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Rodney  Walker

Rodney Walker

Author, Educator & Inspirational Speaker

Rodney Walker

Author, Educator & Inspirational Speaker


Rodney Walker is an American author, educator, entrepreneur, and inspirational speaker. He is the bestselling author of A New Day One, and is most known for his work in trauma-informed education. His award-winning keynote, The Power of Resilience: From 12 Foster Homes to Harvard University, has received acclamation by school districts across the nation. A Chicago native, he has a Bachelors degree from Morehouse College and graduate degrees from Harvard and Yale University.

Given the obstacles placed before him as a foster child, Rodney struggled academically and socially in school. In his early years of elementary school, he was diagnosed with autism, placed in special education, repeated the fourth grade due to poor academic performance, and finished his freshman year of high school with a 1.5 GPA. Shortly after aging out of foster care in his junior year, he was homeless on the streets of Chicago, relying on his classmates’ parents and mentors for refuge.

Desperate to cope with these circumstances, Rodney joined a youth mentoring program in his senior year of high school, where he was able to address the adverse experiences that had restrained him. During this period, he also participated in an in-school youth entrepreneurship program for high school students. With the support and guidance of these programs and committed mentors, Rodney competed and won various business plan competitions. It was here that Rodney became motivated and inspired to start his first business.

He is the founder of Forever Life Productions, a company that creates custom videos for special occasions and events. Along with his production company, Rodney travels both nationally and internationally, speaking at public schools, corporations, and conferences about the importance of trauma-informed education, entrepreneurship education, mentoring at-risk youth, and corporate philanthropy for non-profit organizations aimed to uplift and support at-risk youth. Portions of his story have appeared on PBS’s American Graduate Day, in the national education documentary Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon, and in It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired and Get Going by Chelsea Clinton. In an effort to address the epidemic of violence and social failure among at-risk youth in Chicago, Walker partnered with former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to create a comprehensive employment pipeline program for disconnected youth across the city.

Since earning his Masters in Education from Harvard University, Rodney has continued his career as a nationally-renowned youth speaker, thought leader, social emotional learning expert, and ambassador for change. In 2020, he published his 2nd book; a professional development guide for educators, entitled Wounds You Can Not See: An Educator’s Guide to Cultivating Resilience and Leadership in At-Risk Youth. In addition, he currently serves as a Professor of Leadership and Social Justice at his alma mater, Morehouse College. He also serves as a prison instructor in Atlanta’s Metro Reentry facility as part of Morehouse College’s Higher Education in Prisons Program.

Speaker Videos

Author of a New Day ONE

Speech Topics

The Power of Resilience: From 12 Foster Homes to Harvard University

Growing up in a violent neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago, Rodney faced tremendous adverse childhood experiences growing up in 12 foster homes. But through perseverance and mentorship, he became highly determined and resilient, and went on to graduate from Morehouse College and Yale University. In this keynote, Rodney speaks about the pain and struggles he faced throughout his life that led to him becoming the more determined, resilient, and successful entrepreneur he is today.

As a result of this presentation, participants will learn:

The value of perseverance in overcoming life's challenges.

The 5 steps all students need to take to overcome adversity and lead a life of success (FACES), which are:

  • Forgive (for yourself and others)
  • Adopt a mentor
  • Create a vision board
  • Embrace your past
  • Set out to mentor someone else

Give them your T.I.M.E: Trauma Informed Mentorship & Education

The saying is true: T.I.M.E. (used properly) heals all wounds. In this keynote, students will be able to hear Rodney’s story of being a foster youth who graduated near the bottom of his high school class, to graduating from Yale with a master’s degree by the age of 25, and the trauma-informed program that facilitated his transformative growth. Further, this presentation outlines best practices for educators tasked with teaching at-risk youth in disadvantaged communities. Learn about the MTL program, and the techniques and strategies that sent 25 high-risk students (out of 30 program participants) to college, in a high school that only graduated 55% of it’s overall student population.

As a result of this presentation, participants will learn:

  • The most effective strategies for addressing childhood trauma. How to best engage students in their own healing process.
  • How to motivate students to invest in their own education – without telling them to.
  • The strategies used to build an environment of empathy and compassion in school environments.

“The Only Way Out is Within”: Engendering the Ownership Mindset Through Entrepreneurship Education

When you’re born in volatile conditions and circumstances, you can’t afford to let life happen, or to “go with the flow.” Having a vision, plan, and commitment to action is the only way to ensure you don’t fall victim to life’s inevitable circumstances. The purpose of the BOLD Leadership Initiative is to teach the entrepreneurial mindset in a critical way. It engages students by shifting their focus from the outside distractions of life to their own personal growth and development. BOLD stands for the Business of Life Development.

As a result of this presentation, participants will learn:

  • How students can create a comprehensive life business plan for achieving their personal and career goals, in a relevant and engaging way.
  • The difference between victim-hood and ownership; framing your life’s struggles as an asset versus a liability.
  • How students can understand their lives from a “business” standpoint; understanding the importance of good decision-making, and why it’s important to invest in their own growth and development.

12 Traits of Resilience: A Guide to Helping Youth Build Something New

“When life is broken beyond repair, the goal is not to ‘fix what’s broken’ - the goal is to build something new, and to make sure that what’s broken is never allowed to happen again.” This keynote aims to educate students (especially those with high ACE scores) on character traits they need to adopt in order to transform their lives for the better: Humble, Grateful, Empathetic, Reflective, Strategic, Inquisitive, Selfless, Proactive, Persistent, Ambitious, Self-Disciplined, and Prayerful.

As a result of this presentation, participants will learn:

  • About the utility and value of these particular character traits in overcoming adverse life experiences.
  • What it means to adopt these traits; particularly, how changing your character transforms adversity into opportunities for growth.
  • How a change in attitude helps you attract mentors, and build positive and proactive relationships with them.

From Foster Care to Harvard: A Presentation on College & Career Readiness

Despite Rodney graduating at the bottom of his high school class, he went on to graduate with Degrees from three top-tier institutions; Morehouse College, Yale University, and Harvard University. In this keynote, Walker discusses how his collegiate experiences have changed his life, and offers essential tips and strategies for mastering the undergraduate application process, the collegiate experience, and the graduate application process. *This is a consolidated version of the full workshop.

As a result of this keynote, participants will learn:

  • About the importance of post-secondary education for personal growth and career development.
  • The best strategies for students to make themselves the most competitive candidates for college admissions.
  • An overview of how to approach critical aspects of the college application process (including the personal statement, essay prompts, resume formatting, seeking recommenders, disclosing deficiencies in your academic experience, building relationships with college admissions, etc.)

Letter to My Unborn: An Alternative to Suicide (A Mental Health Presentation)

In the midst of life-shattering circumstances, and the post-traumatic stress that follows, our mental health and decision-making becomes extremely compromised, and, in many cases, often leads to suicide. This keynote aims to help victims of trauma consider an alternative way of self-sacrifice; building a new life for a family not-yet created. Walker shares the letter and video he created for his “unborn family” at 17 years old, and how making that commitment 10 years ago helped him find meaning, forgiveness, and a purpose for living.

As a result of this presentation, participants will learn:

  • How to break the cycle of trauma and social failure by living for a greater life purpose.
  • How you can create the family you never had, that you desperately needed when you were younger.
  • How to construct positive and proactive coping mechanisms to deal with social emotional trauma.

Foster Care, Yale, & What Dr. Martin Luther King Meant to Me

When Rodney was 17, shortly after leaving foster care, he became homeless for several months. The challenges of being a homeless teen are indescribable — but during this time, he studied a man whose inspiration meant a lot to him: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In reminiscing on Dr. King’s impact, Rodney shares that “his words were a testament that even I could have a dream, and make it a reality.” This keynote is a reflection on how studying the life and example of Dr. King taught Rodney ways that he could grow from the challenges in his life, instead of letting them drag him down.

As a result of this presentation, participants will learn:

  • About Rodney’s family kinship to Emmett Till; the Chicago teenager whose lynching in Mississippi is widely considered to be the catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • About Rodney’s brief experience with homelessness after aging out of foster care, and, subsequently, how he came across the literature of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which inspired him to apply to Morehouse College (Dr. King’s Alma Mater).
  • An overview Dr. Kings life and leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement, and his impact on helping stories like Rodney’s to become a reality.

The Will to Imagine: The Power of Visualization

One of the most critical aspects of Walker’s journey from growing up in foster care to becoming an entrepreneur and scholar is learning how to constantly imagine a different future for himself. In this keynote, Walker reflects on his experience in creating vision boards, and how to effectively use them to create transformative life experiences.

As a result of this presentation, participants will learn:

  • About the purpose and process of visualization, and what it means to materialize the goals you set to accomplish.
  • About the various ways to create visual artifacts and memorandums, and the rules of engagement around reflection and meditation.
  • The process of setting expectations, making sacrifices, and becoming disciplined.
  • About limitations and constraints in producing a vision board.