On March 25, Donald Carter, a Kansas City resident and former detective, made a Facebook post.
It wasn't a personal story, a political statement, or even a funny meme. It was a call to action. Carter invited 300 of his roughly 1,400 Facebook friends to help him raise enough money to send a random stranger he'd just met to nursing school.
"This all started because I was super tired on a Friday night, and I just happened to make my way to a Popeye's," Carter told A Plus. "...I was so exhausted that, when I pulled up to the drive-thru window and I saw Shajuana [Mays], I saw that she was exhausted [too]... We were both tired so we talked about it."
After Mays told Carter that after her shift that night ended, she'd have to be back at Popeye's the next morning, he "inquired about what else she does." Mays told him that she wanted to go back to school for nursing. The conversation ended shortly after, and Carter drove home.
For many people, the story would've ended there, but Carter couldn't stop thinking about the random young woman and soon became determined to help her. Those few seconds have forever changed the trajectory of both Carter and Mays' lives.
After learning the general cost of a CNA (certified nursing assistant) course, test, and license came to roughly $1500, Carter penned his now famous Facebook post. "I'm doing something a little different than I've ever thought before," he wrote. "I figured if I could get about 300 of my FB friends to put up $5 each, we could do it no problem. I'd do a Facebook live broadcast presenting her with the gift if we pulled it off. Just a random act of kindness from a few hundred strangers." Carter included a link to a GoFundMe page where anyone could contribute.
Not only did Carter's Facebook friends — and Facebook friends of friends — donate, but they also encouraged him to increase the goal of his GoFundMe to $7,000, which would only be $23 between 300 people. Though Carter was apprehensive, not knowing anything about Mays, including whether she would even accept such a gift or follow through on her goals, he believed in the power of collective kindness.
"I had no concept of how many would be inspired by as simple a thing as this, and it's ignited some things in me, as I've been reflective about what kindness really is," Carter said. "Kindness is, just in a moment, me relating to a person who's in my space, and if I see a need or see a desire at that moment, and I have the ability to do something about it... I'm gonna naturally want to. That, to me, is kindness."
Carter attributes his crowdfunding success, which topped $15,000, to "a really good network of people" feeling moved by "the arbitrary nature of the connection that we had."
"People are really hungry to do good to each other, to be good to each other," he said. "Being able to tell a story in a genuine fashion, and then inviting people into that process, and just make it as simple for them to participate — with no strings attached — those are all elements of this that I think made it work."
After raising over $15,000, Carter returned to Popeye's.
In the video above, Carter and a group of friends surprised Mays with the generous gift. Overcome with emotion and gratitude, she couldn't believe everything he'd done for her. "Thank you so much," she said. "I don't even know how to describe it in words... It's all emotion I'm feeling right now that is unexplainable, but it's all good and happy." Besides raising the necessary funds for her schooling, Carter also connected Mays to people in the nursing industry who can give her even more resources and assistance. "This is about a community," Carter told her in the video. "This isn't about the money that we raised. It's about a community supporting somebody... that wants to do better."
Weeks after the video aired and GoFundMe ended, Carter and Mays' lives are still intertwined — as Carter expects they will be for some time to come. Mays now views him as a mentor, especially as he's in a similar place of transition, recently leaving law enforcement to pursue a second career as an entrepreneur. "I'm working with a tech start-up, I'm learning about business... I'm on that journey, myself, of wanting to improve my life and to live more fully," he explained. " She [Mays] just sees me as a person that she can look up to in certain respects."
The feeling, of course, is mutual. "I love being around her because she's just such an amazing person...she just kinda glows with this thing of putting out good stuff to the people around her," Carter added. "I know that I felt that... at our first interaction, so we'll be friends probably for a long time." Many of Carter's friends, including his children, have also met Mays and wholeheartedly agree.
While Carter's initial crowdfunding initiative was a fast-paced success, he nonetheless believes "the speed of kindness is slow." For him kindness is not a sprint; it's a marathon. And the next step isn't a nonprofit or other kind of program, it's a local kindness "experiment" in Kansas City.
"[In] this second phase, I'm testing to see if people will engage in a more intentional way," he explained. His experience with Mays was "mere happenstance," but it made Carter think, "What if we just lived like this on a regular basis?"
Though he couldn't divulge any of the specific details of his experiment (""It's kind of secretive, which makes it fun."), he did tell A Plus that its purpose is to give participants the opportunity to practice kindness because that's how anyone gets better at anything — through practice.
"When you are intentional about looking at the people around, you have to slow down a bit, and if you do that you'll see... when the opportunity presents itself," he said. "And then, when we see that, when we relate to the people around us, I think there's a natural inclination to do and extend goodness"
Carter's believes people's inclination toward and capacity for kindness is so natural and normal, it doesn't need any sort of institutionalized organization or special recognition. "What I want people to understand and realize is that this is a very normal and regular thing that is simple to do," he said. "And you never know what the profound effects can ripple out of... just a simple act."