A walk to change the world
A West Virginia man spurs random acts of kindness on his cross-country trek
April 21, 2014
Armand Young, of Charles Town, W.Va., has carried his bamboo pole — that is covered with 535 flags, 200 bandanas, and thousands of signatures from people he has met across the country — about 7,600 miles on foot as part of his “Human Kindness Walk.” He claims the flag is the “most-signed object in the world.”
One of the first things Armand Young says is, "Sign this," as he leafs through a bundle of small American flags to find an open spot.
He hands over a fat permanent marker and starts his fantastic spiel.
Young, 49, of Charles Town, W.Va., shows the 6-foot bamboo pole and its 500-some flags that he is carrying across the country, gathering signatures along the way. He is walking through Carroll today.
He claims that 572,000 people have signed so far, pledging to do something kind for a stranger within 24 hours.
"This is the most-signed object in the world," Young says, one of his many inspiring lines that must be taken at face value - there's no easy way to confirm much of his story.
But do you need to?
Young says his 7,600-mile journey on foot started seven years ago in Santa Monica, Calif., where he was a masseuse who earned $500 each day on the Pacific Ocean beach and often traveled south to Mexico to build houses from scrap construction material.
"I found people who didn't have a doll or TV," Young says of the indigent Mexicans for whom he built free homes. "I brought them into a community."
He says his volunteer work was a way to turn his life around after a drug overdose nearly killed him and he spent years in prison for a burglary conviction.
One day, Young says, a friend challenged him to turn his good will to his own country. Young says he walked to his back yard and sawed a bamboo plant to make a walking stick for a cross-country trek to New York, where, according to media reports months later, he planned to place the bamboo and its signatures at Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11, 2011, terror attacks.
(A website that operated for the first several months of the 2007 walk said it was meant to promote bamboo as an "all natural resource that can help end Global Warming." The site, which asked for donations to pay for Young's food and lodging, is no longer online.)
At some point, the message of Young's "Human Kindness Walk" solidified. His goals - as many news media have reported in the past seven years - are to spread good deeds and remember the soldiers, firefighters and law officers that have died on-duty.
"Every step I take is a step a fallen soldier can't take," he told the Daily Times Herald on Friday, a variant of a quote written in newspapers and spoken on television news stations across the country.
Young says the past seven years have been life-changing:
- He was robbed of his backpack that contained photos, video and mementos of his journey within the first several months.
- He met Oprah and then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in Des Moines in 2008.
- He paused his walk while he was in the Midwest to tend to his ailing mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, in California. "She died in my arms," Young said.
- He met more than half of the families of 9/11 victims.
- He met more than 30,000 parents who lost a soldier at war.
- "Two thousand people have cried on my shoulder."
- He helped 533 people get a home or a job or food.
- He was forced to instruct doctors to "pull the plug" on his sister, who was brain dead from a car crash.
- He helped a woman - who was inconsolable after her husband's death - escape her suicidal thoughts.
- A man in New York offered Young $2 million for his bamboo pole. Museums have said they want it, too.
- He got married to a woman named Victoria who lives in West Virginia.
- At least two people have shot a gun at him in New Jersey and Iowa, but they missed.
- He met the band members of Slipknot and Korn, who signed the flags.
- He has collected 4,800 patches from police, firefighters and soldiers that he plans to sew to American flags to create an enormous quilt.
- The flags on his bamboo pole - the total weight of which is now about 60 pounds - have not touched the ground.
Young's trek went through Carroll today. He keeps a car to carry his clothes and the items people give him along the way. He drives the car to his next destination and then gets a ride back to where he ended the walk. Then he walks to his car and starts over.
Young estimates he has five to eight months before he reaches California, after which he might auction the bamboo pole and use the money to start a business that helps people with life counseling, drug treatment, food and housing.
On Thursday, he toured the Carroll Fire Department and took part in the department's "Plunge for Landon," a regional fundraiser for a Missouri boy with cancer.
"He did tell a heck of a story," said Fire Chief Greg Schreck, who signed one of Young's flags. "I give him credit for what he's done. That random act of kindness thing - we need a lot more of that in the world."
Schreck refilled Young's car with coolant that day and donated some money to help him get to California.
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