Publishing History

The Island of Lost Boys

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where

But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there

For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share

And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother, he ain’t heavy

A classic American folk tune written by Bob Russell and Bobby Scott, first recorded by the Hollies in 1969, then Neil Diamond in 1970 and others since.

Inspiration for the song came from the inscription on the statue of a young boy being carried on the back of another on the grounds of Boy’s Town in Nebraska.

Boy’s Town was founded one hundred years ago today, December 12, 1917. It started in Omaha and moved to its present location in Nebraska a few years later.

The picture at the top of this post shows the original statue, which stood on the grounds for close to 75 years. (A new updated statue is being unveiled for the 100th anniversary)

Father Edward Flanagan, a Catholic priest decided something needed to be done to rescue and redirect the wayward boys in the city. What he started, has grown, been emulated and honored for its effectiveness.

Today, on the 900-acre campus, 550 boys and girls in grades 3-12 live, go to school and take part in a myriad of extra curricular activities in a faith-based environment, embracing Catholic, Protestant and Jewish traditions.

Over eighty percent of the youths come from single parent homes. Most have been neglected and abused. Half of the girls and a third of the boys were sexually abused.

But over eighty percent obtain their GED compared to 55% who make their way through the government-run foster system.  A quarter, end up going to college.

Two thirds of Boy’ s Town funding comes from private sources and one third through public funding. If you want to read more, click here.

Words have power to instruct, inspire or incite action. Throughout the initial days of Boy’s Town, as with any movement which has taken on a life of it’s own, a few well-chosen words were at the heart of the process, building momentum. Father Flanagan repeated over and over he “Never met a boy who wanted to be bad.”

He chose the “He ain’t heavy” quote from a passage in a book written in 1884 by Scottish author James Wells titled The Parables of Jesus. In it, the author tells the story of a young girl carrying a baby boy. Asked if she was tired carrying him, she responds, “No, he’s not heavy, he’s my brother.”

Simple words, yet 60 years later they inspired countless lives through Boy’s Town and continue to do so to this day.

Words are interesting things. They can live a long time or be like mist, disappearing quickly.  So, keep writing words and maybe someone will quote you in sixty years and inspire generations.

(Rent Boy’s Town, the 1937 film with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. Have some tissues handy. Even eighty-year-old films have value.)

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