My Story

Video Highlights (minute markers)

0:00 Getting to know Blake

1:30 Blake “Making Plays in Life”

2:30 Blake introduces himself

4:20 Suzanne dropping off groceries to Yusuf and Alex

5:00 Check Your Game/dealing with adversity

5:50 Blake gets into details about Yusuf

7:07 “I Love This Game” Yusuf

7:54 Marfan’s

10:40 I ask Blake what we can learn from Yusuf’s story (appreciation, grateful, positive mindset, follow your passion)

12:50 Lagos, Nigeria (Yusuf’s hometown)

13:15 College of Tusculum

14:20 Mr. Niswonger

16:30 Yusuf complaining about his stomach hurting

19:00 Blake processing Yusuf’s passing

22:50 Blake going through the motions/stale & numb

25:40 Benefits of sharing your story

26:25 What advice do you give to others?

29:30 Getting into basketball the next 12 minutes

30:37 The one bad thing I saw Blake do (it’s not really bad btw and he was only 5 I think)

31:15 Blake talks basketball

32:20 Lack of communication with his coach

33:45 Advice for others in regards to communication

35:45 Using the lemons of life to help impact others

38:00 How to connect with Blake

38:58 Blake’s final words

39:38 God is good

40:25 Please share your comments for Blake

Blake’s written story starts right below this picture!

Growing up I was the only boy, literally right in the middle of three sisters with one older, one younger, and a twin. However, when I got to high school that quickly changed.

Yusuf

Through a relationship formed with one of my very best friends, my family essentially adopted two more boys (although they were the age of my older sister at this point). This action my parents took changed my life forever.  It gave me not just one, but two brothers – something I had never had before. The relationships we built since that day have become some of the strongest and most special that I will probably ever have.  They are truly my brothers. I love them with everything in me and they love me the same; our relationships are deep, and we cherish them.

At the beginning of 2019, our world began to slowly change. We had found out Yusuf was sick, very sick. This wasn’t the first time either as a few years prior he had been diagnosed with Marfan’s Syndrome and had to have lifesaving open heart surgery. However, this time it was a rare and aggressive form of cancer. The last ten months of his life were odd and it went by so fast.  He just wasn’t himself.  Don’t get me wrong, we had some amazing times too…lifelong memories were formed, relationships were built, we got to meet his biological mother from Nigeria, my other brother came home from France to spend the summer with us, and we were able to spend a lot of quality time as a family.

Yusuf ended up losing his battle on October 15, 2019. There are many lessons I learned and am still learning as a result of going through this, but today I just want to share one. Take time for what you need. I was at home with Yusuf for a week on my fall break the week before he passed, and then I went back to school. I knew he wasn’t doing great, but I still expected to see him again. However, I never did and later that week he passed away. I came home as soon as I found out, but my stay was short. Only a day after the funeral I went back to school for basketball practice and class, and although I came home during for the weekend as well, that was it. I spent a total of about 4 days at home, and those were all pretty busy ones. The brief stay left little room for me to process what was going on, to feel and understand my emotions, and to remember Yusuf with my loved ones. Instead, I pushed all of those thoughts and feelings aside for the most part and just kept on going with my life. I never allowed myself the time or space to do what I needed to do; I needed to reflect and feel and process, but I didn’t. Neglecting what was going on inside of me resulted in me becoming somewhat depressed and numb. I wasn’t myself and I didn’t know what to do about it.  Eventually I realized what was going on and I came to a crossroads; would I continue down this dark path or would I make a change? I decided to make a change. I decided to stop pushing things away, but rather bring things into the light and deal with them. Through this decision, I have been able to start the healing process, doing the things that I didn’t allow myself to do previously. I am still learning what this looks like and still dealing with some of the hard things that developed as a result of his passing.  I am also still healing as I ignored this at the beginning, but the important part is that, I am healing. The most important part of this healing process for me has been to learn to trust God for who He says He is and to lean into Him through this process allowing Him to work in me, bring things into the light, and heal me. I am also thankful for the people who have loved me well, supported me, and healed alongside me during this process – surround yourself with people who will do this for you too. So, for whoever is reading this and may be going through something similar, I would encourage you to take time for what you need. Take the time to laugh, to cry, to remember, to wrestle, to pray, to read, to talk, to be silent, to journal… take time for whatever it is that you need, even when you don’t feel like it… the time to heal. I wish I would’ve started the process earlier, and I hope by reading this you will decide to not push things away but to begin your journey now.

Basketball

Sports have always been a big part of my life; my family life, social life, academic life, and spiritual life – they have affected me in almost every aspect. Growing up I played almost everything, but as I got older, basketball was the sport I fell in love with.  I committed to it and began investing time into getting better; it became what I was doing with most of my time. I am thankful for what basketball gave me such as being healthy, memories, all the life lessons, and most importantly, the relationships.  However, I am here to share with you something I would have done differently if I had the chance to go back.

After my senior year of high school, I decided to go play basketball for a very successful program in division 3, namely the College of Wooster. I decided to go there for various reasons, including that my brother was currently playing there (Alex), but a big deciding factor was the opportunity to play basketball at the next level. Going there I knew it would be competitive, Wooster had a good program and people wanted to go there to compete for a national championship… so did I. There were guys there who chose to play at Wooster instead of taking money from any division 1 or 2 schools, and although that wasn’t the case for me, I had full confidence in my abilities – I knew I could play there. However, over my four years playing, I never got the chance to really make an impact on the court. Of course, this isn’t what I wanted, but doing some things differently might have led to a different outcome.  If you ask people around me, they will probably say I’m a nice guy, and I think my coach would have said the same thing. And although that’s a positive thing, I think it hurt my chances of getting playing time. My coach saw me as a guy who was kind and good to have in the locker room but didn’t really have the grit or tenacity to get it done in the game. That is where I disagree, and if I could go back, I would have tried to communicate that to him. I don’t think my coach really understood the type of player I was and could have been, I think my personality off the court blinded him from who I was on the court. By no means am I saying I would be angry or a mean person on the court, but I would compete.  I don’t think I was able to convince my coach of that, and I think that has a lot to do with us not completely taking the time to truly understand each other. If I could do it over again, I would have swallowed my pride, gathered up the courage to go talk to my coach, and talk to him again, and again. What did I have to lose? Now, I’m here typing this without ever really getting meaningful minutes in a game.  I’m not mad at myself, and I don’t regret how my college experience turned out. Even though you might be in a situation that’s not easy, might feel weird or might even be pointless, don’t avoid what I avoided and go and talk to that person.  You may even feel like you are right and those above you are blind; I understand as I’ve been there before.   With my experiences, I have one piece of advice… GO TALK TO THEM! Like me, what do you have to lose? If you don’t, the opportunity to do so will be gone. I ignored this advice that others gave me, and I wish I wouldn’t have. Don’t make the same mistake as me… go walk to the office or pick up the phone and do what you must do, it will be in your best interest.

PS:
Although my collegiate basketball career didn’t go exactly as planned, the Lord blessed it.

I still won games, went on trips, built lasting relationships, and even was able to lead some of my teammates to Christ! All because of a game. I say this to encourage you – that although your situation may not be what you want it to be, make the most of it. Do what you can to change the situation (put time in the gym and go have that conversation), but also open your eyes, ears, hands, and heart to learn, to be blessed, and to be used in the present situation you are in.

I didn’t get to play much (a good portion of that was my own fault), but I did have lots of fun and was able to see the Lord use my situation to bring some of my teammates to Him and to plant seeds in the hearts of the rest. I am thankful for my college experience and hope you are encouraged with some of the things I shared.  Remember the positives in your life, work on changing the things that you aren’t happy with, while submitting it all to the Lord.

 

 

“I don’t think I have ever met a person that has such a big impact on others by the way they treat other people as Blake has had. Even as his dad, he has always treated me with the upmost respect, without judgment and by putting my needs in front of his own. It’s the reason his relationships are so deep. He is so genuine that he creates a trusting environment for all of his family and friends to feel loved and cared for exactly where they are. I admire who he is and can’t wait to see how God will continue to use him to impact this world for God’s glory and for Blakes good.” Dad (Billy)

 

Comments

Blake, you have been a great friend to me since the day you were born. I remember when you were just a little kid using a stool so you could reach the sink to brush your teeth, to watching you in your sports events and even being a part of the family when you went on vacation. In all these years, I have seen so much maturity and character. I always tell people that to understand who a person is, you need to look at their fruit. I don't know if you call yourself an apple tree, orange tree or whatever, but I do know that I see lots of fruit on your tree. You are who you say you are and I feel blessed to know you and be able to call you a friend. I'm so sorry about some of the things that you had to experience in the last 4 years, but I know it will make you stronger. You were a good friend to Yusuf and I know he loved you so much! As far as basketball, it's tough for you as well as many others out there who never got a fair shot, but I'm glad you are able to give advice to others who may be in a similar boat as you once were in order to help give them a better chance on their team by taking your instruction.....communicate not tomorrow, not next week or next year, but today! And Lastly Blake, GREAT JOB for sticking it out for the 4 years of basketball. Just the fact that you did that tells me way more about you than if you were the MVP every year for your team! It's the stuff we can't see on the inside that is waaaaaay more important than the outside! You have Jesus in your heart and it shows! Thanks again for your story and can't wait to see where life takes you. Your friend always, Love G

Visit my website: https://www.linkedin.com/in/blake-southerland-5a9220156/

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Nanny says:

Thank you Gary. This was so moving. Hard to find the words! So grateful for both you and Blake sharing words that inspire and encourage everyone that is fortunate to see and hear. God is good.

Sammy says:

Hi Blakey! This was so encouraging to read. I am so amazed by the way you are always putting others above yourself! You are such a great friend to those around you. I am so proud of how dedicated you are to the one thing that matters most in this world – sharing your love for Christ. How neat that you got to lead so many friends to Him. I pray that God continues to move and work in your life! Thanks for sharing your story! 🙂 Love you so much!
love Sammy

Alison & Connor says:

Blake,
We do admire the strength it took to share all that you did about your life in this interview. It truly is a testament to the type of person that you are. I can’t imagine growing up without a brother or TWIN. My favorite fun fact to tell new people is, “I have a twin brother.” You are the best brother and we can always count on no matter what! You have been our favorite visitor in Lexington 😉 We love you so much!
-Ali & Connor

CC Southerland says:

Blakey,

I am so so proud of you. You have had such an impact on so many people by the way you care and listen so well. You are such an amazing friend, brother, cousin, son, and so much more. You shine the light of Christ so brightly. I love you so much!

Amy Scherr says:

We could not be more proud to call Blake our nephew! Blake is kind, mild mannered, patient, purposeful, smart, athletic, handsome, strong, consistent, faithful….We could go on and on. Blake has always had the confidence to be who he is! He has never (although I know he’s not perfect) waivered from being Blake. He has often been the glue to hold family and friends together. He is a trusted friend to anyone who know him. Most importantly, Blake has sought to know the Lord and has shared His love with everyone he knows….And he does it in the most attractive and natural way possible. Blake doesn’t push himself or the Lord’s love on anyone. He simply and humbly models it for all of us to see.

We are so proud of you Blake! Thank you for loving all of us so well. Thank you for your commitment to things that matter. And thank you for sharing your story! It is a great one with so much good still ahead!

Keep being you! Keep changing lives!
We love you so much!
A Amy & U Rick

Sydney Southerland says:

Proud of you Blakey

Tim Southerland says:

Blakey it sure has been an interesting road over the last few years. You are such an amazing example of remaining faithful regardless of circumstances. Thank you for sharing your story so that others are fortunate enough to hear and learn about the life of Yusuf and his one of a kind heart. I also say thank you for being vulnerable and for showing strength by admitting you have weakness and that we all need help in processing some of the things God allows us to experience. Love you.

Cooper Scherr says:

So cool Blake! Super awesome to see the man you have become in Christ! Love you man!

Kim Southerland says:

Blakey,

Beyond proud of the man of God you have become…you are a physical example of Gods love here on earth. Keep doing you!!

Austin Southerland says:

Very thankful for you to be my cousin. Your a great example of how to love and accept others into your life. As well as showing people God’s light.

Izzi Risma says:

Blake, what a deep encapsulation of your sweet life! Though young in age, you are wise beyond your years. God has worked in you throughout your entire life as shown by all the people you impact. You are more Godly than many seasoned Christians I know. You have persevered through a lot and I marvel at the grace you have shown to those around you through it all. I hope and pray that you continue to seek and grow in Christ to His glory! Can’t wait to see what great things God has in store for you. You are a special man! Love you!

Suzanne Southerland says:

Blake is the real deal. He loves The Lord and strives to walk with Him daily. He has such a beautiful servant’s heart and is continually putting others before himself. He has challenges and struggles too, but is often quiet about those things. Blake, thanks for being vulnerable and sharing those things as part of your story. We are all in process. I’m so thankful you know that and that Gary gave you an opportunity to share your heart and wisdom with others. Thanks G-Rog for always pouring into and loving Blake like your own. It takes a Village, and you have been an instrumental part of Blake’s story!
Blake, The Lord has blessed me immeasurably by giving me you. Love you, Mom

Liz Testamark says:

Blake, as I have listened to and read your words they have truly blessed and warmed my heart. I love how the Lord has spoken to you and have used different moments in your life to comfort you, challenge you and to teach you. Your words are such an encouragement to me and so many others. Thank you for allowing the Lord to you use !

Diane says:

Blakey, I am blessed to have watched you grow over the years both personally and in the Lord. Your kind, beautiful ❤️ is SO inviting and contagious. The strong love you have for the Lord, your family & friends is what life is all about. It takes many a lifetime of struggle to figure that out. What amazing life long lesson’s you have learned…hold strong to practicing them and sharing them along your way. God has his hand on your back pointing you in his direction for you Blakey. I am SO excited to see where he takes you!! One last thing I am sure of…Yusuf took your love with him ❤️❤️❤️

Jim Driller says:

Blake, Thank you for sharing your life story with us!! I resonated with you about talking to your coach. I love the consistency/stability that you do life in. Keep being a “team player” and there is nothing you can’t do! We Know that all things work together for Good. Keep seeking and asking God for a special word or insight to what His purpose is with Big U. I know He will! Be blessed and I’m truly grateful for your friendship! Watch’em Now

Chase Murray says:

Blakey,

Love this, brought a tear to my eye. Keep being the incredible man that you are and bringing a Christlike attitude to everything in life.

Love ya,

Moose

Alex says:

Blake, I’m so proud of you for sharing your story. You are a strong Christian and God gifted you to guide others to Him. Your love for God is contagious and makes people want to “love to this game” too.
God is good

Tosin Ajetunmobi says:

This is a truly touching story, Blake. Thank you for the lessons you shared here. It’s so great you were able to find your faith and hope even in those dark times.

In life, there are some things we may never really get to understand but we must never lose hope and always talk to those who matter. A problem shared is indeed a problem half-solved.

Thanks for sharing. God bless and comfort you and your family forever.