Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Review- Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way by Jimmy Wayne

For full disclosure, I call Jimmy Wayne a friend. I first had the genuine privilege of making his acquaintance several years back when he volunteered a music performance in a children’s charity fundraiser I put on in my hometown. If you ever have the same opportunity to spend even a small amount of time with him, you’ll find his indomitable spirit and his passion for kids- especially foster kids- inspiring. There is a genuineness to it that doesn’t beat you over the head with a message. It educates and, probably much to do with his songwriting background, provides some of the most compelling storytelling you’ve ever heard. 

Over our time together, Jimmy has shared snippets of his past with me which have made clear why songs like “Paper Angels,” “Stay Gone” and Kerosene Kid” were born. We’ve talked extensively about his much-publicized 2010 Meet Me Halfway Walk from Nashville to Phoenix to raise awareness of foster kids aging out of the programs too soon at the young age of 18.  Jimmy has shared home video of that walk with me and even previewed several tracks of a concept album he’s close to finishing about t the walk that is some of the most personal and entertaining music he’s produced to date. So when he asked if I would preview his new autobiography about his childhood and what led to that fateful walk, of course I said, “Yes.” 

None of that background knowledge prepared me for the profound depth and impact of this truly powerful life story, however. This is a story of how a childhood, which can only be described as a train wreck filled with uncountable atrocities and that was almost ended several times at the end of a gun barrel, was saved by a little old lady with a great big heart (with an assist from Jesus.)

Jimmy Wayne’s current passion projects didn’t come easily as much of the first half of the book details. Abandoned by his father at birth and bounced around from foster care to relatives as his mom was in and out of jail and awful relationships, he was finally abandoned at the age of 13 at a bus stop by his mom with some clothes and less than $80 in his pocket. With painstakingly brutal detail made possible through journaling he had done as a kid, Jimmy paints an almost unbelievably bleak picture of a childhood thrown away by an irresponsible single parent. This is a tragedy of epic proportions- compelling and heart-wrenching at the same time. 

But the story somehow doesn’t end with Jimmy going to juvenile detention at the age of 15 (which he did). Nor does it end with the equally likely endings of him being killed, dying of exposure or committing suicide (which he tried.) Heck, at its core, the tragic childhood background isn’t even what this biography is about. That is reserved for those people whose internal bright light and open arms took a homeless kid off of the street and showed him how to love. They showed him how to have compassion. They gave back and taught him how to learn. And most importantly, it is about those earthbound angels that taught him how to believe in himself. 

He’s written character testaments to people like Bea Costner, a grandmotherly old lady who took him in off the streets, gave him a job and got him back in school. It’s about people like teacher Crystal Friday, who chose to challenge and rise about Jimmy’s petulant behavior and seek out the diamond inside the student despite holding him back in the 6th grade. It’s about people like Ellen Britton, the demanding, yet inspiring guitar teach whom Jimmy credits with all his guitar abilities and much of his music success. The core of the book is deeply personal thank-you’s to folks that gave equal parts hand-outs and hand-ups. The backstory of Jimmy Wayne before he meets these saviors makes their actions all that much more important.

The music career portion of the story is included in short-order fashion, but only to contrast it with the more meaningful and soul-enriching charity work that has consumed his time more recently. The mission of paying forward the kindness showed to him has become as much of the motivator as the music. Many of those early songs would be anthems for his work even though they weren’t designed as such. If songs can have legacies, so too can actions. Jimmy is determined to leave both. The walk was him following his moral compass and leaving steps for others to follow. 

I cannot overstate the powerful emotionality of this book. You will gasp, laugh and you will cry more than once if you have a heart. You will also be incredibly inspired and motivated to go make a difference. He concludes with sharing specific stories of how the Meet Me Halfway Project has changed lives. Upon closing the back cover, you’ll be hard-pressed to not ask yourself how you are going to make positive change in the lives of others. Jimmy has shared a powerhouse of a story and challenged us to write the next chapter. Go buy this book and finish that story.

Publication release date: October 7, 2014

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