CHAMPAIGN — You may recognize the name of author and veteran Wes Moore as the man who spoke in Urbana last year.
Moore is coming back this week for another talk, but this one will be aimed at kids from around Champaign County. He'll address more than 500 students, many of them ninth-graders, at the Parkland College gym Thursday (Oct. 18).
Moore is an Army veteran, former State Department adviser, investment professional and author of "The Other Wes Moore," about his life and the life of a man by the same name who grew up in the same town as he, and is serving life in prison for murder.
Moore spoke last year to a group of donors, as well as about 45 students, said Carol Scharlau, the United Way's director of major gifts planned giving. Moore spoke with those students and listened to stories about the challenges they faced and their aspirations.
As he addressed the crowd, "You could have heard a pin drop," Scharlau said. "For the young people, it was, 'He did it, I could do it too,'" she said.
The committee that brought Moore to town met last winter to discuss how the event went, she said, and those who work with kids and in education said they'd like to host him again to talk to more students.
The committee invited schools and youth organizations from all over the county to bring students.
Scharlau said they'll come from a range of backgrounds, from stable homes and those who don't have that advantage.
"I think no matter where they're coming from, it will be important to them," she said.
Many of them will be ninth-graders, although some younger students from schools that only go through eighth grade will be there, too. Students from 27 youth programs and 24 high schools have been invited.
The idea is for Moore to reach the students while they're still making decisions about their future and have time to change course.
Moore will address the large group, then Moore will meet with a smaller group of about 45 students who will talk more intimately with him.
Scharlau said she's excited about what Moore's influence will mean for the kids who attend.
"It just ties in so well, with that whole education focus," she said.
Janice Mitchell, the director of the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center, said she attended Moore's talk this year and has a group of students reading his book in preparation for Thursday's talk. Some of the students involved in the center attended his talk last year, so they're leading the book club.
"I thought it was ... a very moving presentation," Mitchell said of hearing Moore speak. "I think that just his being able to share his life experiences (and) the journey he had to where he is now resonated with a lot of our younger kids."
She believes it will give the students who attend perspective, regardless of their situation or background.
Urbana resident Amirah Ar-Raheem, who is 17 and attends Urbana High School, said she found Moore's message interesting, and good for her when she was going through "a rough time." She enjoyed hearing about how Moore made it through his own struggles.
She also liked the fact that Moore wrote a book, and she also likes to read and write.
"It just made me see, OK, I can do that," Ar-Raheem said.
She thinks Moore will have a positive message for students who attend the event Thursday.
"What he has to say should help a lot of the kids that he talks to whether they're going through a hard time or not," Ar-Raheem said.