One way to get noticed in the digital age: write something nasty about a guy who’s making some significant sacrifices for a good cause.
That’s exactly what happened when James King, a writer with The Phoenix New Times, pointed out that Jimmy Wayne’s Meet Me Halfway walk from Nashville to Arizona is not quite emulating homelessness. Jimmy started the trek on New Year’s Day to bring awareness to the way the foster-care system dumps directionless kids on the streets without the ability to take care of themselves. At the time, he noted that in doing the walk, people might be able to experience vicariously through him the tragedy of being out in the wild fending for food and shelter.
Along the way, Jimmy got a boost when someone donated a vehicle to follow him. He’s slept inside on some extremely frigid nights instead of in the tent he usually uses. The 50-pound backpack he was lugging along is now being carried in the vehicle, and he’s getting aid from a medical expert for a knee problem that’s developed in his walk, which currently has covered more than 470 miles. In a blog posted Monday with a headline that said “Jimmy Wayne Chickens Out,” The New Times said that taking that kind of aid made Jimmy’s “self-promoted, common street-kid image a bit lame.”
James had no idea what he’d set himself up for. His piece generated a huge volume of negative reader feedback — enough that he decided to write another column in which he said he needed to “um, apologize.” It wasn’t much of an apology: In the process, he reduced Jimmy’s knee problems to a “boo-boo” and referred to his fans as “sycophants.”
James was not entirely wrong. The walk indeed does not quite resemble anymore the homelessness that Jimmy had said he would be experiencing. Not only does he have some modest assistance, he does interviews with radio stations on a regular basis; fans show up to give him food, buy him a meal or give him a place to stay for a night; his managers pretty much forced him to get a hotel room during one bitterly cold snowstorm; and Dierks Bentley’s road manager kept him updated on the Super Bowl by texting the play-by-play results. Homeless teens definitely don’t have that kind of support.
On the other hand, being homeless wasn’t exactly the point. Jimmy recognized the very day he announced his plans that they would probably get altered. He had no idea how the trip would unfold, whether he would change routes, if people would get behind his effort or how long it would take to complete. He also allowed that he would need to leave the trek to live up to concert obligations he’d already made (in fact, Wednesday he was in Akron, Ohio, doing a charity concert for a homeless facility), that he would get a hotel or motel when he needed and that he might not be able to make the entire journey.
“I’m sure it’s probably gonna change along the way,” he said of his plan. “What we hope to do is generate that awareness, get the word out. I hope that people get involved. I hope that media comes out. I’m inviting everybody to come out, because that’s what this is for is to generate awareness. That’s how you do it, awareness. It’s very powerful, and we hope to get it out there.”
He is getting awareness. More than 11,000 people are now following his tweets, and Jimmy is using them to call attention to stories about foster kids who are mistreated by the system. Among them are a story about a Brooklyn girl whose ability to graduate was put in jeopardy by a government housing application process and another about a Washington, D.C., teen who hasn’t been primed to care for himself once he ages out of foster care.
For his part, Jimmy isn’t letting a negative column drag him down.
“I don’t solicit help,” he wrote in one series of tweets. “However, if someone offers me a cup of coffee, I take it…. If someone offers to carry the bag, they can… If a company offers support & a RV that doesn’t have heat; I’ll sleep in it when they offer it that night… My goal and promise was to walk and share the stories of generosity the Americans bestow along the way during this journey.”