Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: Tell us about yourself. Who is Patrick Walker?
Patrick: I am just a guy, raised by his grandparents, Luther Odom and Virginia Mae Gwyn Walker, from the little city of Winston Salem, North Carolina. They instilled in me the need to have a vision, purpose, and to pursue excellence in everything I do. I have always been a person to have dreams and appreciate the things that people, like my grandparents, didn’t have when they were growing up. I am also a first generation college graduate, who tries to inspire others to see education as a passport to freedom.
QFTD: What inspired you to enter the law field?
Patrick: As a kid, I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I was that kid who needed to know the answers to so many questions. I loved how lawyers would ask questions. I was the kid who wanted to know, “Why is the sky blue? Why is the earth round?” My passion for knowledge was always thirsty. Now that I am older, I see how the law is a tool to navigate businesses and bring people together. I think that’s been my calling - to help nonprofit organizations think bigger. I think the law is also a vehicle for empowerment. I am always fascinated by people who don’t understand that the law protects you; it doesn’t restrict you. And so this is my contribution to society.
QFTD: What is it about being a business-law professor that brings you satisfaction?
Patrick: I enjoy the teaching aspect of it, helping my students see the nonprofit side of business and how it can complement the for-profit business sector. I enjoy the professional practice of it. I enjoy the consulting aspect of it. It never gives me a dull moment. There is always work to be done. I love what I do.Uriah: For someone on the fence about nonprofit law, what advice would you offer? Any tips that may help them make a decision?Patrick: See the nonprofit sector as a social enterprise. You need a plan to impact communities, while you also need to be profitable to do that. One common misperception is that "nonprofit" means you cannot make a profit. Realistically though, that is the only thing that can sustain you as a nonprofit organization. And for people who make donations, why would you give to something not sustainable? You do make a profit; it’s just what you do with that profit. You don’t pay shareholders dividends; you put it back into the nonprofit and the community. That is why I say to see it as a social enterprise. Did you know the NFL is a nonprofit?
QFTD: Not really. That's interesting.
Patrick: Yep, they are 501(c)6 status. The NFL was organized to promote the game of football, but the problem is some people are saying they do not deserve a tax break. Their status is probably going to be changed by the government because the way the teams are organized.
QFTD: What are some successful nonprofit organizations that have sustained themselves over the years? What are they all about?
Patrick: The Clinton Foundation, AmeriCorps, The Peace Corps, The NAACP, The YMCA, The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, and The Bill Gates Foundation are examples of nonprofits, engaged in social enterprise, using business practices to change the world. And they’re not just asking for donations; they’re saying, “This is how we are using your money to solve the issue of malaria, or to solve the issue of poverty. This is how we are using your money to take on the issue of child obesity, or to take on the issue of health care. So, a nonprofit is not just a bunch of people asking for a handout. To run this kind of organization effectively, you need to have a background in business and law.
QFTD: Now, I’d like to get to the core of how you developed into the person you are, not just as a lawyer or professor. Who mentored you along your journey to get where you are today?
Patrick: So many. Let’s start with my high school. I remember my Upward Bound director, Addie Hymes…wow, just the fact of even thinking about college was because of her. She was instrumental. There were sponsors like Mrs. Arlayne Tate, and Mr. and Mrs. Felder, who drove me to college. Reverend Jerome Barber, Dr. Donna Dabney, Dr. Alan Colon, and Jean Williamson from Hampton University are others, who I valued so much. Then, because I met community mentors, like Dr. Janet McKenzie, one of my first employers at NASA, along with Minister Larry Gibson and his family, I was so fortunate. Bishop Courtney McBath and Dr. Samuel P. Menefee were also important community mentors. Someone else who had a key role in my development was a special law mentor, Verbena Askew. She became the first African American, and female, to sit on the VA Circuit Court in 1995. She, to this day, keeps in touch with me. We still talk about business together. I did have a team of people who helped me on my path––as they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
QFTD: Not too long ago, you traveled to Turkey for a unique purpose. What was it all about, and how did it impact your life?
Patrick: It was the most fulfilling trip I have ever taken in my life. The trip was sponsored by The Missouri Niagara Foundation. Turkey is such a beautiful country. Seeing the grandeur and architecture up close had me in awe. I went, along with nine colleagues and professors, to promote interfaith dialogue. The purpose was also to create an intercultural dialogue. When you see the Muslim faith and culture, up close, for yourself, versus what you see played out in the media, it is such a contrast. I never experienced so much love – and I was a total stranger to them – I met with families in their homes for dinner. And they were so genuine. To hear them share their goals for their children and their families was humbling. They didn’t even know I was going to ask them about their family goals…amazingly, they all said the same thing. “We’d like for our children to be moral leaders and to always be honorable in whatever they do.” Three different families who did not know each other! They did not say anything about a profession – they weren’t concerned with their children being a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or a nurse. They said that being honorable and noble would satisfy them. And to me, their authentic response was about their values.Uriah: It says a lot about their culture.Patrick: It does! How do we love our neighbor? It’s about starting a conversation. I think that is what it was all about. Can I add something else?
Patrick: The purpose was to get to know my neighbor. I celebrate with my Turkish people, usually once a month, and now meet with them at a local event to keep the dialogue going, talking about charity from all religious perspectives: Jewish, Islamic, and Christian perspective. I really think that is what God has intended us to do in life.
Uriah: I agree with that. Sometimes I wonder what the purpose of life is, and it could just be all about us figuring out how to accept one another and love one another.
QFTD: What’s coming up on your calendar? What plans are in the near future?
Patrick: The biggest thing coming up is a February event, taking place in Las Vegas. There, I will be presenting at a national conference on social entrepreneurship that is changing the world, looking at the managerial aspects of it. I am presenting an abstract in the paper and a presentation. This March or April, I will be in San Antonio for a fund raising convention. In addition, I am working on a manual to help promote nonprofit business relationships with for-profits and small businesses. I also want to debut a workshop to go along with the manual. I am so passionate about working for nonprofits…so much could be solved by the nonprofit sector if it had the right mentality and the right tools.