This book is a good counterpart to Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's "Random Family". It has a male-oriented view of the obstacles of poverty, drugs, race, incarceration, and single parenthood that collide with a shockingly large percentage of young people in the United States and limit their ability to either assimilate or work towards their American Dream.
"There but for fortune" the author Wes Moore concludes, after meeting his life-improsioned name brother. From a similar time and place, luck and felicitous mentoring certainly played a role for the successful Wes Moore. In reality, though, his family was a stronger and more resilient unit to begin with, and I believe that also made a huge difference. He lost his father at a young age through death, not alchohol and neglect, and when his mother moved to try to make things better, she was moving back to the sturdy and stable home of her loving parents. Although the author still could have easily descended into the crime and drugs that surrounded him, that backbone allowed for an interference at the right time to move him forward instead of down.
How to help more young men and women escape? Better education has been trumpeted as "the answer", but as author Wes Moore's struggles at an upscale private school illuminate, the educational experience needs to be an approriate social experience as well to succeed. And the military school that ultimately gave him the push he needed did not work for all his fellow cadets. As difficult as it is to acknowledge and do something about, every child is different, and any education must meet the needs and background of that particular child. That means mentors and enough leadership to pay close attention to each student, as well as family engagement and support, are necessary.
Jobs need to be available and pay livable wages too. The lure of easy drug money is just too great for many young people who see that money and things are what our society truly values. Our actions say that someone who--to put it bluntly--gambles with other people's money is worth a salary 100 times that of the person who cares for the gambler's children or aging parents. And the gambler, instead of paying for his crimes and mess-ups, usually gets away with a large fortune instead. Why work an honest, even valuable, job for minimum wage?
While not condoning the actions of the other Wes Moore, the author takes a hard look at how difficult is really is to leave poverty behind. "There but for fortune" applies to all of us. How can we quantify the advantages gained by accidents of birth, environment, the results of key events and decisions made, not only by ourselves but those around us? How can anyone be certain they could rise unscathed above similar circumstances?