NJwing“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody … bent down and helped us pick up our boots.” — Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) 

No successful individual navigates life solo. 

Consider the life of Capt. Jacob Umoke of Civil Air Patrol’s New Jersey Wing. 

Growing up in Nigeria under the weight of cruel poverty that would shatter the souls and break the backs of lesser individuals, Umoke pressed on, driven by a dream, a mother’s love, an unfailing work ethic, and unbending faith in God. 

And he did not do it alone. To borrow from Justice Marshall, others helped him pick up his boots. 

“I describe myself as a product of public benevolence,” Umoke said. 

His parents, Deaconess Christiana Umoke and her husband, Umoke Nnabu, both lacking any formal education, sold their clothes and food to help fund their son’s primary education. Jacob Umoke himself worked for six years as a “houseboy” (domestic servant) for a physician in the southeastern part of Nigeria from the tender age of 13. 

Along with scholarships and the support of his sister, Patricia, Umoke was able to pay for three law programs — two from Nigeria and a doctorate from the University at Buffalo School of Law in New York. 

But beyond the law, his hardscrabble upbringing taught him humility, service, and dedication. “ 

“For one to be honored in life,” he said, “you must have served.” 

He now serves as a deputy attorney general for the state of New Jersey and is the New Jersey Wing’s assistant government relations adviser.

Even as a youngster, Umoke was drawn to the law as a framework for solutions using reasoning and critical thinking, based on what he calls “the four T’s”: “the Tedious Task of Tidy Thinking.” He used that maxim to ease friends’ burdens and disarm bullies. 

“When a problem occurs, people just worry and worry and worry and worry and worry, complain and complain and complain. But whatever problem you have in front of you, if you can think enough, you can solve your problem,” he said. 

“Because of my love for representing people, speaking for them, and because doing that was bringing much results at the scene of a fight or a fracas and making a bully disengage, when I went to law school it was fantastic,” Umoke added.  

“It was as if I was meant to be there. My love for the law just grew and grew deeper and deeper.” 

Culturally, practicing law is more than a job for Umoke. 

“In Nigeria, we are ‘called to the bar,’” he said. “For me, the law is not just a way to make ends meet. Law practice is a calling to serve the public.  

“I love doing it and I do it with all my heart.” 

His path to Civil Air Patrol, which he joined in April 2021, was fueled by a desire to effect positive change, particularly in the lives of cadets. 

“There is a legal maxim, ‘Nemo dat quod non habetid,’ meaning ‘No one gives what he does not have,’” Umoke said. “The moral decadence that we have in the society today, especially in the lives of kids … is because they were not properly guided by adults who knew better.  

“They were not taught by teachers and preachers who knew better. The saying goes,’ if you cannot train them, you cannot blame them.’  

“I believe I have a lot to offer my generation. That’s one of the reasons I joined Civil Air Patrol,” he said. 

And something much more mundane also drove his involvement — the ABC television drama “Boston Legal.” In one episode, the characters portrayed by William Shatner and James Spader wanted to show their patriotism by joining the military, but they were rejected from joining the U.S. Coast Guard because they were too old. Eventually, they were accepted in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which had no age limit for membership. 

Umoke began to search for a service option not impacted by age. 

He found CAP. 

umoke qWithin the organization’s ranks, he recalled, “I saw these kids showing so much respect. I was so impressed, and right there and then I decided to become a team player — one of those people who would be making things happen, not someone who watches things happen.” 

NJgroup221Umoke, a member of New Jersey Wing Group 221, is accomplishing that mission. Along with his work in legal and governmental affairs, he travels throughout New Jersey as the wing’s assistant diversity officer, speaking to church and school groups in some of the Garden State’s poorest and toughest communities, trying to attract more people of color to Civil Air Patrol.  

One of his CAP mentors — Col. Andrew Liput, wing commander since March 2019 — said Umoke is having an impact.  

A demonstration of Umoke’s commitment came when he drove six hours each way in one day to not only attend a Northeast Region meeting on Cape Cod but also keep a family commitment. 

“Capt. Umoke has been an active member of our diversity team and has attended a number of inner-city outreach events around the state, appearing in uniform, and speaking well about the organization, demonstrating the opportunities that all people of all backgrounds can make a valuable contribution and serve their community, state, and nation,” Liput said. 

”Capt. Umoke exemplifies the standard of excellence we all strive for in our organization,” the wing commander added. 

Umoke recalled a visit he and some uniformed cadets made to an East Orange church as part of a recruiting effort. 

“We were wowed by the attendance. There were grandmothers, grandchildren — when they saw us in uniform, they were wowed.  liputq

“It was amazing to see the turnout and the impact it had on them. These kids from the minority community were shocked by the level of eloquence, composure, and presentation skills of our cadets,” he said. 

For Umoke, it all comes down to service. 

“The world is run by people who show up,” he said. “I often describe myself as a product of public benevolence.  

“That’s why I’ve chosen public service. I know money is good — in fact, the Bible said ‘Money answereth all things.’ But for me, money is not everything. Wherever I find myself doing public service. I am doing good work. And I consider it God’s work.” 

Along with the help of family and mentors, though, Umoke’s story can’t and shouldn’t be told, he said, without a single foundational truth — in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, “a strong and active faith.” 

“My story would not be complete without God almighty,” Umoke said. “I would rather have no story if God is not going to be there.”  
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Paul South
Contributing Writer

Civil Air Patrol recognizes Black History Month with this profile of Capt. Jacob Umoke, assistant government relations adviser for the New Jersey Wing.