It’d been a long day. The holidays were over, the weather was bitterly cold, and I couldn’t even bring myself to turn on the radio for fear of what the latest calamity of a news cycle would do to my already beaten-down spirit.
I pulled up to the CAMC Family Resource Center to meet with Dr. Jenee Walker, one of this year’s YWCA Women of Achievement. I’d heard wonderful stories about her from her patients, coworkers and friends – heartfelt testaments to her generous character, her kindness, her positive and inspiring nature, but I had never had the opportunity to meet her. After one hour of speaking with her, as I walked back to my car, I felt my shoulders were lighter, my mind was clearer and I was smiling – even hopeful. “Wow,” I thought. “How did she do that?”
Over the course of her life, Walker has worked tirelessly as an advocate for women’s rights and racial justice, and has been a steadfast supporter of improving access to mental health services and tearing down the stigma of mental health issues. Her own personal experiences have guided her advocacy efforts – strengthened by her sense of compassion, fortitude and generosity every step of the way. “I really love to help people who have been part of a struggle,” she said. “I gravitate toward them because I want to tell them, ‘Yes, you can.’”
Born and raised in Compton, California, Dr. Walker came from humble beginnings. Her father owned a junk yard and used car lot, and her mother worked as a secretary. As a high school student, she remembers hearing the family typewriter ticking away as her mother worked toward earning her college degree. “We weren’t rich financially, but we were rich in spirit,” Walker said of her childhood.
Growing up, Walker had a strong relationship with her mother. “My beautiful mother was one of the kindest, most gentle, spiritual people you’d ever meet; but when it came to her kids, she was fearless,” she said. “She always empowered me to believe that I could do anything, and she was always in my corner cheering for me to succeed.”
As a child, Walker’s only exposure to a woman in the professional world was her pediatrician, which inspired her to pursue a medical degree herself. After graduating as valedictorian from a small black Christian high school, Walker majored in biology at Loma Linda University – a school at which ninety-six percent of the student body was white.
She faced her share of struggles in college, detailing one particularly challenging interaction with a teacher in a story published in