Jerry Walker may be remembered as a high school All-American and Seton Hall standout as a forward on the basketball court in the early ’90s, but there’s more to Walker than just his power. There’s his heart.
“Everyone who knows him as a basketball player has said that he had the biggest heart on the team,” Associate Dean of Freshman Studies, Robin Cunningham, who has known Walker since his first year at the Hall and has continuously kept in touch with him said. “He was so dedicated to Seton Hall, and he still is. He has a deep understanding of what it means to give back to the community.”
After graduation, Walker played professional basketball overseas for a couple of years before returning home to Jersey City only to see the desperate need for programs to develop and support the children of Jersey City against the rough inner city neighborhood.
And that’s just what Walker did. Inspired by his grandfather who founded the Lafayette Neighborhood Association, Walker, along with his brother Jasper, used the money from their own savings and created Team Walker – a nonprofit that is a positive presence for the youth of Jersey City with programs that empower the children and teach them the importance of education, responsibility and teamwork.
“He’s all personality, and he’s all authenticity,” Cunningham, who has a photograph of young Walker tacked on her bulletin board said. “He just cares about his community, and he really learned the value of education when he was here. He’s so grateful to Seton Hall for that, and he just wants to turn around and give it back to people in his own community.”
What began with one summer basketball tournament and a basketball clinic with a handful of children has transformed into a well-established organization with various academic and athletic programs all year long, affecting more than 500 children of Jersey City for the better.
This summer will mark the 17th year since Team Walker’s inception, and with that, the building of Walker’s very own Team Walker Learning Center, which is set to have the first shovel in the ground next month.
“It’s definitely self-gratifying to me because for one thing it can be my own legacy,” Walker said. “You know, my grandfather always borrowed and leased spaces from local churches in the area. This is going to be the first facility we actually own, and it’s a place that we will call home.”
Cunningham, who always edited Walker’s papers, gave him a frame that read ‘Never stop learning.’ with a red pen attached as a graduation present. Once a mentor and now a friend, Cunningham couldn’t be any prouder or happier for Walker.
“I so admire him with his perseverance of his dream to have the building – the Team Walker Learning Center,” Cunningham reflected. “This has been going on for over 10 years now, and he’s never ever given up. He’s always believed that it will happen, and he’s worked night and day to get the support, donors and community of Jersey City to believe in him.”
While Walker is also happy about the construction of the building, he is focused on the kids and their future more than ever.
“If we can save one life, we’ve done our job,” Walker said. “With this new building, we plan to save thousands of lives and change the culture in the mindset of the children in the neighborhood.”
Krissy Wrobel can be reached at email@example.com.