It was summer of 1989, the same year the Berlin Wall fell. My wall wasn't about to come down anytime soon. I was a long-haired, homeless kid scouring the neighborhood looking for odd jobs so I could earn money to buy food. 

I spied an open door to a woodshop where an old man stood at a bandsaw. I approached him and asked if he had any work I could do. 

"Ask the boss," he said, nodding his head toward a white-haired lady in the back of the woodshop manhandling a radial arm saw. The old lady turned off the saw and walked toward me. 

"Do you cut grass?" she asked. "Come back at five." 

I showed up on time and began cutting their grass. I noticed the 75-year-old, white-haired lady walking out the front door of her home toward the fence carrying a Coca-Cola. She motioned for me. Bea handed me the ice cold Coca-Cola and doughnut, then started talking about the weather and the job I was doing. She hired me that day to be their lawn-boy for the remainder of the summer. Each week, she gave me a Coca-Cola when I cut their grass. 

The Costners eventually allowed me to move into their home, and they single-handedly changed every cell in my body. They gave me the opportunity to attend high school and college, and pursue my dream of writing and performing music professionally.

My love for writing started years earlier, in Ms. Crystal Friday's class. She was my six grade teacher (twice), when my mother was serving time in maximum-security prison. I was living with my granddad—an old bootlegger. He didn't care what I did. I had the run of the trailer park and was always getting into trouble and skipping school. I was a lost, angry 12-year-old boy. But Ms. Friday didn't tolerate any excuses. 

Family Portrait

The Friday family at Smyre Mill, where Lorenzo Friday Sr. worked.

Her brother Rufus once said, "During the Civil Rights era, the Fridays’ house was the recipient of a fire bomb that was thrown on their front porch by the Ku Klux Klan because Crystal’s oldest sister was the first black to integrate the town’s high school cheerleading team. 

Her father, Mr. Lorenzo Friday, sent all the kids to the back of the house and rushed to put out the fire himself... an image burned into Crystal’s memory.

Crystal Friday

Ms. Crystal Friday, in the late-1970s. She is retiring after 37 years of teaching.

Ms. Friday attended segregated Highland School in her early years and later went to integrated Hunter Huss High School, where she graduated in 1975. She attended and graduated from Livingstone College in Salisburn, N.C., a historic black school, with a degree in education.

Ms. Friday knew that education was important so, she encouraged me to write in a journal every day. Writing journal entries evolved into writing poems, songs, and books including my New York Times bestseller, Walk To Beautiful.  

I am indebted to Ms. Friday. I would not be where I'm at today had it not been for her discipline, love and direction. I lost contact with her when I was 13 years old after my mom was released from prison and we went on the run from the law with my new stepdad. After being abandoned at a bus station in Pensacola, Florida, I was picked up by the police and spent the next three years in the foster care system and homeless. 

Class Photo

Jimmy Wayne (middle row, second from left) in Ms. Crystal Friday (top row, second from left)'s 6th grade class in Bessemer City, N.C., 1985-1986.

Nearly 20 years later, I moved to Nashville, got my first record deal and released a song I had written called "Stay Gone." It became a hit and sold nearly half a million CDs. I was standing at a “meet and greet” table at Walmart in Gastonia, N.C., signing CDs and taking photos with fans. There was a four-hour line stretched around the building with fans waiting to get a signature and photo. 

About two-and-a-half hours later, I noticed two hands slide a CD across the table toward me. I looked up and saw it was Ms. Friday. I immediately yelled out her name, "Ms. Friday!" I hugged her and told her I was sorry for all the hurtful words I said to her in the sixth grade. I thanked her and showed her the report card inside my CD cover that she had signed when I was in her class. It said, "Jimmy needs to improve in writing."

To this day, Ms. Friday comes to every event I perform near my hometown. No matter how hot, humid or cramped the venue is, Ms. Friday is there supporting me. 

I asked her, "Why didn't you give up on me?" She told me a story about her first grade teacher, Mrs. Annie P. Robinson. Ms. Friday admits she was a handful and gave Mrs. Robinson a hard time. 

Crystal Friday

Jimmy Wayne reunites with Ms. Crystal Friday at a CD signing event in N.C.

Ms. Friday recalled a time when she was in the lunch room sitting beside her older sister. Mrs. Robinson said to (Crystal) Ms. Friday that lunchtime was over and that she needed to come back to class with her. Ms. Friday refused and said, "I want to stay with my sister." 

Ms. Friday eventually went with Mrs. Robinson, but on the way to the classroom, Ms. Friday spotted a huge mud hole filled with muddy water. As she and Mrs. Robinson walked past the mud hole, Ms. Friday jumped up in the air and stomped her feet down in that mud hole, splashing muddy water all over Mrs. Robinson.

Instead of becoming angry, Mrs. Robinson showed Ms. Friday grace. "Now, why did you do that?" Mrs. Robison sweetly and kindly asked. She didn't raise her voice. But then Ms. Friday bit her on the arm. Mrs. Robinson still didn't raise her voice and again showed Ms. Friday forgiveness and grace.

Mrs. Robinson told Ms. Friday's father what she'd done and, of course, Mr. Friday was upset. He decided to bake a chocolate cake and made Ms. Friday take the cake to Mrs. Robinson, and apologize, which she did.

Crystal Friday

Ms. Crystal Friday with Mrs. Annie P. Robinson (left); Jimmy Wayne and Ms. Friday.

Just like Ms. Friday and I, she and Mrs. Robinson are also great friends today. She visits Mrs. Robinson at the nursing home at least once a month. 

After 37 years teaching, Ms. Friday is retiring. She has inspired students, teachers, and principals throughout her career. She has changed lives. Certainly mine! It is an honor to partner with Coca-Cola, and Krystal to honor and commemorate Ms. Friday and show our appreciation for educators everywhere

 

Jimmy Wayne is a former foster kid turned country music singer/songwriter whose songs and story highlight his mission to bring awareness to kids who age out of the foster system and become homeless. With hits such as "Stay Gone," "I Love You This Much," and "Paper Angels," he released "Do You Believe Me Now," his biggest hit to date, for which he earned the prestigious “Millionaire Award” for receiving one million radio spins in America.