Plattsburgh native on the road to selflessness

PHOTO PROVIDEDPlattsburgh native James McCartney IV (right) poses with two of the people he has highlighted in his Instagram effort to point out acts of kindness. The woman had struggled to get her heavy grocery bags up the steps of a bus, and the young man came across the bus to help her. The woman told McCartney how amazing and kind the young man had been. "He said humbly that today was his 16th birthday and he was on his way to tour Washington State University as he was choosing what school he would attend and play football for," McCartney related. The bus driver heard and gave the teen $5 as a birthday present. "The positivity spread around the bus, all because of a caring 16-year-old that helped a stranger," McCartney said.

PLATTSBURGH — Kindness in today’s world sometimes seems to be a lost art.

Disproving that belief has become a central motivator for James McCartney IV as he works with impassioned dedication to prove that kindness is everywhere and that those who partake in acts of kindness should be heralded as true heroes in our complicated world.

McCartney, known as Jimmy by his friends and acquaintances, was born and raised in Plattsburgh, graduating from Plattsburgh High School in 2007 and from SUNY Plattsburgh with a master’s degree in education in 2012.

Those roots are far from where he now finds himself, living in Seattle, Wash., where he is spearheading what he calls a “selfless movement” depicting random acts of kindness.

“After I finished grad school, I had a hard time finding a job and was struggling financially,” McCartney said during a trip home to visit family. 

“It was around that time that I first began to think, ‘If I’m going to struggle, I may as well do things that make me happy.'"


McCartney did land a job at Plattsburgh Middle School, but he still felt the need to follow dreams that he was not fulfilling in that position. 

In January 2016, he headed west in pursuit of fulfillment.

“I had a concept for a new format for internet-based TV,” he explained of his changing career goals. “Even though I knew it was a long shot, I knew I had to follow my dreams.”

McCartney focused his attention on Amazon and Google, knowing those massive companies might be his portal into a world where dreams come true. 

In fact, he began to have some successful email communications with an executive from Amazon and believed he had done well in selling his idea.


When he traveled to Seattle in hopes of personally meeting with the Amazon exec, he was referred to Amazon Studios in Los Angeles; but he had already been in contact with that location without success.

“So I’m in Seattle, I’ve lost a lot of money, and I’m wondering, ‘What do I do next?’” he said.

The answer wasn’t clear, but another shift of direction in his life was about to occur. 

While walking the streets of downtown Seattle one day, he came across a homeless woman who was sitting on the sidewalk crying.

“I sat down next to her and started talking to her,” he said. “I found out she was having a really bad day.”


McCartney agreed to go to the store and buy the woman some lunch. 

When he returned with her meal and sat with her a while longer, he was approached by police, who advised him that he was in violation of a city ordinance: sitting on the sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

He was given a warning, and his name was placed into a city database tracking people who violated the ordinance.

McCartney was left in shock that anything like this would happen to someone who was simply trying to help another human in trouble.

“It was from that event where I got the idea for what I wanted to do and how I wanted it to be implemented,” he said.


The idea was simple: capturing images of people being kind to one another and sharing those images on social media.

Whenever a similar situation happened, he would ask the person involved if he could take a photo with both of them placing their fists against their hearts, using the symbol for love.

“My idea was to shift the focus in social media from selfies to moments of selflessness,” he explained.

Still, he didn't feel the images of kindness that he has captured and shared on Instagram translate into a tremendous amount of awareness. 

Although he downplays his own personal role in the selfless movement, he does recognize the importance of help from major sponsors.

He has been working on contacting global travel companies to promote the movement through a series of commercials and has also been in contact with successful filmmakers to seek their support with a documentary series on the selfless movement.


He met recently with Kim Rocco Shields, an internationally renowned filmmaker, and though she admitted that she did not have the time to work with McCartney right now, she offered her support and asked him to contact her for future advice.

That success has helped strengthen McCartney’s determination to move forward with his selfless movement, including his goals to turn viewers of his portraits into active participants and to influence viewers to be more actively involved with charitable organizations.

“This is a world I didn’t come from,” he said of his current role and how far removed he is from his local roots.

“But it is a world where I want to be.” 


Check out James McCartney’s selfless portraits, including background information on each event, on Instagram: #ourselflessmovement @joinourselflessmovement.

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