Both Wes Moores experience powerful moments of inclusion and exclusion during their lives, and these experiences have a significant impact on the choices each of them makes. Born into loving—if shattered—families, the Wes Moores begin life with a strong connection to their relatives. Both boys also experience a sense of community through their participation in sports; Wes feels a sense of belonging when he puts on his Northwood Rams football jersey, and Moore describes the group of kids who he plays basketball with in the Bronx as a “brotherhood.” As Moore moves through life, he is inducted into a series of new communities—first at military school, then Johns Hopkins, then as a Rhodes Scholar—each of which supports him and pushes him to become even more successful.
This is a distinct contrast to Wes’ experience. Unlike Moore, Wes does not remain in sporting and academic communities, and the importance of these communities only becomes clear to him after they are gone. At the Jobs Corps campus, for example, Wes is stunned by the chance to live and work on what looks like a college campus; however, this too is taken away once Wes graduates from the Jobs Corps and is forced to return to the real world. Meanwhile, even Wes’s experience as a boyfriend and father is marred by his infidelity to Alicia and Cheryl’s drug addiction. Similarly, his relationship with Mary is strained due to his lying and criminal activity. It is not until he is in prison and converts to Islam that he experiences a sense of inclusion again. Yet although his religious community supports him as he serves his time, it cannot undo the fact that Wes is permanently excluded from the outside world and cut off from his family. In many ways, prison is the ultimate exclusionary force in the book.
Moore also traces how he and Wes are subject to larger forces of inclusion and exclusion that govern the world around them. As African Americans, both are excluded and marginalized within American society. Because he remains in a majority-black neighborhood, this large-scale exclusion is less immediately apparent to Wes. Moore, on the other hand, is strongly affected by exclusion based on race and class, particularly when he attends Riverdale. Describing his time at the school, he notes: “I was becoming too ‘rich’ for the kids from the neighborhood and too ‘poor’ for the kids at school.” He encounters a similar dilemma when he first considers applying to Johns Hopkins; despite growing up minutes away from the Johns Hopkins campus, Moore doesn’t believe that there are any students there like him. Although Moore overcomes his concerns about applying to Johns Hopkins and goes on to find great success there, the book highlights the tension between the worlds Moore ends up living between. Although he secures a prosperous future for himself in both an academic and professional context, he remains tied to the poor, excluded community into which both he and Wes were born.
Inclusion vs. Exclusion ThemeTracker
Inclusion vs. Exclusion Quotes in The Other Wes Moore
We definitely have our disagreements––and Wes, it should never be forgotten, is in prison for his participation in a heinous crime. But even the worst decisions we make don't necessarily remove us from the circle of humanity. Wes's desire to participate in this book as a way to help others learn from his story and choose a different way is proof of that.
Johns Hopkins University was only five miles from where Mary grew up, but it might as well have been a world away. To many in Baltimore, Johns Hopkins was the beautiful campus you could walk past but not through. It played the same role that Columbia University did for the Harlem residents who surrounded it, or the University of Chicago did for the Southside. It was a school largely for people from out of town, preppies who observed the surrounding neighborhood with a voyeuristic curiosity when they weren't hatching myths about it to scare freshmen. This city wasn't their home. But after completing her community college requirements, Mary attempted the short but improbable journey from the neighborhood to the campus. Her heart
jumped when she received her acceptance letter. It was a golden ticket to another world.
The walls and floors were coated with filth and graffiti. Flickering fluorescent tubes (the ones that weren't completely broken) dimly lit the cinder-block hallways. The constantly broken-down elevators forced residents to climb claustrophobic, urine-scented stairways. And the drug game was everywhere, with a gun handle protruding from the top of every tenth teenager's waistline. People who lived in Murphy Homes felt like prisoners, kept in check by roving bands of gun-strapped kids and a nightmare army of drug fiends. This was where Tony chose to spend his days.
'Wes searched around his room for his football jersey. He played defensive end for the Northwood Rams, one of the best rec football teams in the nation. Wes loved football, and his athletic frame made him a natural. Even if he was just going out to play in the streets with Woody and some other friends, he wore that jersey like a badge of honor. The crimson "Northwood" that blazed across his white jersey gave him a sense of pride, a sense of belonging.”
When my grandparents moved to the United States, their first priority was to save enough money to buy this house on Paulding Avenue. To them a house meant much more than shelter; it was a stake in their new country. America allowed them to create a life they couldn't have dreamed of in their home countries of Jamaica and Cuba.
We were all enclosed by the same fence, bumping into one another, fighting, celebrating. Showing one another our best and worst, revealing ourselves––even our cruelty and crimes––as if that fence had created a circle of trust. A brotherhood.
My mother saw Riverdale as a haven, a place where I could escape my neighborhood and open my horizons. But for me, it was where I got lost.
I was becoming too "rich" for the kids from the neighborhood and too "poor" for the kids at school. I had forgotten how to act naturally, thinking way too much in each situation and getting tangled in the contradictions between my two worlds. My confidence took a hit. Unlike Justin, whose maturity helped him handle this transition much better than I did, I began to let my grades slip.
Later in life I learned that the way many governors projected the numbers of beds they'd need for prison facilities was by examining the reading scores of third graders. Elected officials deduced that a strong percentage of kids reading below their grade level by third grade would be needing a secure place to stay when they got older. Considering my performance in the classroom thus far, I was well on my way to needing state-sponsored accommodations.
I found in hip-hop the sound of my generation talking to itself, working through the fears and anxieties and inchoate dreams—of wealth or power or revolution or success—we all shared. It broadcast an exaggerated version of our complicated interior lives to the world, made us feel less alone in the madness of the era, less marginal. Of course, all that didn't matter to my mother. All she knew was that I could effortlessly recite hip-hop lyrics while struggling with my English class.
Wes, you are not going anywhere until you give this place a try. I am so proud of you, and your father is proud of you, and we just want you to give this a shot. Too many people have sacrificed in order for you to be there.
Wes had his entire operation organized with the precision of a military unit or a division of a Fortune 500 company. The drug game had its own rules, its own structure. He was a lieutenant, the leader of his small crew. Everyone in the crew had a specific job with carefully delineated responsibilities.
As I started to think seriously about how I could become the person I wanted to be, I looked around at some of the people who'd had the biggest impact on my life. Aside from family and friends, the men I most trusted all had something in common: they all wore the uniform of the United States of America.
"Fuck God," he said, drawing in a lungful of smoke. "If He does exist, He sure doesn't spend any time in West Baltimore."