URBANA — When Wes Moore became the first black student at Johns Hopkins University to become a Rhodes Scholar, the Baltimore Sun featured a story about his achievement.
That same year, the newspaper published stories about another black man named Wes Moore, but this one faced murder charges for the killing of an off-duty police officer during an armed robbery.
Both men — about the same age, from the same city — had difficult experiences growing up in blighted neighborhoods.
One Wes Moore became a paratrooper and captain in the Army serving a tour of combat in Afghanistan, served as special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and became an investment professional in New York.
The other Wes Moore serves a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
Wes Moore the businessman wondered how two people with the same name and similar backgrounds from the same city could emerge with such different lives.
So he interviewed the other Wes Moore more than a dozen times in prison and chronicled the story in a book published in 2010, "The Other Wes Moore."
Moore, 33, of New York City, challenged his audience to expand their horizons as the featured speaker for the United Way of Champaign County's Pillar Celebration on Wednesday evening at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center in Urbana.
The Pillar Celebration is a reception and program in which the local United Way recognizes those who have given $500 or more to the organization.
Moore said the story of the two Wes Moores provides a road map for positive change.
"Fundamentally, each of us are two kids, like in my story, who are both looking for guidance and help and support and a positive example," Moore said. "One kid got it, the other kid didn't, and the world bears witness to the final results."
Moore said he came to Champaign County to thank United Way contributors for their commitment and provide them a pep talk to get more people involved.
"The United Way is one of these organizations that has a history of doing good work around the country," Moore said. "The United Way also has enough of a bully pulpit to be able to get more people involved in the larger conversation. The only way we are able to be successful is if we are willing to live united and understand just how little separates us from all the others out there in our society."
Moore said Rice was an inspiration and mentor to him.
"She is one of the hardest working bosses I have ever had," he said. "She was up at 4:30 a.m. and she didn't leave the office until 10:30 p.m. I've never worked with someone with that level of intensity.
"She is incredibly smart and incredibly thoughtful in the way that she thinks about the world."
Moore said he believes the United Way can be a model of an organization that people can seek to help others or to receive help.
What is Moore's advice for young people seeking their own path in life?
"When I was visiting the other Wes in prison, I once asked him if he thought we are products of our environment.
"He looked back at me and said he thought we are products of our expectations."
Moore said young people need to realize they are not alone in their journey and not be afraid to seek guidance from others.
"Whatever we expect of ourselves in many cases often become self-fulfilling prophecies," Moore said. "We have to expect good things and things bigger than just ourselves. If we do that, it's amazing how things can start falling into place."