"Their Destiny Matters," Wes Moore Says of NCAN Conference-Goers' Students

October 18, 2017

By Kim Szarmach, Communications Intern

Wes Moore's story is one of academic achievement, professional success, and familial love. But it could have been completely different. 

At NCAN's 2017 National Conference last month, Moore told a room full of college access and success professionals that they have the power to give all students the opportunities that he had, and that to do so is urgent.

"The reason this work matters right now is that far too many kids have got their own personal tragedies going on every day," he said. "For far too many kids … there are so many structural barriers actively working against them. They need to know they're not alone."

Wes Moore onstage with NCAN Board Secretary Nathaniel Easley

Moore’s key message – that success is possible for students of all backgrounds when they are given the proper support and offered the same opportunities – resonated strongly with NCAN members. His book, The Other Wes Moore, illustrates this idea by following the lives of two African American men named Wes Moore growing up in Baltimore at the same time. One is the author, who had won a Rhodes scholarship in 2000, and the other is a man who was facing first degree murder charges for killing an off-duty police officer during that very year. 

Throughout his book, Moore makes the case that without the support system and educational opportunities he had, he could have ended up just like the other Wes Moore. When you're living in an environment like the impoverished neighborhoods of Baltimore, where no one on the outside is rooting for your success, it's easy to make a mistake that could completely change the course of your life—and not in a good way, he argued.

"You cannot talk about individual decision-making without understanding that these decisions are being made in a societal context," Moore said.

If we can enact positive social change, however, Moore believes students will be equipped to make better decisions, and all children from low-income neighborhoods can achieve success instead of falling into self-destructive behavior. To create that change, Moore says the first step is improving access to education. 

But Moore warned that professionals in the higher education community cannot stop at improving access to education for students of low-income and minority backgrounds. By 2020, 80 percent of all jobs are going to require some form of postsecondary credential, Moore said in his speech. This means that to truly reach their potential and find a job that can support them, students need to make it through college to graduation. Moore believes the standard of excellence must be held at the same level for all students.

"You are never doing me a favor by telling me I cannot compete with someone else," he said.

Moore's story reminded NCAN members and others attending the conference why they do the work they do, and why they need to do it with more urgency than ever. 

Improving access to college and giving students the resources they need to graduate and be placed in fulfilling careers is not only important to each individual who succeeds. Student success is essential because a society of educated, thoughtful and compassionate adults is one that benefits us all.
 
The other Wes Moore, the other student who is facing hardship and injustice must be fought for so we can all benefit collectively, according to Moore.
 
"We know that their destiny matters to our long-term greatness and security as much as ours does," he said.

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