From the ‘pocket of violence’ to Ivy League schools: Rodney Walker lectures about entrepreneurship


College of DuPage (Linkedin)

Rodney J. Walker delivered his talk titled, “A New Day One.”

Vandy Manyeh, News Editor

Violence. Robbery. Poverty.

These are words that stand out when stories from Englewood, one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, are told.

But for Englewood native Rodney Walker, it has always been about beating the odds.

“Everyone has that story of adversity, and everyone will have a turnaround point,” Walker said. “I’m on a campaign to restore hope and build lives.”

People from all walks of life and the College of DuPage community gathered in the Jack H. Turner Conference Room on Feb. 21, to hear Walker’s “from grass to grace story” as a guest speaker during National Entrepreneurship Week. Walker’s story is one that connects entrepreneurship education with the narrative of being able to grow and be successful; how to break life’s barriers and become a successful entrepreneur.

His mom, a byproduct of Chicago’s public housing, gave birth to her first child at age 13. That child died in a house fire. Walker’s mother was later abused by her father. This became a breaking point in her life.

Walker’s mom turned to substance abuse and addiction as a way to escape from her trauma.

His dad, a Vietnam war veteran, returned home with a heroin addiction; his siblings were usually arrested for gang and drug-related offenses.

Walker’s parents lost custody of him when he was only five. At 11, he had already lived in 12 foster homes where he was abused. It is no surprise that in his first year of high school, he tallied a 1.3 GPA; 1.6 GPA in his sophomore year.

Poverty and social failures didn’t define the person Walker would turn out to be. Amid these rough patches, he never lost sight of what life should be like.

“The way you act is a byproduct of the way you think,” Walker said. “I stopped trying to fix what was broken and tried to create something new so that the past can never be allowed to happen again.”

Walker received help from teachers to boost his grades. This came along with him enrolling in an entrepreneurship program organized by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. He became business-oriented and started Forever Life Productions, a media production company, while in high school.

“I became an answer to a problem that has been built for decades,” Walker said. “I learned about the principles of entrepreneurship; I learned about the principles of the ownership mentality and what that means, and I began to further that mentality.”

His parents attended their first graduation the year he got out of high school. His final grades reflected a better effort and  As and Bs.

Walker’s life has been about ideology and reality. As an entrepreneur, he is able to own what he built. He also received help from people who didn’t let him fail. This is the reason why mentoring is so important for young entrepreneurs, Walker said.

Walker has a model for entrepreneurs who are trying to own their future and create something new. It involves embracing your past, forgiving others who created hurdles along the way, creating a vision and using it to validate your forward movement, finding mentors, and when you have succeeded, go back and help someone else.

Walker is a 2012 graduate of Morehouse College. He graduated from Yale Divinity School in 2014 with a master’s degree in ethics. He is a candidate for a doctoral degree from Harvard University’s school of education. He is the author of “A New Day One: Trauma, Grace and a Young Man’s Journey from Foster Care to Yale.

Visit if you are interested in following Walker and his journey as an entrepreneur.