Let’s Talk About Race: Writing & Discussion Prompts Inspired by The Other Wes Moore

“Very few lives hinge on any single moment or decision or circumstance. . . he inspired me and countless other young people to see ourselves as capable of taking control of our own destinies, and to realize how each decision we make determines the course of our life stories.”

My incoming 8th grade students are reading The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (2010) for the all grade summer reading requirement.  The Other Wes Moore is about two kids who grew up with the same name of Wes Moore. There were many similarities among the two of them in addition to the same name – they were both raised fatherless and they were born in the same neighborhood in Baltimore,Maryland in the late 70’s. During their formative teenage years their lives took different turns. 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. The book tells the story of these two men coming of age and attempts to address the influencing factors how their similarities diverged into tragedy and success.

There are so many compelling passages that can spark important conversations around race, identity, and personal responsibility. I have pulled three particular passages that can be used as writing prompts and or critical conversation starters.


“When did you feel like you’d become a man?” Wes asked me, a troubled look on his face.

“I think it was when I first felt accountable to people other than myself. When I first cared that my actions mattered to people other than just me.” I answered quickly and confidently, but I wasn’t too sure of what I was talking about. When did I actually become a man? There was no official ceremony that brought my childhood to an end. Instead crisis other other circumstances presented me with adult-sized responsibilities and obligations that I had to meet one way or another. For some boys, this happens later – in their late teens or even twenties – allowing them to grow organically into adulthood. But for some of us, the promotion to adulthood, or at least its challenges, is so jarring, so sudden, that we enter into it unprepared and might be undone by it. (2010, page 66)

Prompt: When do you become an adult? Some cultures have ceremonies that signify adulthood, but what age or experiences mark adulthood?


“Do you think we’re all just products of our environments? His smile dissolved into a smirk, with the let side of his face resting at ease. 

“I think so, or maybe products of our expectations.”

“Others’ expectations of us or our expectations for ourselves?”

“I mean others’ expectations that you take on as your own.”

I realized how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that other place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.” (2010, page 126)

Prompt: Are we products of our environment, expectations, or other?


The common bond of humanity and decency that we share is stronger than any conflict, any adversity, any challenge. Fighting for your convictions is important. But finding peace is paramount. Knowing when to fight and when to seek peace and wisdom.” (2010, page 168)

Prompt: What does forgiveness look like and sound like? Is it easy or hard to forgive someone? Explain your response.

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