The Idea Festival has been stirring new connections and fresh thinking for over a decade. Held at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, this annual event brings together a diverse collective of individuals sharing new ideas to benefit our economy and culture.
Part of the First Year Initiatives program required incoming freshman at the University of Louisville to read “The Other Wes Moore,” a story of two lives divided by the consequences of decisions- something that most students are probably familiar with by now.
On Friday, Sept. 23, Book-in-Common author Wes Moore came to relay his story and emphasize his idea that every one has infinite potential. Coming from humble beginnings in a rough Baltimore neighborhood to becoming a published author, business man and youth advocate Wes Moore speaks volumes about this truth.
After an on-stage interview, the audience was allowed to approach the microphone with questions they had for Moore. The Louisville Cardinal asked, “Do you think there’s a certain point in somebody’s life when it might be too late to benefit humanity? If you were in the other Wes Moore’s position, what would you do?”
Though the answer was indirect, it seemed that Wes would choose the same path of his prison comrade.
“One of the things Wes is doing now is working with the shorts—the ones coming out soon—and basically letting them know that you have an opportunity that Wes and a lot of people wish they had: that they’ll actually get out. He’s trying to work with them and show them you can do more.”
As for a stopping point, “I don’t think it’s too late for people,” he said. “There have been decisions that people have made and lines people have crossed that means they’re not to be trusted in society; I get that, and I endorse that. We have to be able to understand that it’s about finding a certain level of humanity. And if that means the only contribution that Wes makes is working with the guys who are in prison right now, that’s fine. It’s not about whether or not he gets out; it’s about how you can make a contribution and do something positive for humanity.”
After this session, Moore took some open time to sign books and chat with the eager minds who all shared a sense of inspiration from his story. A select group of students were invited to attend a reception following this break where Moore spoke to the U of L body directly. Not only was it was another opportunity to pick his brain, but students also took with them his best advice on making a difference: find something you’re passionate about, throw out all conventional wisdom, connect with the best people in these practices and make the people you serve part of the conversation, not the subject.
One thing Moore stressed was maintaining sustainability in these projects. Katie Partin, program coordinator of First Year Initiatives, built on this idea.
“It helps ensure that in the future we’ll have students come in behind us to make the world a better place,” she said.
Partin also noticed a change in students’ attitudes after reading “The Other Wes Moore.” “This year we really tried to find a book that spoke to students in where they were, especially first year students; it’s about decision making, critical thinking, and having people that will fight for you and make a difference. More students got the book at orientation than ever before. Our student orientation staff, CAPS leaders and other student leaders that read the book loved it and said ‘this is what we’ve been waiting for.’”
For some students, reading this book was a crucial part in determining their lives after college. “It was definitely eye-opening,” said Kelsey Huffman, a senior biology major. “It actually changed my mind about what I want to do with my life. I don’t want to go work in a pharmacy; I want to be a teacher.”
Moore was impressed with the U of L’s efforts in utilizing his book, commenting that “You all are truly setting the standard.”
He closed the reception with a phrase his grandfather wrote to him on the inside of a Bible years ago. “What you’re all embarking on is something very extraordinary,” he said. “It can be scary; it can be daunting. There might be people who might not take you seriously. But have faith, not fear.”
If you missed Idea Festival, this won’t be the last you’ll see of Wes Moore. He returns to campus on October 18 at the Speed Art Museum auditorium to explore ways in which we can apply themes from his book to impact our community. The overwhelmingly positive response to this book has encouraged the university to continue its use for the next few years.
Photos: Lara Kinne/The Louisville Cardinal