mother and an older brother who begins selling drugs at a very young age. Their lives, in the end, are mostly incomparable.
While the author does touch on this briefly in the afterword of the paperback version of the book, it feels like more of an attempt to have the last word on criticism that he received from the original hardback publication:
Many readers came up with their own answers to the questions of what made the difference. Some said the mentors we encountered were the key. Others pointed to the different levels of cultural capital and social resources our mother’s possessed: my parents were college graduates, as were my grandparents, and my mother was able to tap into a wide network of supportive friends, family, and professional contacts when she needed help.
While the author had a hard time at school, he was afforded every opportunity to succeed. When a private school education didn’t work out (because he was skipping school), his mother scraped together every penny she could from anyone that she could ask to send him to military school. Under that strict thumb, the author was able to flourish. From family and military connections, he was able to carve out a life for himself that “the other” Wes Moore could not.
It’s tricky for me to write about this. I am about as far away from the kind of childhood both of these men experienced as you can get. I fully acknowledge my female white privilege here. I’m just not so sure that the author, Wes Moore, is fully realizing his own privilege in comparison to “the other” Wes Moore. The support system that afforded him the resources and the push that he needed isn’t just an afterthought. It’s everything. The author’s story is more one of motivation in the end. If he had chosen not to take full advantage of every hand that he was extended, his trajectory may have been the same as the “other Wes Moore.” The difference is that so much more was stacked up against the “other Wes Moore” from an early age and very few hands were extended.
The take away here is not so much WHY the author’s life ended up so differently than his contemporary’s, but HOW black males struggle to grow up in urban America. I think that’s where this book’s value really lies.