Three years ago, Jimmy Wayne was trekking alongside the highways and byways of Middle America on a deeply personal fact-sharing mission.
Along his almost 1,700-mile Meet Me Halfway walking tour, the country singer-songwriter lost his record deal but gained a newfound appreciation for his fellow Americans, broke his right foot but broke through with a fresh perspective on life and music.
“It was the most incredible journey of my life. I wouldn't take a step of it back,” Wayne said last month during an Oklahoma City stop.
His walk to raise awareness of the plight of homeless teens, particularly those who age out of the foster care system, ended years ago, but the musician is continuing the journey he started when he was just a boy.
Wayne, 40, took the stage at St. Luke's United Methodist Church not only crooning and strumming his top 40 country cover of “Sara Smile” but also explaining his affinity for the Hall & Oates ballad: When he was a child, he and his sister had a foster mother named Sara.
“I played it for the right person, and they gave me a record deal. I ended up recording this song with Hall & Oates,” Wayne told about 250 attendees at a summit organized by the state Department of Metal Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
“So I hit the road and I'm on a big tour bus and traveling around America and playing other countries. It was incredible. It was an incredible time. I was in New York City, I'd just walked off the stage at the Madison Square Garden. And I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I can't believe I'm here.'”
Known for his hits “Stay Gone,” “I Will” and the chart-topper “Do You Believe Me Now,” Wayne was back home in Nashville, Tenn., when he had a sobering thought.
“I thought to myself, ‘You know what, there's a lot of children out there in foster care in the system that are aging out. Wonder where they're sleeping tonight?'”
As a teenager, the North Carolina native experienced homelessness firsthand. His single mother was an alcoholic who married a violent abuser shortly after her she finished her second prison term. His stepfather soon ended up on the run from the law with Wayne and his mother in tow, and one night they abandoned the 13-year-old boy at the bus station.
“For the first time I found myself homeless homeless,” he said.