Nearly eight years ago, Curtis Walker arrived in North Carolina with nothing but the clothes on his back and hope for a brighter future. Moving from New York, he was ready to turn a new page and build a better life.
“I had a bus ticket, and I had the clothes on my back,” Walker said.
He got hired at Pizza Hut first, then moved to Advanced Auto, then onto Tyson Foods, and then Ashley Foods. Eventually, he found himself at Corning, where a talk with a mentor led him to consider a choice that transformed his life — going back to school.
Now, almost eight years after that bus ride from New York, Walker is the Student Government Association (SGA) president at Forsyth Technical Community College, part of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and ready to graduate with an associate degree in supply chain management.
The right fit
When deciding on schools, Walker knew he wanted to study supply chain management. He found Forsyth Tech and discovered their supply chain program. With a dream in mind and course catalog in hand, he packed up his bags and moved from Wilkesboro to the Triad.
At the time he started his classes, he had no idea where the opportunities at the college would take him — specifically the leadership development he would undergo. Walker credits many of the opportunities he’s had to the relationships he’s built with students, faculty, and staff.
During his first year at the school, he met president Janet Spriggs in an elevator. The conversation they had that day bloomed into a relationship, one that Walker is still learning from today.
Watching how Spriggs interacts with people and responds to the environment around her is a learning experience for Walker, he said. “Even though I’m not dealing with it, I’m learning from it,” he shared.
Discovering his potential
Walker grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in New York. Looking back, Walker says his first steps out of the world that he grew up in came from an increasing awareness that there was more out there for him.
“I grew up in a neighborhood with drugs, crime, violence, death, sex, prostitutes, everything. And I was in the middle of that,” he said. “At some point, you have to make the decision that, you know, is this my life? Or am I going to do something with my life because you don’t get the time back.”
While the exposure he had at a young age can cause a myriad of challenges for people, Walker said his biggest obstacle to overcome was his own mindset.
“Our problem is hopelessness,” he said. “Before we can even get to better schools and better streets and better jobs, you have to believe that that’s possible.”
Walker spoke of the limits that poverty places on a human mind. For a time in his life, it was almost unfathomable for him to consider making it out. But through his experiences and relationships with mentors, he discovered his innate strength and potential.
“I would say that if a man can do something, I can do it,” he said. “I might not be able to do it as fast. I might not be able to do it as well. It may take me longer, it may be more difficult. But since I see a man doing that, then I know that’s in the realm of possibility for this man to do that.”
Giving back to others
Walker speaks with the wisdom that comes from overcoming challenging circumstances. Education has given him the resources to make sense of his life and find a path forward.
“There was a time in my life when I made $2.25 a week,” he said. “I make $54,000 [a year] today.”
Walker believes that it is education that has allowed him to earn the salary he is making today. “Education allows doors to be opened to you that would otherwise be closed,” he said.
In addition to an increased earning potential, Walker is constantly looking for how he can grow, better himself, and better his community.
Forsyth Tech gave Walker the tools he needed to build a better life. Now, he’s an outspoken advocate for the power of education. “Education is the ultimate springboard,” Walker said.
As far as the wisdom that powered his journey, it started with advice from a trusted mentor — advice that still inspires Walker to this day and solidifies his belief in the endless opportunity for a life of growth, purpose, and service. That advice is:
Walker has made it his life mission to continue growing and learning and to remind people that there is something out there for all of us.