VOICES: “If I can help somebody, then my living shall not be in vain”

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

There is a song by Mahalia Jackson with the following lyrics:

“If I can help somebody, as I travel along / If I can help somebody, with a word or song. / If I can help somebody, from doing wrong, then my living shall not be in vain. / No, my living shall not be in vain.”

I was about eight or nine years old when I first heard this song and would later listen to it over and over again. For some reason that phrase “If I can help somebody, then my living shall not be in vain” stuck with me.

At that early age, I realized that I had found my purpose… to be a helper. It was easy to embrace this role because I come from a family of faith that believed in the importance of service. My father is a military veteran and my mother (who passed in 2008) retired after working over 20 years as a food service manager. So growing up, I was the kid that helped the teacher pass out snacks, volunteered to tutor anyone that needed help in the classroom, or went with my parents to visit the elderly from church.

All of those activities were great, but one very important lesson was missed along the way: I never asked for help. I thought being independent, self-reliant, and prepared was what was expected and the best way to fulfill my mission of being a “helper”.

That approach worked for a long time. I received good grades, excelled in sports and received an appointment to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy after high school.

During the summer of my freshmen year at the Academy, there is one day that I will never forget. Our squadron’s morning routine usually included push-ups, sit-ups and a morning run. However, this particular morning, we went on an unexpected lengthy run and I just ran out of gas.

What started as a high-energy run went from a jog to a trot to a slow walk. As I fell to the back of the group and slowly jogged/walked I looked up and saw two of my classmates running back towards me. It was Al and Mike. Al, Mike and I were the only African-Americans in our squadron. We didn’t have time to talk a lot but we would always make eye contact acknowledging the fact that we were the anomalies.

Without saying a word, Al went to my left side and Mike went to my right side. They put my arms around their neck and started running. Honestly, they pretty much carried me for the last few miles, as my feet barely touched the ground. I remember saying thank you to both of them, but we never spoke of it again.

They never sought special recognition or expected anything in return. All they saw was a classmate that was struggling and needed help. One important point: They didn’t wait for me to ask for help (which I would’ve never done).

That day changed me. My mindset about my purpose as a helper shifted. It hit me that everyone needs help sometimes and needing help doesn’t mean you are any less prepared or capable.

As a result, my perspective and ability to serve others grew exponentially. That moment with Al and Mike, silently carrying me when I couldn’t carry myself, shed light on the importance of community and interdependence. I have since embraced the sayings, “no man is an island” and “it takes a village...”

When we live interdependently, embracing our strengths and weaknesses, and are considerate of the same in others, we can all struggle less and celebrate more.

We are all running our own races in life, but we are also a part of a larger community. Many believe that they have to suffer in silence, which can lead to self-doubt or serious issues such as depression or suicide. But if each of us commits to having the courage to ask for help when we need it and has the awareness to see others who are in need. then we can all finish this race victoriously.

So today, go the extra mile! Volunteer, donate, offer whatever you have available to help someone. But don’t stop there – take someone who is struggling along with you.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” If you do this, if you help somebody, then your living will not be in vain.

Jacqueline Gamblin is the founder and CEO of information technology company JYG Innovations.

YWCA Women of Influence

On Thursday, March 10, YWCA Dayton honored eight women during its 2022 Women of Influence awards luncheon. To commemorate Womens History Month, Ideas & Voices partnered with the YWCA to share some of the speeches given at the event.

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