Two Trains and a Bus

By The Weekly Editor and Student-Journalist Avani Kalra ’20

“The truest joy and the truest hope that we have as a larger collective society is a society where everybody feels embraced and supported, and prideful of who they are,” Wes Moore said.

Westley “Wes” Watende Omari Moore, a New York Times bestselling author, social entrepreneur, television producer, combat veteran and and CEO of Robin Hood, the most expansive anti-poverty nonprofit in New York City, travelled to Parker on Friday, November 2 to convey this message to Parker’s third through twelfth grades at a Morning Ex.

“Whether I’m talking to high school students, college students, or elementary school students, my message is relatively the same,” Moore said. “It is to embrace your power. Understand your power. Never hide your power. You all as young people have a chance to force conversations that people have no choice but to listen to and to act on. The question then becomes: how will you then use that power.”

When presenting these ideas to the student body, Moore forwent a podium, a presentation, or a microphone. Instead, he opted for an informal interview with Upper School Head Justin Brandon, his childhood best friend.

Brandon opened the MX by reading Moore’s Wikipedia biography to the student body. “I have known Mr. Brandon since third grade, sitting in your exact seats,” Moore said, gesturing to the third and fourth grades, “Hearing him read my bio is actually really funny. I’m enjoying it.”

Brandon believes that Moore is an important person to bring to the student body. “The ideas he stands for, his story, that’s important to share,” Brandon said. “It’s his experience with dealing with adversity and learning from your mistakes and righting the path when you’re off it completely. There are a lot of students that have struggled or are struggling, and are probably wondering if they’re going to make it out okay. Having him share his story of resilience is incredibly valuable.”

Together, Brandon and Moore shared the story of Moore’s childhood, filled with challenges and stories of strength, beginning with when they fi rst met. “Wes and I attended the Riverdale Country School starting in third grade together,” Brandon said. “We were two of very few students of color, and our mothers met and immediately wanted to connect the two African American boys in the grade. Luckily, it stuck.”

As the friends clicked through pictures of school plays and graduations, talking about their relationship through the years, the crowd roared with laughter and ‘awwed’ at several moments. “Some of the most complicated times of my life Justin [Brandon] was here for,” Moore said. “That’s my man for life.”

Brandon began by discussing their original bond, which rose from shared experiences throughout lower and middle school. “It wasn’t easy for us,” Brandon said. “We had to navigate growing up in the South Bronx, where the signs were half in Spanish and half in English, and going to a predominately white school in a completely different neighborhood.”

Moore agreed. “We took two trains and a bus every day getting to and from school. A really good day for us was when the biggest thing we had to think about was how we would do on our test that day, like the rest of our classmates. But there weren’t every many days like that.”

“There were other, bigger questions that we were focused on everyday,” Moore said. “It became really complicated because for many of our friends in school they didn’t understand the reality we had navigating. And for the kids in our neighborhood, they didn’t understand why we thought we were ‘too good’ to go to our neighborhood school. So we felt foreign. Everywhere we went, we felt like outsiders.”

Brandon felt this story was an important one to share with the student body. “When he [Moore] was talking about his experience going to an independent school in New York City and travelling and code switching, I looked around and saw a lot of people in the auditorium nodding and agreeing silently. That is a shared experience at Parker, and it is nice to feel validated hearing something similar from an adult.”

Junior and Men of Color Heritage Affinity (MOCHA) Alex Bennett appreciated Moore’s words. “Hearing him speak at the conference was both comforting and motivating for me because he talked about how, as black people, we belong everywhere, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Going to a place like Parker, that is something that’s really important to hear.”

While sharing personal stories from the Bronx, military school, and later in the army, Moore reminded the audience to be thankful for the people who have sacrificed for them. “In seventh grade, the dean of students at Riverdale Country school told Justin not to associate with me. He said: ‘you don’t want to end up where he’s going to end up.’ If people like my mother, my grandparents, and Justin [Brandon] hadn’t sacrificed what they did for me, I would not be where I am today.”

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.