Dr. “Sonny” Walker, 1934-2016, Early Champion of NPUs, Community Action, !Presente!
(APN) ATLANTA — Dr. William “Sonny” Walker, 82, passed away on June 14, 2016. He was known in Atlanta, in Arkansas, and indeed, nationwide – as a passionate advocate for poor people, a community business leader, and a federal grant administrator for eight U.S. southern states for anti-poverty initiatives dating back to the the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 during the 1970s.
Walker had an office at the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority main office on Chantilly Drive, serving as an advisor and mentor to Dr. Joyce Dorsey, CEO; and, his recent activities include helping launch the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Atlanta Progressive News attended a visitation service at Providence Missionary Baptist Church, on June 19, where it was evident Dr. Walker transcended all of his titles.
During the 1970s and 1980s, he served as the Director of the Southeast Region for the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity and its successor agency, the U.S. Community Services Administration.
It was during this time that Dr. Walker was an early champion of former Atlanta City Councilman John Calhoun’s Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) initiative.
Walker had learned about how other cities were using NPU systems to empower low-income people to participate in the democratic process. Dr. Walker; Bill Allison of Economic Opportunity Atlanta; and Bunnie Jackson-Ransom, the former wife of former Mayor Maynard Jackson, were strong, supporting voices for Calhoun’s initiative.
In 2014, Dr. Walker participated in a series of interviews discussing the 50th Year of the War on Poverty, hosted by the FACAA.
“Community action leaders used to influence those with political power. Now Governors are in charge of the resources that low income people used to influence,” Dr. Walker lamented in his remarks.
“Community leaders like Dorothy Bolden, the founder and president of the National Domestic Worker’s Union of America, empowered me to help our struggling communities. Now it seems that influence from lower income people is almost non-existent; the politicians and the government officials are not listening to communities any more,” he said at the time.
A recently proposed ordinance, Ordinance 16-O-1346, by Atlanta City Councilmembers Andre Dickens, Ivory L. Young Jr., Cleta Winslow, Natalyn Archibong, and Joyce Sheperd, allows for some shifts in the way the NPUs operate by potentially giving the Atlanta Planning Commissioner more power.
Section 5, line 14 of the proposal states:
“The functions and duties of the office of zoning and development shall include… Coordinating the city’s neighborhood planning system including neighborhood impact and engagement.”
The language used in this proposal is vague, but this is what is troubling to the community action community.
In 2008, Dr. Walker was set to retire, but after speaking with Dr. Dorsey, he decided to act as a consultant for the organization until his death.
“He was an empowering force for the organization,” Dorsey told Atlanta Progressive News.
“He combined enthusiasm with strategy, this made him such an effective educator, I would say the best. He led by example and gave us all the courage to speak out on issues that we all felt were important,” Dorsey said.
APN’s News Editor–Matthew Charles Cardinale–served as Vice Treasurer of FACAA before relocating for law school in 2013. For many years, Dr. Walker remained interested in, and supportive of, the work of APN, especially at the Atlanta City Council.
The FACAA Board of Directors has mourned the deaths of two civil rights leaders on the Board–Horace Tribble and Walt Bellamy–in recent years, while successfully mobilizing to keep Mattie Jackson, 83, in her home.
Dr. Walker, a public school teacher himself, was also known for his involvement in education, integration, and teacher advocacy, in collaboration with then-U.S. Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-AR), in Arkansas, during the 1960s. Many of the teachers that he empowered during these trying times were present at his visitation service.
After the passage of The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Dr. Walker helped create a model Head Start schooling program in Syracuse, New York, and also served in the cabinet of Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.
Dr. Walker retired from his position at the U.S. Community Services Administration, and went on to become the Vice President of the National Alliance of Business. The goal of The National Alliance of Business (NAB) was to establish an internationally competitive U.S. workforce.
After thirteen years with the NAB, Dr. Walker left and became the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc.
It was during this same period of time that he would assist Coretta Scott King with speech writing.
Dr. Walker also led The Sonny Walker Group, a business consulting and strategy firm.
Dr. Walker is survived by daughter Cheryl, his other three children: James “Jimmy” Walker (Stephanie), William L. “Bill” Walker Jr. (Sharon), and Lesli Walker Williams, all of Little Rock, Ark.; seven grandchildren: Brent Mitchell, Delvin Walker, Darius Walker, Harrison Williams, Mia Williams, Alyson Walker and Stacie Wright; 18 great-grandchildren; and a host of other relatives, friends, and neighbors.
A funeral service was held for Dr. Walker on Monday, June 20, 2016 at 11 am, at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel on the campus of Morehouse College, 830 Westview Drive SW, in Atlanta.
A final service will be held Friday, June 24, at 11 a.m. at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.