Commentary: Pay it forward and make a difference in someone’s life

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The late Paul Harvey Aurandt was an American radio broadcaster for ABC News Radio who was well-known for his broadcasts, which often concluded with a variation on the tag line, “And now you know ... the rest of the story.”

In life, we often see people who have achieved great things or experienced success, but we’re not always aware of the road they traveled to get there. We see their glory, but we don’t know “the rest of the story.”

As a result people often ask, “How did they get there?” I’m a firm believer that no one has gained any level of success on their own. Along everyone’s journey, a parent, teacher, coach, friend, mentor or someone else helps us rise to a place of success. That was definitely a reality with me. When I really think about it, to a large extent, I should not be here.

Growing up on the tough streets of north Philadelphia in the Strawberry Mansion section of the inner city, I faced many challenges that could have led to imprisonment, street hustling or an early grave.

I grew up in poverty, in a family that depended on numerous state support systems. I was engulfed in a community infested with gang violence, drugs and crime. My father was a loving man who tried to provide for us, but he was an alcoholic who drank himself to death. My mother was chronically ill and depended on social services to feed me and my six brothers and sisters. Two of my brothers were arrested because of their gang affiliations, and in a real sense, that was a path I might have followed — which would have landed me in a similar situation as my brothers.’

But things worked out differently for me.

I got involved in a community program, sponsored by United Way funding. That program played a key role in changing the trajectory of my life.

It was in that program that I received mentoring, took acting classes and learned public speaking and other life skills lessons. I learned to take school seriously and became the first in my family to go to college. I later joined the U.S. Air Force, where I had an award-winning 20-year career. I also believe it was those acting and public-speaking classes that led to the success I’ve had as a motivational speaker and a Martin Luther King Jr. reenactor.

These talents have allowed me to speak all over the world, as well as at a private dedication held by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. in Washington, D.C., for the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which was attended by over 7,500 guests. I was also the keynote speaker for the New York State Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Observance in Albany, where I addressed more than 2,500 people.

It is because of blessings like this that I am committed to paying it forward. I wake up each day with a resolve to help anyone I can, especially those who’ve experienced poverty and hardship, as I did. And so I will continue to speak passionately to thousands of youth, just as I have over the past three decades.

My message is one of hope. I explain that if this success could happen to me, a kid from the ghetto, I know that through the power of education and determination, success can happen to you, too.

I may never know who the people were that made that investment in that United Way program in north Philly that changed my life. But I know that because of them, I am obligated to do all I can to let the most challenged child know that, regardless of their environment or economic situation, they can make their dreams come true.

All it takes is a person who’s willing to invest in the future of a child they may never meet. A child like I once was. And a person like you.

The Rev. Dr. John G. Moore Sr. is the director for philanthropy and engagement for the United Way of Delaware; president and CEO for Total Increase Ministries; and the pastor-elect of Dover Christian Church.