Walk to Beautiful
by Kim Phagan-Hansel
Since walking halfway across America to raise awareness about children in foster care in 2010, country singer Jimmy Wayne has done everything but slow down. From helping to pass legislation to extend foster care to age 21 in Tennessee to recording a new album inspired by his walk across the country, Wayne has not given up on using his talents to help children in foster care.
“Everything I do revolves around helping these kids,” Wayne said. “I use my resources to raise awareness about kids in foster care.”
In October, Wayne will release his new book, “Walk to Beautiful,” that shares the story of his journey from impoverished, abused and neglected foster child to working diligently to help others living a similar experience.
While “Walk to Beautiful” chronicles Wayne’s tumultuous childhood and rise to success, there is a special portion dedicated to the impact of one special couple. Bea and Russell Costner forever changed the direction of Wayne’s life when he stumbled onto their property to ask for work. As he spent the next few weeks mowing their lawn, the couple saw through the tough exterior and sadness expressed by a young man abandoned by his mother and struggling to survive. When they asked him if he wanted to stay in their spare bedroom, they all took a chance on one another and for the first time in his life, Wayne experienced the safety and security of a loving home.
“I hope it inspires people to help a kid the way Bea and Russell did,” Wayne said. “That book is so important.”
Wayne said he remains forever grateful for the love and commitment from the Costners that changed his life and he said he knows that every child deserves to have that experience.
“I’ve been there and I know what can happen if one person steps up,” Wayne said. “It was Bea’s love…the amount of love outweighed everything I had experienced to that point. Love was their moral compass.”
For some, it was hard to understand why Wayne decided to walk halfway across the country when he was at the height of his country music career with hits like Stay Gone, I Love You This Much and Do You Believe Me Now topping the charts. But it was the pull of the memories of his difficult childhood and the people who took the time to make a difference in Wayne’s life that led him on a new path.
“I fought to get people’s attention,” Wayne said. “I’m starting a grassroots campaign to get people to say they will help a kid.”
Today Wayne serves as a national spokesperson for National CASA (court appointed special advocates). In that role, he encourages people to step forward and make a difference in a child’s life by serving as an advocate, mentor and role model.
“Kids that are aging out of the system right now is an epidemic,” Wayne said. “80 percent of convicts in prison were in the system…we need to change that.”
For Wayne making that change starts with him. He believes that we can’t point fingers at the government, church or others, but we need to instead, look within ourselves and ask what we can do to change the life of a child.
“It’s not the government’s responsibility to fix the system,” Wayne said. “It’s been broken since it derailed after the orphanage train era.”
Wayne empathizes with foster parents and social workers struggling within the system to make changes. Social workers who are overworked and underpaid are just the tip of the problems the system is facing today, Wayne said.
“If we don’t help a kid, you can only expect a kid to do what they know,” Wayne said. “If the church doesn’t step up, a gang will. These kids in the system aren’t bad. These kids have to survive. They get in a gang because these are the only people who accept them.”
Since his walk, Wayne has continued sharing his story and advocating for kids in care. From books and albums to legislation and advocacy work, Wayne hasn’t stopped spreading his message.
“Since the walk, I was part of getting a bill passed to extend foster care to age 21 in Tennessee,” Wayne said. “I went to the Capitol every time there was a hearing. Wherever the Senator asked me to speak, I was there. The more I can do on my end, the more I’m out there, the more opportunity I have to share about these kids.”
Wayne is also now working on a new film, Paper Angels based off his 2012 book and 2004 song, which was the highest charting seasonal track in country music history. The original song was based off of Wayne’s own experience as an Angel Tree gift recipient. The film will be released on Up Network later this year.
“The film shows you that dreams do come true,” Wayne said. “If it feels right and honest, I go for it. I feel very blessed.”
In addition to the book and film, Wayne recently finished up production on a new album, which he said will most likely be released in early 2015 because of all the other projects he has rolling out in the next couple of months. While he’s excited about all the new projects underway, Wayne said they all have a uniquely different meaning for him now than they before his walk across America.
“I don’t care to be in the spotlight and it be the way it used to be,” Wayne said. “Foster care, foster kids and helping people through my music and film through a commercial world is what I want to do.”
When Wayne speaks to youth in foster care, he said he hopes he’s doing just that — inspiring children in foster care, like he once was, to fulfill their dreams and move beyond where they are right now.
“Stay clean and focused,” Wayne said. “Identify who you want to be, work hard to become who you want to be and become it.”
For Wayne, he sees the spark for some kids as they relate to his story and the road he has traveled. Through music and his storytelling, he inspires them to stay strong.
“It inspires them; they want to share their lives with you,” Wayne said. “To them, you’re somebody they can relate to. It’s a privilege and an honor to be that person.”
While it’s important for Wayne to be a role model to kids in care and inspire them to work hard to look beyond where they are now, he said it’s not necessarily easy to always be that inspiration. That’s something Wayne sometimes sees reflected in foster parents and social workers who get bogged down by the system, but Wayne also encourages them to keep moving forward.
“You’re going to get burned out, but don’t give up,” Wayne said. “Make 100 percent sure it’s really what you want to do. The last thing they need is someone to walk out on them again.”
Looking back on how the Costners loved him, cared for him and encouraged him, Wayne said foster parents could take away some lessons from their dedication.
“Be firm, fair and consistent, just like Russell was to me,” Wayne said. “You’re taking in someone who has baggage. But love can change and heal.”
For Wayne, where life has taken him is simple and the love of one couple made all the difference.
“I’m just a very fortunate, lucky foster kid, who was loved by a wonderful family,” Wayne said.
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