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.)
Good post–especially the info on Boys’ Town. However, I wonder if you got permission to use the lyrics of the song. I don’t believe it’s yet in public domain. Editorial curiosity at work.
I love this post Dan! A great reminder that everything we say has impact, both good and not so much. Love…if only we could live by those words. This world would be a much different place
What a powerful song; it’s always been one of my favourites.
The words that haunt me to the marrow come from the refrain in Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon”:
“And we would all
we said we’d all
Why did I live while my brothers died? Why did they go on, and leave me here?
It isn’t fair.
Martha Whiteman Rogers
I’ve always liked the words to that song. Thanks for sharing it and the history of Boys Town.
What an inspiring story! Thank you for bringing it to light for us. I am also moved by your line, “Words are interesting things. They can live a long time or be like mist, disappearing quickly.” I am spurred to stay close to God and find the words He wants me to say and that will live long.
Thank’s for this post, Dan. The movie’s next up on my Netflix queue.
Love this post, Dan. We’ll never know this side of heaven who found our words, written and spoken, something that made a difference in their lives. Words are like seeds, planted and left for God to bring the harvest.
Thank you, Dan.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Thanks for sharing those thoughts, Bob. That is one of my favorite Osmond family song.
Who knew you were an author?
Book sounds interesting.