Following the Heart
How "Yes I Can" Created Change in the World
They came from little, but gave their daughter the world. Her grandfather held a third-grade education. Her grandmother finished one year of high school before leaving to support her loved ones. Her parents went no further than high school. But they believed in the power of education for their five children.
Twenty-five years later…their daughter graduated from Harvard.
Meet Allysunn Walker-Williams, an Ohio native who learned the value of family, civic engagement and community at an early age. “My parents and grandparents worked at local factories and taught me solid Midwestern values,” she explained. “Their lack of formal schooling was common in the south in the 1930's, 40’s, and 50’s, when racial oppression and segregation limited educational opportunities for African-Americans. My mother could have been a classical pianist. My father should have been a professor, but those doors were closed.”
A Path and a Purpose
As a child Allysunn excelled in school. Her parents encouraged her and her siblings every step of the way.
“I wanted all five of my children to go to college, and they did,” Allysunn’s father, Alton Walker Sr. stated proudly. “Allysunn went to the Hotchkiss School, Harvard and then UCLA – which meant she overcame barriers for all of us. We are so proud of her."
"I had extraordinary support from my parents, and was lucky enough to meet my best friend and mentor Ray, who also attended Hotchkiss and Harvard,” said Allysunn. “He gave me the confidence needed to pursue my dreams.” After completing her Harvard education, Allysunn pursued a career in public service and non-profit work in Los Angeles, California. “I had many choices and felt compelled to serve others. So I followed my heart.”
Her mission? To help create economic opportunity in marginalized communities, especially for poor families.
Through the years, Allysunn created opportunities for people to thrive – no matter their economic challenges. She held executive positions at the Weingart Center for the Homeless and the Los Angeles Mission. She became the Administrative Director of Community Health and Education at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and won Cedars’ first Annual President’s Award for Leadership.
At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Allysunn discovered a passion for improving the health conditions of low-income communities. She worked to promote fair health access for marginalized groups and earned her Masters with Honors from the UCLA School of Public Health.
Heartbreak and Hardships
While Allysunn experienced great successes, she faced a major setback in 2008. During the economic downturn she lost everything, which forced her to rebuild, to embrace resiliency and to keep pressing on.
“When I failed, my failures did not define me. They taught me,” Allysunn explained. “My faith kept me and restored me. My faith held my family together and put me back on my path to continue a life of servant-leadership.”
Today, Allysunn is the CEO of the California Council on Economic Education (CCEE), which provides K-12 students with the financial and economic literacy skills to help them make good choices with their money and with their lives. “Allysunn is passionate about education, and believes in CCEE’s mission. She has a wealth of experience and is a highly effective leader. One of her many skills includes successfully cultivating mentorship opportunities among educators,” said CCEE Board Chair, Steve Smith.
CCEE supporters include corporations like State Farm. CCEE and its partners invest in students by training teachers and supporting their work in the classroom. “Economic education unlocks economic potential,” said Allysunn. As she reflects on her life's journey, she shares three key tips to help others: