At about 8 p.m. Thursday, Armand Young walked into the Comfort Inn in Warsaw carrying the world’s largest signed flag exhibit. A 6 foot 2 inch tall bamboo pole holds a colorful display of mostly American flags – 419 total – and it demands attention.
Young began a cross country journey from Santa Monica, Calif., on April 16, 2007, headed to Ground Zero in New York City. Dubbed the Human Kindness Walk, his goal is to collect signatures on the flags in exchange for those who sign to promise to “pay it forward.” In other words, said Young, “Every signature is a promise they would do an act of kindness in the next 24 hours in the name of a fallen victim of 9/11 or a fallen soldier.”
To date, Young has collected in excess of 555,000 signatures, including those of over 500 celebrities, and believes he will reach his goal of 1 million by the end of his walk. It’s his way of trying to change the world by encouraging others to do random acts of kindness.
Described as a selfless Humanitarian, Young carries the 48 pound pole over his shoulder and lugs a 78 pound backpack as he travels anywhere from 10 miles to 30 miles per day on foot. So far, his legs have taken him 7,200 miles in a total of just over 23 months.
One year after his journey began, he made it to Plymouth, Ind., when he received word that his mother was gravely ill. Young halted his Kindness Walk to return to California where he returned in time to spend the last few days of his mother’s life with her. He also took some time to get married and spend time with his wife. In all, he took 3 years off from the walk.
But in 2011, Young returned to Plymouth to again pick up the journey where he left off. He walked from Plymouth to West Virginia, then trekked up to New York, arriving at Ground Zero on Sept. 3, 2011. He stayed in the city until Sept. 12 so that he could experience the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks and pay tribute to those who perished.
The pole he carries with him on his journey not only bears the 419 flags, it is also decorated with patches and emblems from fire stations and police departments across the country, bandanas from those he meets along the way, and other tokens that some feel obliged to affix to the traveling memorial just to be part of a great cause.
Young’s collection of patches alone has brought him offers of exorbitant dollar amounts, but he refuses to sell any of it. “The first two people who signed a flag before I left was my mother and my sister. My mother died the next year, and then my sister was (in a car accident). I lost both of them,” Young said. “This is priceless to me.” Although, he said, if anything, he would consider auctioning it with a high reserve and using the money it would bring to help the homeless.
As part of this Kindness Walk, Young stops often to help people in need any way that he can. He said the 419 flags represent the number of families who have received a place to live due to the attention his walk has generated and the kindness of strangers he has inspired to help those people along the way.
Young is currently nominated for two major awards. One is the CNN Hero Award, the second is the Rare Life Award presented by Eagle Rare Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey. “I don’t want to win the CNN award because I’m do this for our heroes,” he explained, but the Rare Life Award comes with a $40,000 cash prize that he would like to give to a ministry back home in West Virginia.