Liz Walker was one of the most famous and successful TV news personalities in Boston. She spent more than two decades as a reporter, as well as being the first African American news anchor on WBZ-TV. So, when she stepped down from the anchor desk, many of her peers were shocked. But Walker says it was an important step along her journey toward something greater than herself.
“If you understand the idea of television news, you don’t leave television news unless you’re fired. You don’t leave six-figure jobs, nobody does, it just doesn’t happen. So the idea of stepping out of that, it seemed I was doing it on my own, but another part of me was saying, ‘What are you doing?’ ” she says. “There was the feeling of being compelled . . . a feeling that it was something else I could do, it was something more I could do.”
That something else took her to Sudan, led her to co-found a humanitarian organization, and eventually to HDS.
Walker, MDiv ’05, met Gloria White-Hammond, MDiv ’97, the Swartz Resident Practitioner in Ministry Studies at HDS, through her church. In July 2001, Walker joined White-Hammond and others on a trip to Sudan to investigate allegations of slavery. The result was My Sister’s Keeper, an organization Walker co-founded that focuses on economic and educational initiatives for Sudanese women and girls.
In 2007, the organization opened a school for young women. A thousand students enrolled on the first day.
“When we were in Sudan, Gloria and I interviewed many, many, many women who had been gang raped and who had just seen incredible things, but their affect was like nothing had happened, because they had no choice. They had to keep going,” she says. “And I wondered how they dealt with trauma. And now, in my neighborhood, I see the same thing. I see people who have dealt with a lot of pain.”
Walker is currently the pastor at Roxbury Presbyterian Church in an inner-city neighborhood of Boston. She describes the area in which she serves as a wonderful community but one that sees more than its share of street violence, prostitution, and drug abuse, all of which lead to trauma.
To help, Walker’s church has launched multiple efforts, including a recovery program and a support group for the mothers of victims of violence. Walker works with the city, the public health commission, mental health workers, and local hospitals. She’s also just left open the doors to the church.
“We are trying to help heal a neighborhood,” she says. “So we’ve decided to just open our doors and invite people in on one night a week to talk about their pain. We give you a meal. There are no requirements. There’s no religious requirement. You can be anybody, but just come in.”
One of the efforts that most excites Walker is being able to help those with mental health issues. There’s a stigma attached to mental health that can get in the way of receiving treatment, she says, adding that in churches there’s a feeling that you can “pray everything away.”
“Well, you know, some things you can’t pray away. God wants you to get some help, so that’s what we’re doing,” she says.
While Walker’s current career may be very different from her years anchoring newscasts, she sees them as linked.
“I never thought that anything would be more exciting than television news,” she says, “but that was just preparation for the work that I’m doing now.”
—by Michael Naughton