Waiting in Studio A of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, where the ghosts of soul icons swirled around students who sang in loud clear voices, U.S. Army veteran, author and businessman Wes Moore knew what he was looking at.
Moore, who served in Afghanistan, drew on his military experience to tell the weeknight crowd that included business leaders and friends of the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club, “This is what I would call an ambush. … How do I follow that?”
It was good-natured, of course. On a more serious note, Moore – the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Other Wes Moore” – used the Stax Music Academy students, who perform around the world, as a touch point for a theme close to his heart: the importance of mentorship.
Moore was brought to Memphis this month at the behest of the breakfast club, the latest speaker in its regular series. Following the Thursday, Sept. 20, appearance at Stax, Moore spoke at Friday’s Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club signature event.
Moore told the crowd – speaking additionally to the students, whom he advised to “never forget your roots” – that he’s sometimes asked to describe the best parts of his life. And though he’s been a guest for talk show hosts like Stephen Colbert and Oprah Winfrey, and had other success in the public and private spheres, he said: “The coolest thing about this whole process has been days like today.”
“The beauty of mentorship,” he told the crowd, “is the salvation you give to the person you might never meet.”
And then he told the story he tells often, the remarkable turn of events that he turned into a book.
Years ago, the Baltimore Sun, the newspaper of Moore’s hometown, printed the story of a group of young men who allegedly killed a police officer in an armed robbery. One of them was named Wes Moore.
Back then, the Wes Moore who came to Memphis was told by his mother the police were looking for him. Not “him,” of course. But once Moore checked out the similarities – two young men, same name, roughly the same age, from the same neighborhood, both of whom had trouble with the law at times in their life – he was stunned.
One Wes Moore is serving a life sentence in prison for murder. The other Wes Moore became a Rhodes scholar, combat veteran, White House Fellow and a businessman.
It was that Wes Moore who came to Memphis this month. And he urged his listeners to do what they can so that the other Wes Moores of the world don’t have to keep falling through the cracks.