From Poverty to Spin Class to Ph.D. - Dr. Kimberly Walker is a Role Model for Black Women in Leadership
March 7, 2022
Dr. Walker, what is your personal narrative?
Growing up without money and privilege was difficult at times. I had a family and mother who loved me dearly and did the best she could, but I always wanted more from life. I coped with my situation through education. Education felt safe; it provided peace in an often hectic environment.
As a child, I loved to read. My mom would often tell me stories about when she would “lose” me in a store while shopping. She would always find me in the book section, reading my favorite books at the time, The Berenstain Bears. Education provided hope for a better future and stability during middle and high school. I stuck with it and perfected my craft because I knew education was my path to the life I envisioned for myself.
My role as an adjunct professor also developed and fostered my love for education and helping others through academia. As an adjunct professor, I primarily taught at Historical Black College and Universities (HBCUs) in NC. Generally, HBCUs were created with the intention to serve the African American community during the period of segregation in the United states. HBCUs became critical for the advancement of black students, especially in the South, where most colleges and universities prohibited Blacks from attending college. They are largely responsible for the black middle class composed of doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and other professionals.
My decision to pursue a PhD was solidified when a student disclosed to me that I was the first black CPA she had ever met in her entire life. In that moment, I realized that I had a responsibility to shed a positive light on the profession. Most importantly, I was in a unique position to provide hope for black and brown students that a career in accounting is possible. This is one responsibility that I have never taken for granted and I hold dear to me today.
Even though I did not attend an HBCU, I understand the critical need and impact of these universities on society and more importantly the impact of HBCUs in the Black community. I like to think of the impact of HBCU like the following analogy.
Imagine it is the last day of an amazing weekend with your closest friends. You haven’t been all together in one place in over 10 years. After the laughter, tears, and reminiscing, you gather for a group picture before parting ways and ask a passerby to take one last group picture. Each one of you eagerly hands over their phone and asks the nice stranger, "One more please, with my phone.”
The first thing you do after everyone is finished is to look for yourself in the picture on the phone, duh! You excitedly scan the pic. Everyone looks great. All smiling. Everyone’s eyes open. But wait. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong. You’ve spent a considerable amount of time with your friends, not just this weekend but throughout your life. Your friends know stories that you haven’t even told your spouse. They are more than your friends; they are your family. And after all of that time and effort…You don’t even see yourself in the photo.
This is what it feels like to be an African American in our society. You contribute to society to make a positive impact and to make a difference in your community, but the flash goes off and your existence, along with any acknowledgment, disappears. HBCUs give African Americans an opportunity to finally be seen in the picture by cultivating confidence and creating hope for a part of society a that is often underestimated and overlooked.
What barriers did you face in pursuing a PhD? How did you overcome these?
I was definitely faced with unfortunate circumstances while pursuing my PhD. For each negative situation I experienced during matriculation, I learned that my response to the problem was the key to my success. In those situations, I had to respond in a way that promoted my integrity and commitment to my goals. I think Michelle Obama said it best, “When they go low, we go high.”
Pursuing a PhD was a very isolating experience. There were many times during my matriculation when I did not feel a sense of belonging for various reasons. I overcame these feelings by finding my community through exercise and developing meaningful relationships and allies. My love of fitness, particularly spin classes, led me to be an instructor at the local CycleBar. For me, teaching spin class is very similar to teaching education. I'm not providing accounting knowledge, but I'm providing confidence. I'm inducing courage and a belief that they can do anything they want within the 45 minutes that we're in this studio.
(Read more about Dr. Walkers' Spin instructing and how she used this platform to represent how differences make us stronger in her PopSugar article feature. )
What advice would you give to future Inclusive Inspirational Leaders?
I turned 37 last year. It was not a milestone birthday, but it provided an opportunity to reflect over the past couple of years. The pandemic has been difficult for all of us, but, at the same time it has provided time away from the hustle and bustle for self-reflection and appreciation. As I participated in my selfreflection process, I thought about my wins and losses throughout the years. Below is advice I learned and would give to future Inclusive Inspirational Leaders:
10. Celebrate every achievement (no matter how big or small)
9. Self-care is a must. You cannot pour out of an empty cup.
8. Spend time with your loved ones. When they leave this earth, the one thing you will wish you had more of is time.
7. Your circle of friends should inspire you.
6. How you measure success is personal. Don't compare your success or journey to someone else's.
5. There is no timetable for success. It may take 2 months or 2 years for you to reach your goal. KEEP PUSHING!
4. Don't ever give up on yourself. My biggest accomplishment is my commitment to be better than I was yesterday.
3. The moment you assign meaning to your excuses is the moment you fail.
2. Living in your purpose is a privilege. Everyone does not have the determination or courage to do so. When you start living in your purpose, clarity and direction will follow. Trust the process.
1. Be authentic. Stand up for what you believe in.
Reference: GlobalMindED Email Newsletter, From Poverty to Spin Class to PhD – Dr. Kimberly Walker is a Role Model for Black Women in Leadership. Published Wednesday, February 23, 2022.