From 12 Foster Homes in Chicago to a Yale Master’s Degree, Walker’s New Book Details His Journey from Tragedy to Triumph.
Chicago, IL (Date) – A bi-product of drug-addicted parents from Chicago’s most notorious public housing projects, Rodney’s upbringing was destined for failure. Within the first twelve years of his life, Rodney had been in multiple foster homes, was diagnosed with mild autism and placed in special education, repeated the fourth grade due to poor academic performance, experienced physical and psychological abuse from caretakers, and finished his freshman year of high school with a sub- 2.0 GPA. But today, Rodney is an award-winning entrepreneur, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College, a Master’s degree from Yale University, has toured 10 different countries, and delivered a keynote at the White House on the importance of financial literacy for urban youth - all by the age of 25.
In his new book, A New Day One: Trauma, Grace, and a Young Man’s Journey from Foster Care toYale, Walker seeks to help readers understand the interventions that were in place to redirect his life. Rodney asserts that at-risk youth need three crucial elements in place to help them overcome their childhood adversity; critically-engaged mentorship, relevant education, and economic opportunity. Through these key factors, Rodney was able to re-channel his energy and turn his traumatic life experiences into a national success story.
Rodney details his harrowing past and describes the decades-long trauma that continues to plague his community in Chicago; “I grew up predominantly in the Englewood district, a community where the murder rate per capita is four times the national average, where over 70 percent of the households are led by single mothers with an income less than $12,000 annually, and where 1 in every 3 young black males will drop out of high school, become gang affiliated, and ultimately develop a criminal record. Most kids, like myself, had no idea that living in this environment was a one-way ticket to poverty, social failure, and self-destruction. We just lived with it and went with the flow of our environment. Every child’s situation is different, but with those devastating conditions in place, all roads lead to failure.”
It was only when Rodney joined a mentoring and entrepreneurship program in his senior year of high school that his circumstances began to change for the better. “I had a mentor who grew up in similar traumatic circumstances as me, and was able to make it out. I could tell he genuinely cared about the trauma I experienced and the well-being of my future. He would keep his mentees at the school as late as 8 o’clock, and we would have deep discussions about the issues that impacted our lives on a day-to-day basis; issues like growing up without a father, having a mother strung out on drugs, and for some of my classmates, having been sexually assaulted by a father or close relative. There were issues that we talked about that no other ‘mentor’ bothered to talk to us about, but this was trauma that we carried with us into the classroom every single day”. This critical engagement allowed Rodney to confront the demons of his past, come to terms with his post-traumatic stress, and use his redirected energy to change the trajectory of his life.
That opportunity for change would come through the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a non-profit organization that teaches students how to create small businesses with their award-winning curriculum. Through this year-long business class, Rodney created a video and music production business. He competed and won various business plan competitions, and was able to get funding to launch his production services, which he continued to operate in college. This combination of critical and consistent mentorship, combined with relevant education and opportunity, is ultimately what transformed Rodney’s mindset and drive to succeed.
After being accepted to Morehouse College on academic probation, Rodney used the skills and principles he learned to deal with the complexities of college and life. Inspired by this life-changing intervention, Rodney is an advocate of critical mentorship programs, and has personally funded trips across the U.S., Africa, and Asia to inspire youth with his story and educate them on key principles to achieve lifelong success. When asked what his message would be to youth dealing with similar circumstances, Rodney says, “No one can go back and make a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. Always be thankful for struggles, because your struggles prepare you for greatness.”
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