“It’s not where you’ve been, it’s where you’re going.”
– Chapter 28 of Walk to Beautiful by Jimmy Wayne, with Ken Abraham
By all accounts, Jimmy Wayne looks as though he is going straight to the top! A successful Country Western singer with hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart including a three-week run with his #1 song Do You Believe Me Now, Jimmy is also the author of two books, Paper Angels and Walk to Beautiful. On November 27th UPtv will be airing a TV movie premiere of his first book Paper Angels starring Josie Bissett and Matthew Settle.
When you think about where Jimmy’s career is going, it’s hard to believe the devastating hardships that he grew up with.
Raised in poverty, hunger, and squalor, Jimmy grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina surrounded by drugs, sex, and even murder. The first time he was abandoned by his mother was at the age of three, and that event was repeated, and repeated. Growing up Jimmy was bounced around between Faith Farm – a home for boys off the Dallas Stanley Highway in North Carolina – a distant grandparent, and an unkind uncle. At times he landed back with his mom; at least when she was out of the state mental institute, or county jail.
He will never forget the night when at the age of thirteen, his mom and her violent lover left him standing in a Trailways bus station parking lot in Pensacola, Florida, holding all of his worldly belongings as they drove off into the night. Nowhere to go, and no one to turn to, Jimmy stood there, holding all he had in a couple of cardboard boxes. Just when it seemed nothing could be worse, Jimmy ended up spending his fifteenth birthday in a jail cell. Seem like an impossible backstory to overcome?
Watch the “Paper Angels” video:
Not for Jimmy Wayne, whose book Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found The Way is a magnificent celebration of God’s power to transform a life. Walk to Beautiful chronicles Jimmy’s devastating young life of hardship, abuse and abandonment and his eventual acceptance into a loving Christian family with Russ and Bea Costner, who gave him a loving home and stability. A college degree, success in the workplace and eventually a place in the country music spotlight are all evidence of how dramatically Jimmy’s life changed.
After a tour with Country artist Brad Paisley, including a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden, Jimmy was reminded of a promise he made to help foster children. Viewing the homeless while looking out the window of his cozy hotel room, he remembered “Oh yeah, the homeless people, that used to be me.” It was then that Jimmy knew he had to do something big – something that would catch people’s attention.
On January 1, 2010 Jimmy began “Meet Me Halfway” a 1700 mile walk from Nashville to Phoenix. Starting at a foster facility in Nashville and ending at another facility in Phoenix, Jimmy walked halfway across America, simulating being “homeless” the entire way, all to bring awareness to kids aging out of the foster system.
And even though that walk had its difficulties, including a broken foot that Jimmy walked the last 60 miles on, it was the sense that God was saying “Keep walking Jimmy” that got him to his goal.
SCH: Do you recall the first thought you had about the concept of taking a seven month, 1700 mile walk from Nashville to Phoenix?
JW: My first thought was “it doesn’t look that far on the Southwest napkin!” Some people tried to talk me out of it by saying “Jimmy, that’s just too far!” but I could no longer avoid the conviction I felt about helping foster kids. So I decided to walk halfway across America to raise awareness about kids aging out of the foster care system at eighteen. With nowhere to go, most of these kids will become addicted, homeless and imprisoned. These kids can’t do it by themselves, they need someone to meet them halfway.
SCH: Where were you when the “Meet Me Halfway” idea came to you?
JW: I was standing in the foyer of my home in Nashville stirring a cup of coffee, and I was just convinced that I wanted to do it. I remember what it was like to be cold, to scavenge for food, and to live rejected and abandoned. I realized that God had more for me to do than to hang at home drinking gourmet coffee. “Meet Me Halfway” was an idea that was designed by a divine Master Planner.
SCH: Did you have many “naysayers” in regards to taking on such a project?
JW: There weren’t many naysayers. However it wasn’t long before the “believers” stopped believing and turned their back: including my record label the Valory Music company, sister label to Big Machine Records. Unfortunately, during my walk half way across America, my record label decided to drop me.
What was most disappointing about that to me, was that the music was my main means of getting the word out about the kids who needed help. I hadn’t missed a single concert date due to the walk, in fact I booked some dates along the way. Audiences loved it when I said “I just walked here from Nashville!”
SCH: What encouraged you as you took that journey?
JW: People encouraged me. There were many generous people alongside the back roads of America who would stand at the edge of their driveways and hand me a hot cup of coffee as I walked by. They would invite me into their homes to eat dinner and sleep in the guest rooms or on their couch. They would allow me to wash my clothes and occasionally pick a guitar when it was available. Some would even walk a good distance with me, to keep me company and show support.
SCH: Did you know you would record your experience in a book?
JW: I have kept a journal since I was thirteen years young. I’ve recorded my life thoroughly in writing. It was no surprise to me that I would eventually write my life story in a book. I did not know when it was going to happen. This book is another example of God’s divine intervention and perfect timing.
SCH: How painful was it to revisit your upbringing in writing, Walk to Beautiful, and did you have any reservations about bearing your soul?
JW: I have always shared my story in concerts, however there were certain stories that were harder than others. The murders that I saw were hard to relive but the story about losing my dog Sparkles was the hardest story to write. I relived dying again.
SCH: Did you encounter people who thought it was “too wild” to believe?
JW: There is a difference in the people who read my book and the people who do not read it, but say they do. One hundred percent of the people who have read my book text me, email or call me by the fourth chapter saying how amazing this book is and they can’t put it down.
The other people just say “thanks for the book it was awesome.” I know they are the ones who didn’t read it. It’s impossible not to proactively respond to. Ken Abraham, a New York Times bestselling author and my co-author had his moments when he wondered if what I was telling him was the truth, but there was always someone I could call who would verify the facts.
SCH: You obviously made a conscious decision not to cover up your roots, but determined to make them count for something good. What brought you to that point?
JW: I am God’s vessel. I am the mouthpiece for the millions of children out there who do not have the voice or the platform to share their stories. I make sure every single opportunity counts for them. I have to remind myself when I am exhausted and tired and do not want to perform for anyone – that this is their opportunity to be helped. I get up again and again and swing my sword and shield as hard as I possibly can every time.
Watch the “Do You Believe Me Now” music video:
SCH: As a child, did you ever go to anyone for help?
JW: In my book Walk to Beautiful, I talk about many people who have helped me my entire life including the Salvation Army.
SCH: What in your opinion is the greatest need for kids aging out of the foster care system?
JW: The greatest need for children aging out of the foster care system is awareness. Awareness generates action and action generates outcomes. These children need an additional three years to transition into adulthood.
They need and deserve the minimum resources we can provide them to transition. They need a stable home and the chance for an education. We can either provide this for them now or provide it for them in four years when they are in jail or nursing a baby.
SCH: What’s wrong with the foster care system?
JW: The system is completely broken. It’s the people like Bea and Russell whom I talk about in my new book that need to step up and get involved in these children’s lives. Stop depending on the government to do the job. It’s not the government’s job.
As a Christian it is our job. James 1:27 clearly states that true religion according to God is to care for the orphan and widow in their time of distress. Period.
SCH: Were there times growing up that you felt the presence of God in your life, even if you didn’t understand who He was at the time?
JW: Absolutely. I felt the presence of God throughout my entire childhood. During the shootout and stabbings, drugs and pedophiles I always heard a voice telling me to “run.”
SCH: Looking back at all the hardships you suffered, what advice would you give to kids in similar positions or in foster care?
JW: The advice I would give children who are growing up in foster care and in the same position I grew up in is this: you are chosen. You have been given the gift of experience. Take this experience and help someone who may not be strong enough to help themselves. Let your light shine for them so that they can see the way.
SCH: What appeal would you make for adults to enter into the lives of these kids?
JW: Adults need to get involved in these children’s lives because it’s the right thing to do. There’s not a big “sale” or “pitch.” If children could help themselves they would. It’s just that simple. No one in the world especially in America should ever say “I’m bored.” I have plenty for you to do. Donate your resources to a child. If you cut hair then go down to the local children’s facility and offer haircuts to the children who do not have the money to afford a haircut.
Give these children free dental care. Hire these children if you have a business and need a laborer. Mentor these children. Become a big brother. There’s not enough me and if others aren’t stepping up then a lot of the boys will not have mentors.
SCH: The Costner’s were family to you. What are your favorite memories of them?
JW: When I first met Bea, she was all covered in sawdust from working on a project, and she offered me a job mowing their lawn once a week. Whenever I would mow, Bea would bring me a Coke and a doughnut. She was so nice, and always complimented my work. I really wasn’t used to encouragement like that, but I really appreciated it.
She also loved to play her piano and sing gospel songs. And I always felt loved when Bea would come to my concerts, sit in the audience, and read her bible.
SCH: You have a movie premiering November 16th on the UPtv network based on your first book Paper Angels. Can we expect to see Walk to Beautiful on the big screen?
JW: Yes, but in the meanwhile, I hope everyone will pick up a copy of Walk to Beautiful, read it and get inspired to help foster kids in need. I also want to invite the Sonoma Christian Home audience to tune into the UP network to watch Paper Angels November 16th. It was through the Salvation Army Angel tree program that I received my first guitar.
SCH: Your life story and the transformation you have experienced is truly nothing short of a miracle. Who do you attribute the success in your life to?
JW: Hard work and a community of good people willing to get involved in my life. Bea Costner, she changed every cell in my body. One person can really make a difference in the life of a kid.
SCH: What is next for country music artist and author Jimmy Wayne?
JW: More of the same: doing everything I can possibly do to raise awareness for these kids.
Find out more about this amazing artist by visiting Jimmy Wayne’s Official Website