Wes Moore issues challenge to 'make your voices heard' in MLK Commemorative Lecture
The best-selling author and social justice advocate delivered the lecture as part of Elon's events this month celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Throughout his years in college, Wes Moore was peppered with a common question that at the time seemed like the most important one he would ever answer — "What is your major?"
Moore is now a best-selling author and social justice advocate who leads a fight against poverty in New York City and founded a company that assists with the transition from high school to college. As he delivered the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture Wednesday night, he told the audience in Elon's McCrary Theatre that it's been many years since anyone asked his college major, and he has long since realized that what a person majors in means far less than who they advocate for after graduation.
"The most important question you're going to be asked is who did you choose to fight for, who mattered to you when they didn't have to, who did you advocate for when it wasn't politically expedient, who did you stand for or kneel for when you felt like it was the right thing to do?" Moore said. "We don't do things because they are popular. We don't do things because it will force everyone to stand up and cheer. But who is it that you will choose to fight for is how you will be thought of and remembered."
It was a challenge to those in the audience that fit with the spirit of the annual lecture that honors the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The commemorative lecture is part of a series of events at Elon during January that pays tribute to the late civil rights leader, with Moore offering insights into how lessons from King's leadership can influence the lives of young leaders today.
Melanie Bullock, director of the Center for Leadership at Elon, introduced Moore as a graduate of Johns Hopkins, a Rhodes Scholar and a combat veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne who "inspires others to see solutions instead of problems." Moore first gained a national audience with the 2010 publication of his first book, "The Other Wes Moore," which would become a New York Times bestseller.
In the book, Moore examined the parallels between his early life that saw him lose his father at a young age and have early brushes with the law, and the early life of another Wes Moore, also a native of Baltimore who is now serving a life sentence for his role in an armed robbery during which an off-duty police officer was killed.
Wes Moore learned about that robbery around the same time he was selected as a Rhodes Scholar, and he later reached out to the imprisoned Moore with the first of what would become many letters and then conversations. Moore said the response to his first letter from the man who shares his name was "one of the most interesting I have received in my life."
That connection would lead to the exploration of the factors that contribute to how two men raised in similar environments end up living vastly different lives — one as a veteran, Rhodes Scholar and social activist and the other as an inmate serving a life sentence.
"The reason I stand here right now is because there are people who saw something in me that I didn't see in myself," Moore said. In "The Other Wes Moore," Moore said he wanted to take the reader "on a journey to understand that the truth is that his story could have been mine, and the tragedy is that my story could have been his."
Moore founded BridgeEDU, a Baltimore-based organization with a focus on helping students make the transition from high school to college, and Moore touted the value that higher education can have in the lives of those who receive it, though he noted that "higher education" does not automatically come with attending class and successfully receiving a diploma.
"Higher education is your ability to take what you have and take what you've learned and use it to make us all better, to lift us all up, to create more pathways," Moore said. "We stand here as those who have that opportunity in our hands. So the biggest question then becomes what are we going to do with it.
"There is no prerequisite to be active," he said. "There is no single degree nor job description nor financial obligation to make your voices heard. So the only thing I know all of us ask you is that you go out there and you use it."