An internship at a recreation center in Atlanta’s Mechanicsville community during his Morehouse College days showed Charles Walker exactly what he wanted to be in his professional career. He didn’t necessarily have the words to describe it, but Walker knew he would find his purpose as a servant leader, helping young people overcome obstacles.
Now, some two decades later, Walker is in the exact job he’s always wanted, serving as a mentor and guide. As manager of the Urban League’s YouthBuild program, Walker leads young people who are facing challenges onto pathways to success and economic empowerment.
Right out of college, Walker, a Detroit native, applied his psychology degree to working in the mental health field. Later, he became Vice President for Area Development with the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. While his previous jobs allowed him to contribute to the community, Walker says his Urban League position gives him the greatest chance to have an immediate and significant influence on young people seeking to complete their education and find meaningful, financially sustaining employment.
“YouthBuild is only a year old, so we’re just getting started introducing students to jobs in the construction industry. My goal for the short term is to help 64 students get their high school diplomas and complete certification in construction,” Walker said. “But my long-term goal is to have some of the students come back several years from now and say ‘I own a construction company and I’m employing 50 people in our community. The Urban League gave me the opportunity to be the best that I can be.’
“In the meantime, I will feel rewarded every time a student passes a part and all of the GED test or earns a Construction Worker credential in collaboration with our partner the Atlanta Technical College – if every students leaves in a better place; and if they all walk away with more skills than they had, knowing we are here to help. We want them to feel secure that we will always be a place they can come back to for support and encouragement.”
ULGA operates the YouthBuild program in partnership with Atlanta Technical College and the U.S. Department of Labor. But Walker said anyone can be a part of making it a success by volunteering to become a mentor or supporter. He encourages others to get involved and to feel the blessing of making a contribution to the next generation.
“These are bright young people who have a lot of good ideas and will make huge contributions to our society if given a chance to succeed.”
Without YouthBuild and no access to secondary and post-secondary education, we know that the odds are that these bright “opportunity youth” would be on a pathway to prison or a life of poverty, Walker said.