When Wes Moore swings a sledgehammer, he does it with his whole body, with the easy confidence of someone who's used to manual labor.
It's early on a Saturday morning, and Wes is one of a couple dozen volunteers who have gathered in the Oliver neighborhood of East Baltimore to break up the concrete of old row house foundations in preparation for a park. The project is called Operation Oliver, and it's orchestrated and executed by the 6th Branch, a group of military veterans who are hoping to make change at home.
After a morning of smashing concrete and carting around wheelbarrows of mulch, Moore's next stop was Baltimore Startup Weekend for Education at Under Armor headquarters in Locust Point. He was one of the weekend's "coaches," giving advice to groups of Baltimore City public high school students who pitched ideas on how to utilize technology to improve their schools. For Moore, 34-year-old author of the bestselling book "The Other Wes Moore," there's no room for down time.
"Friends have asked me, 'Dude, do you ever sit down?'" he says. "Quite honestly? No. I feel like there's always something more to do."
That's never been more true than in the past two years. Since releasing his best-selling book "The Other Wes Moore" in 2010, Moore has appeared on "Oprah," "CBS Sunday Morning," "Meet the Press," "Charlie Rose," "Tavis Smiley" and "The View." He's worked as host of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)'s "Beyond Belief," in which he tells the stories of other inspirational people — like Jessica Cox, a woman with no arms who can fly a plane with her feet. He's a Johns Hopkins graduate, a Rhodes Scholar and a veteran Army officer, who once was special assistant to Condoleezza Rice.
After two years managing his production company, Omari Productions — which creates content for such networks as OWN, PBS, HBO and NBC — Moore moved back to Baltimore in October with his wife, Dawn, and their 17-month-old daughter, Mia.
"My new thing," says Moore, "is I want everything I do to be based in Baltimore — I'm moving employees and sites and facilities. All the people in New York working for me, I want to move them here."
It's not common that a successful producer and television host will move his entire operation from New York to Baltimore, but Moore isn't your typical show business man. Moore was born here, and after growing up with his grandmother in the Bronx and attending a high school military academy in Pennsylvania, he returned to attend Johns Hopkins University and be closer to his mother, Joy. To him, Baltimore is full of opportunity.
One area that Omari Productions is focusing on, says Moore, is the role of the 21st century city. What does that look like? What is that mix between business and education and policy? Where are people choosing to live now? How can we be more creative about where people live and how they move?
"Baltimore is just an amazing template for that," he says. "It's a very legitimate and important American big city, but it still has the charm of a small town."
Moore relishes this small-town feel, especially in boots-on-the-ground work like Operation Oliver. Moore has volunteered with the project three times, and he now sees the impact he and his fellow volunteers had made.
"You can remember when this yard was filled with trash," he says between wheelbarrows, "and now you can see the fruits of your labor. That kind of community connection — you can't find that in New York."
Not everyone understands the move.
"There have been some mixed reactions," Moore says of his employees who were asked to transfer from Manhattan to Baltimore. "Some of my buddies — in New York and Baltimore — when they heard I was coming back to Baltimore were, like, 'Why?' They assumed somebody in my family was sick. They couldn't understand why I would just want to come home."
No one in Moore's family is sick. On the contrary, his mother, Joy, who lives in Pasadena, is "ecstatic," says Moore, to have her son (and his wife and their daughter) closer.
"We moved to New York because of work, and work was going extremely well up in New York," Moore says. "But I just missed home. I missed my friends, my family. My mom still is down here, my sister is down here, my cousins and aunts and uncles.
"If I thought in any way that professionally things would take a hit, it wouldn't have happened," he adds. "If I thought that my family would take a hit, it wouldn't have happened."
Once he got the OK from the networks he works with, Moore and his wife, Dawn, who works for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, an organization based in New York but with offices in Baltimore, decided to make the move.
"When it really sunk in," says Moore, "is when our daughter was born. ... She's my heart. She is absolutely my pride and joy in every single way."
Aside from his book-related speaking engagements and running his production company, in Baltimore, Moore is writing more — policy op-eds for the New York Times and other publications, a young-adult version of "The Other Wes Moore," some young adult novels and another book for adults, about "the search for purpose" in post-9/11, post-financial crisis America.