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Despite all odds, Rodney Walker has made an inspiring journey from the streets of Chicago to a JP Morgan scholar, the top 1% of his class at Morehouse, and even started his own company, Forever Life Productions.

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Surrounded by drug abuse, neglect, violence, homelessness, and despite having traveled to ten different schools and fifteen different homes, a young man named Rodney Walker has overcome all odds to turn his life around and in the right direction. 

Anyone has the power within to change their world. I first met Rodney Walker while attending the annual NFTE (National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship) “Dare to Dream” Gala,   in Washington DC.   His charisma and magnitude of positive energy wowed me. 

This remarkable young man showed no signs or where we came from or how he struggled.  Being alum of NFTE, Rodney credits NFTE immensely for his success and being the honorable young man that he is today.

The 2011 NFTE gala was sold out with over 600 guests in attendance. 

What started as a drop-out prevention program for one  New York City high school has grown into a large non-profit,  whose mission is to provide programs that inspire people from low-income communities to stay in school, recognize business opportunities, and plan a successful future.   

Being the keynote speaker at this event, Rodney’s story was as shocking as inspiring. Rodney’s volition to choose an education over a life of violence and drugs was not just merely an easy one to make.

Being homeless on the streets of Chicago, Rodney had no money, no clothes, and was hungry.  Rodney has been in foster care since he was five. 

Facing such challenges, an education would seemingly fit at the bottom of one’s list, but not Rodney’s. 

Despite being the victim of poor circumstance, Rodney would not let that deter himself from striving for the life that he wanted. 

So often true in life, it’s not what happens to us, but it’s our attitude that opens the doors and shapes our fate.  Since most children do not grow up homeless, in the ghetto, exposed to violence, or have hardcore drug users for parents, it is hard to relate.

Through Rodney’s story, his miraculous triumph over tough challenges, he inspires us to never give up despite circumstances. 

Rather than talking about his life, I wanted to let Rodney personally tell his story through a recent interview we had.

ABOVE: Athena Romaine, NTFE Honoree Mark Ein, and mentor to Darryl Warker, Jimmy Lynn

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(Jimmy Lynn of Georgetown U, Rodney Walker, and Chuck Block – producer “Rhyme or Reason”)

Describe your childhood…

 

I have come from very humble beginnings. Due to my parents’ afflictions with drug abuse, I was placed in the foster care system at the age of five.

 For the next thirteen years, I would be placed in fifteen different homes and ten elementary schools. This had a traumatic effect on my life, and it led to my academic and social failure. 

I grew up as a very angry child; angry at my circumstances and my confusion with life.

When I was 17, I left my last foster home because of the abuse that I was being subjected to, and I was homeless for the next several months following.

I would go to school with the same clothes on as the day before, and I would ask my friends if I could spend a night over their place until I became situated. It was a very tough time in my life.

Then, one night, as I was walking down the street with a book bag full of clothes at 11pm, a staff member of my school insisted on dropping me off at my home.

Once he learned of my situation and discovered that I was staying in a homeless shelter, he proceeded to take me in with his family. He offered me the opportunity to stay with his family under the condition that I work on my grades, change my attitude, and focus on getting into college.

Being that I didn’t want to be homeless again, I gladly accepted his offer. From his guidance, mentoring, tough love, and commitment, he helped me achieve academic success, and get into college.

How exactly did you get involved with NFTE and the impact the program has had in your life?

In my senior year of high school, I registered for a business class offered at my high school. This class taught the NFTE curriculum, and so I was automatically enrolled in the NFTE program.

In short, I believe that NFTE is the sole reason that I have been able to make the impact that I’ve made thus far. NFTE’s mentors and business leaders have been instrumental to my life.  

Christine Poorman, the Executive Director of NFTE in Chicago, is my personal mentor, and she makes sure I have a place to stay whenever I return to Chicago.

So, in this way, NFTE has been more than an entrepreneurship program for me; it has been my way to a better life, and I continue to strive for a better life because of the motivation they’ve given me.

What message you would like to relay to youths currently engaged in unsound activities?

Since making it through my trials and tribulations, I travel to different schools and undeserved communities to talk to youth about the importance of education.

I relay my personal testimony to the students in an effort to get them to realize that there are no excuses; anyone can make it through any circumstance if they give their best effort. I also try to help them understand that they don’t have to go through it alone; there are people (like me) who are eager and willing to help when they are ready.

Anything else you would like to say on a personal note?

I am passionate about helping young minority individuals overcome their circumstances.

I think that motivation and inspiration is the first step in the process; students need to see and hear from the people who relate to them the most and can show them the pathway to a different reality.

However, I understand that it is not enough to motivate and inspire. Motivation and inspiration alone will not break the bad habit and conditioning that they’ve developed overtime.

Therefore, I believe the more important component is the follow-up; there has to be mentors, parents, and positive role-models there to offer a hand where it is needed.

I didn’t come to my mentor; my mentor came to me. If it weren’t for him taking the initiative, I don’t know where I would be right now. I am forever grateful.

Please visit nfte.com for more information and how to get involved.

Athena Romaine

This blog was provided by Philanthropy Files.com