Countless evenings, a teen would walk several miles in sub-zero temperatures. No matter the elements, rain, ice or snow, the teen would trek his way through. However, through the kindness of one police officer, a few strangers, as well as an appearance on “Ellen,” that all changed.
Meet James Taylor
In 2015, James Taylor was a sophomore attending Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He was double majoring in biology and chemistry. After he finished his degree, he would need to attend graduate school to achieve his goal of becoming a pharmacist. Like many colleges and universities in the United States, tuition was expensive. James did not have a scholarship, so he had to pay for his tuition out of pocket. In order to do so, James worked at the local McDonald’s.
He Didn’t Have A Car
James Taylor was a determined individual. On top of his studies, he chose to work at the local McDonald’s. However, the local McDonald’s was 4 miles from his home. To many, this distance doesn’t seem like much. However, Taylor did not have a car. Therefore, if he wanted to make money and keep his job, he would have to walk the 4 miles (one way) to get to work.
Walked In Freezing Cold
On February 19, 2015, Taylor prepared to leave his home and trek the 4 miles to his work. It was a sub-freezing 19 ℉ when he left his house. However, the cold did not stop him. No matter what the weather was, extreme heat or extreme cold, Taylor always walked the 4 miles to work and the 4 miles home after his shift was complete.
Wrapped In Layers
When Taylor left work, it was 2 a.m. Before he left, he bundled himself in layers, hoping to protect himself from the bitter cold. He left the McDonald’s and began his trek home. However, little did he know, that this walk home would be different than all his other walks home. This walk home would forever change his life.
A Policeman Passes By
Bundled in several layers, Taylor headed home. He was walking on the main highway as that is the quickest route home. As he was walking, Officer John Shipman was driving on the same road. Shipman had just finished his second job as a security guard. He spotted Taylor walking on the side of the road.
Something Peculiar Was Happening
Officer Shipman recounted the first time he saw Taylor. “Its 2 o’clock in the morning, it was about 19 degrees that night,” he said. “It had been snowing and freezing rain in the area for awhile. I noticed James walking on the shoulder of the road, and at 2 o’clock in the morning, it just didn’t seem to be right.”
He Pulled Over
It was very rare for Shipman to see someone walking on this highway so late in the evening. It was especially strange as it was so cold outside. Shipman said the area he spotted James is a “business district and at 2 o’clock in the morning, most of those businesses are closed.” Therefore, he did what any good police officer would do. He pulled over to the side of the road to find out what was going on with the man walking.
Did He Look Suspicious?
Many people would not pull over to talk to a random stranger in the early hours of the morning. However, this didn’t stop Officer Shipman. Taylor remembers the moment Office Shipman stopped. “I had two layers on because it was 19 degrees,” Taylor said. “I had two hoodies on and hands in pockets. I just assumed I looked suspicious and that’s why he was stopping me.” However, that wasn’t the case.
Offered Him A Ride
Contrary to Taylor’s belief, Shipman didn’t think he looked suspicious. Shipman was just curious as to why anyone would be walking on the highway so late and in such cold weather. Therefore, he offered Taylor a ride home. Taylor gladly accepted. Shipman then began asking why exactly he was walking on the highway.
Taylor Tells All
Taylor was glad to explain to the Officer why he was walking home. Shipman recalled their conversation to local TV station KAIT. “I asked, ‘So you went to work tonight knowing that you didn’t have a ride home and that it was going to be freezing?’,” Shipman said. “And he said ‘Yes sir, I have to. I don’t have any other choice.'” Officer Shipman was blown away by this young man.
His Mother Is His Motivation
Although it is not the most enjoyable experience, Taylor knows things could be much harder. He thinks about his mom when the walks seem rough. Taylor talked about his mother situation. “She [his mother] works 12 hours shift 5 days in a row,” he said. “If she can do that, I can go walk 2 hours in total and work an 8 or 9-hour shift. It’s not a big deal.”
Works To Pay For College & Help His Mom
James Taylor was working at McDonald’s for several reasons. The main reason was to make some money to pay for his college tuition. However, Taylor is very generous, and he also helps others in need. Taylor said, “I often times send money to my mom because sometimes she has trouble paying for things. So I’ll send money back to my mom and to my friends.” Despite needing the money himself, as well as all the work he puts in to earn that money, Taylor has no problem helping those he loves.
Shipman Posts To Facebook
Office Shipman was so touched by Taylor’s story; he knew he had to do something. He decided he could post to social media to tell Taylor’s story. He recounted his encounter with Taylor as well as the daily struggles Taylor faces. Shipman could have never guessed the number of responses he would receive from his post. As his post said, Shipman did return to meet Taylor the following evening.
Met Taylor At Work
The following day, Shipman did exactly what he said he would in his facebook post. He went to the McDonald’s to see if Taylor had a ride home. When he told him no, Shipman handed Taylor $20 for a cab ride. Although it had only been a day since Shipman’s post, many people in the community had heard about Taylor’s story. People wanted to help him in any way they could.
GoFundMe Page Started
By February 23rd, the post had gone viral in the community. A GoFundMe page was started to help Taylor buy a car. The page had a goal of $1,400, which was quickly surpassed. Residents also began donating warm winter clothes, so Taylor was always prepared for his treks. “The community’s response to this has just humbled me,” Shipman told KAIT.
Within just a week, the GoFundMe pages had amassed over $3,000. However, that wasn’t all. Awareness of Taylor’s story was getting bigger and bigger. People all across the community were pitching in to help Taylor. Instead of donating money, someone actually gave Taylor a car! Taylor’s story was now spreading beyond the city limits. His story had officially gone viral.
Invited On The Ellen Show
The story had grown so big, that Officer Shipman and James Taylor were invited to appear on “The Ellen Show.” When the appearance was announced, James decided to shut down the GoFundMe page, as he didn’t want an influx of donations after the appearance. Shipman and Taylor both accepted the invitation and headed to Hollywood.
On The Show With Ellen
Ellen was excited to welcome her two guests onto the show. Shipman and Taylor recounted the night that they met as well as the generosity of the community. “The citizens of Jonesboro have just stepped up and hit this out of the park,” Shipman said. Taylor smiled as Shipman said those words and nodded in agreement.
Praises For Everyone
After telling their story, Ellen praised both Shipman and Taylor for being such good people. “That’s amazing, well, good for you for stopping and not just giving him a ride but learning a little more about him,” she said to Shipman. “And what an amazing young man you are,” she said to Taylor. “But here’s the good news…”
Given A Scholarship
“We, this season, partnered with an e-book service, it’s called Entitle. Every time someone signs up for entitle they make a donation into our scholarship fund,” Ellen said. “We want to help continue your education but making you our first recipient of our Entitle Scholarship. We are going to give you a check for $20,000.”
Taylor Was Shocked
Taylor quickly exclaimed “Oh My God,” after hearing the news. He reached over to Ellen and thanked her for the very generous gift, as a showrunner brought the oversized check on stage. However, this wasn’t the end of Ellen’s generous gifts that day.
A New Forever Friendship
After Taylor got his gift, Ellen directed her attention back to officer Shipman. “You are going to stay in each other’s lives,” Ellen asks. “Yes, I’ve got my eye on him,” Shipman replies. Ellen recounted how Shipman has 3 sons (now 4 with Taylor in his life) and works 2 jobs to make ends meet. Therefore, she also wanted to give him something special.
A Check For $10,000
“We want to help you, as well,” Ellen said to Officer Shipman. “Our friends at Shutterfly have made it possible for us to help hundreds of people over the past 3 years and they want to help you by giving you a check for $10,000.” Shipman was overjoyed and hugged Ellen as he thanked her.
Work Hard Pays Off
John Shipman is proud to call Taylor a friend for life, and he is proud of what he has accomplished so far in life. “You will be rewarded,” Shipman said to KAIT. “It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow. I promise you, three weeks ago James had no idea, that first of all he’d have a little money in the bank, a car to drive, and besides go to Hollywood.”
Taylor Is Very Thankful
Taylor was super thankful for the number of people that have reached out and supported him. Taylor said, “I am content with working at McDonald’s and living a low-profile life, and to look past all discrimination against me, and the people that have helped me.” People are often judged by their place of employment, Taylor was happy his community was able to look beyond that.
A Strong Bond
James Taylor and Officer Shipman will forever have a close bond. Neither could have realized the relationship that would soon build that night Shipman picked up Taylor on the highway. “These kinds of people, you don’t meet every day. Officer Shipman, he was an amazing guy,” Taylor said. Of course, Shipman also feels the same way about Taylor.
Who Is Helping Who?
James Taylor is clearly very close to his mother. However, he did not have a prominent male figure in his life until he met Officer Shipman. Shipman has certainly taken James under his wing and cares for him like another son. “I think the community is going to change James’ life forever but you know what, in the end,” Shipman said to KAIT. “James may be changing our lives.”
Both Officer Shipman and James Taylor were extremely grateful for their recent experiences. With his newfound fame, Shipman decided he could further help the community and he founded the nonprofit “Back the Blue.” Back the Blue raises money for those who are in need in the community.
Ran For Sherrif
Officer Shipman, who is now Corporal John Shipman, in 2016, decided to run for Sheriff. However, he pulled out of the race a few months before the election. On his withdrawal from the race, he said “I’m going to redirect my energy… I want to be a voice for the mentally ill. We’ve done a lot of good things in the community that’s taken a potshot because I was in a political race. I just want to get back to helping people and doing things without the political ugliness of it.”
Generosity Is Universal
James Taylor isn’t the only one who experienced generosity like this from his community. A 56-year-old man named James Roberston was discovered to have been walking 21 miles to work. A college student discovered his hardship and began a GoFundMe account. The goal of $5,000 was quickly surpassed and it raised more than $350,000.