When Shajuana Mays arrived for her shift at a Popeyes restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, in March 2017, she couldn’t have known her life was about to change. But during the busy lunchtime rush that day, one of her customers was Donald Carter – a man she’d met for the first time only two days before. And together with a few helpers, Carter had set Mays up for a huge surprise.
Mays and Carter actually first encountered each other on a Friday night when Carter stopped for food at the Popeyes drive-thru. They apparently only spoke for less than a minute while his food was being prepared. But what Mays told Carter had a real impact on him, and he couldn’t get it off his mind that night.
At the time, Carter was 36 years old and had recently quit his job as a detective with the Kansas City Police Department. That had been a position he’d held for more than ten years. But now he’d moved on to work at a technology company and was also helping out with a community group in his spare time. So by the time he’d arrived home on this particular Friday, his family had already eaten.
Carter understandably felt tired that night – and he saw that the employee who served him at the drive-thru window looked exhausted, too. Recalling their short conversation, Carter later revealed online that he asked Mays, “What do you do besides this?” She replied, “Nothing, but I’m about to go back to school.”
Carter said he enquired about what she planned to study, and Mays told him that she wanted to be a nurse. He then asked what kind of nurse she’d like to work as. “It doesn’t even matter,” she replied.
When he arrived back home that night, Carter was apparently still thinking about what Mays had said. He later told Essence that he could really relate to her situation, adding, “I knew what it was like to want to grow, to break free from an undesirable circumstance.”
Carter then wondered if he could help in any way. And soon an idea dawned on him: what if he could help out with her tuition fees? He couldn’t afford to pay them himself, though, so Carter had to think of a way to raise the money.
That night, Carter put his plan into action. First, he undertook some research to check out the price of completing a certified nursing assistant course. He subsequently discovered that he would need a total of $1,500. So next Carter decided to turn to his Facebook friends for help.
With somewhere in the region of 1,300 friends on the social networking site, Carter calculated that a $5 donation from a few hundred of them would raise the money he needed to help Mays. And Carter didn’t waste any time putting out the plea to his friends. “Just a random act of kindness from a few hundred strangers,” he told them.
Carter stayed awake until the early hours creating a GoFundMe appeal. And early the following day, he’d already received hundreds of dollars. Incredibly, the page then hit its $1,500 target just hours later. A few nurses had spotted his fundraising efforts, however, and they told him that qualifying to be a licensed practical nurse – rather than a certified nursing assistant – would actually cost $7,000.
By this point in his campaign, though, Carter was beginning to feel a little nervous. He later told The Kansas City Star that he didn’t even know for sure if Mays was serious about wanting to study nursing. “I started to freak out,” he admitted.
So what were Carter’s options? “I had a choice at that moment to shut it down and stop it or let people’s kindness pour through this one little portal I created,” he told the Star. “I threw caution to the wind. What do I have to lose to let people be extravagantly kind to someone?”
So Carter decided to return to Popeyes to see if he could arrange a time and date to present Mays with the news. Together, Carter and the manager arranged that he would come into the restaurant the following day to surprise Mays. He’d also be joined by some of those who’d given money and would film a video to show Mays’ response to his other followers.
By Sunday, Carter had raised a remarkable $4,600. In a video later uploaded to YouTube, he tells a shocked Mays that he and his friends have made sure that she can go to nursing school. Overwhelmed by the news, Mays can hardly manage to say, “Oh my gosh!”
Once she’s finally recovered from the shock, though, Mays tells Carter and the other donors that she’s “way past excited” about going back to school. She later told Fox News Kansas City that she’d always believed in guardian angels, adding, “That was definitely my angel, and my angel eats chicken!”
Thanks to Carter and his friends, Mays has since quit her position at Popeyes. She regularly posts updates on the GoFundMe page, too, giving the people she calls her “angels from around the world” news on her progress. In a message uploaded summer 2018, for instance, Mays revealed that she’d been hired and was taking steps to become a personal care assistant.
As for the campaign, it’s gone on to raise in excess of $15,000 – more than twice its original target. Carter’s efforts also came to the attention of TV host Steve Harvey, and both Carter and Mays were subsequently asked to appear on his show. He then presented Carter with a “Harvey’s Heroes” jacket and told him that what he’d done for Mays was truly selfless and inspiring.
Turning to Mays, Harvey said he’d heard how hard she was working to follow her dream – before surprising her with a check for $5,000. And Carter had some news of his own to announce on the show. Amazingly, he told Steve and Mays that he was planning to run for mayor of Kansas City in 2019.
During his appearance on Steve Harvey, Carter said it had been remarkable to see the community come together to help. He also told The Kansas City Star that he’d previously thought about running for political office. And the reception that he received for his good deed finally convinced him to go for it.
Carter told the Star that he was planning to spend some time meeting voters and learning what it would take to be a good mayor. But he said he’d already been encouraged by the way people had responded to his story. In a post on Twitter, he wrote, “We really have a lot to gain from just taking care of each other.”