The Quest Minutes: Prophet Walker [S2:E1]

Growing Roses from Concrete

Justin Kan
Jan 10 · 6 min read
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This piece is written by Zachary Will Sy, a Quest Minutes contributor. We are always looking for individuals with great stories. You can apply to become a Quest Fellow here or sign up for our Weekly Digest here.

Introducing: Prophet Walker

At the age of 16, Prophet Walker was sentenced to six years in jail. There, he helped introduce a two-year college degree program to give the incarcerated an opportunity to move forward. He was one of the first graduates of the program.

Today, a quick Google search of Walker returns a link to the White House archives. He was a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2015 State of the Union address in recognition for his endeavors in community leadership.

Now in his 30’s, Walker is:

  • the co-founder & CEO of Treehouse, a co-living community in Los Angeles,
  • a Loyola Marymount civil engineering graduate,
  • a founding member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, and
  • working with InsideOUT, a program to help juveniles express themselves through writing.
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Pictured (left to right): State Senator Joe Wiener, Prophet Walker and Joe Green discuss housing problem in California

Sentiments, stereotypes, and stigmas

Raised in Watts, California, Walker’s life is defined by two very distinct stages.

“I mean my grandmother named me Prophet, so she was pretty presumptuous. She was leaning into the idea that this student needed to figure something out for us all.”

This sentence encapsulates the first stage well — a period of eye opening and life-changing discoveries. Growing up in the eighties and nineties, Walker was born into the harsh realities of South Central Los Angeles. The war on drugs was enforced by constant police presence and harsh predatory laws.

Walker was no stranger to the stereotypical mantra of wanting to get out of the hood. The duality of hopefulness and hopelessness fostered an alternative awareness of society and its current landscape. Although his childhood experience was common with those who grew up around him, Walker highlights three significant things that would shape his outlook on life:

· his father’s love for family,

· his mother’s heroin addiction, and

· his great-great-grandparents’ participation in the KKK.

The first describes sentiment — an attitude or judgment driven by emotion. Walker’s father was repulsed by the idea of the U.S government taking care of him and his family. Viewing it as an institution that denied his humanity, he refused a reliance on welfare. He instead urged his son to seek independence, manifesting what Walker calls the ‘rugged entrepreneur’ in him.

The second describes stereotypes. It is often expected that children take after their parents, for better or worse. Walker felt an impending pressure that he would be viewed as someone shackled by drug addiction like his mother. This experience is widespread across disadvantaged communties, and remains a prevlaent issue for many African-Americans. Walker sought to break free from this cycle.

The third describes stigma. The continued existence of the KKK remains a stark and insidious reminder of American reality. As a white woman, Walker’s mother experienced disenfranchisement from her side of the family. It stemmed from her relationship with Walker’s father, a black man, pitted against the generational trauma of her great-grandparents’ historical ties to the KKK.

Walker lived his youth with these pressures looming over his head. However, they would come to serve as significant driving forces that would lay the foundation to Walker’s future realizations and growth.

Finding what works

“I’ve just single-handedly, in the matter of a month, checked off every negative black stereotype you could get.”

Walker’s incarceration marks the end of the first stage. Entering high school, his eyes opened to things he was shielded from during his earlier teenager years. He made the wrong types of friends — a realization he came to after being put into an orange jumpsuit for robbery.

Missing out on prom and college was all Walker had on his mind until he became exposed to another duality. Within the prison walls, he saw more than just the harsh realities of violence — it was contrasted with the capacity to foster incredibly deep and human connections.

Inspired, Walker wrote and pitched a proposal for a college program to the governor — “My first pitch deck,” in his own words. He envisioned the two or four year university correspondence course as a source for a better sense of self and accomplishment within his fellow inmates. He led the pilot program for thirty inmates.

Today, it serves almost 30,000.

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Walker is a strong advocate of prison reform

A childhood story repurposed

Seven years following his release from jail, Walker ran for office as an assemblyman for the state of California. He opened a new chapter in life, one that he calls “a massive combination of all my life experiences”.

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From prison to politics

One thing was common at every stage of his life: the presence of a community. Recognising it as one of the pivotal things that saved him, he created Treehouse to alleviate the growing population of people suffering from loneliness and isolation.

Moving out of the hood and into a large house in Playa Vista was something he could’ve only dreamt of as a child. Walker aspired to build a community and bring the world he lives in to others. Treehouse was the answer.

“I don’t think my daughter’s ever interacted with a law enforcement agent, and growing up in that environment, I don’t think she’s ever been safer.”

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Walker is the CEO and founder of Treehouse

Billed by multiple news and media sites as Los Angeles’ cure to loneliness, Treehouse is arguably the nation’s first co-living community that highlights the value of togetherness in the path to happiness.

“…. two worlds that would otherwise never interact, and you just see this happening so much at Treehouse, and I think that’s the future, redefining what the American dream is, and it’s not a pure individualism.

This piece is written by Zachary Will Sy, a Quest Minutes contributor. We are always looking for individuals with great stories. You can apply to become a Quest Fellow here or sign up for our Weekly Digest here.

Zachary is a Computer Science and Entrepreneurship student at Purdue University, Indiana. He has experience in consulting, data, and product work for the government, international organizations, and local conglomerates.

Amidst COVID-19, he spends most of his free time doing pro-bono e-commerce consulting work for local mom-and-pop shops. Together with two other high school friends, he also runs and hosts Seven Thirty Lectures, a college podcast for Filipinos.

You can connect with Zachary on Twitter and LinkedIn, or find him on his website at https://zsy.sh/. He would love to chat on any and all things tech, policy, entrepreneurship, and finance.

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