When Elizabeth Whittaker-Walker talks about leadership, executives listen. As the founder of Raymond Whittaker Design, LLC, a consulting firm committed to equity-leadership and organizational development, Whittaker-Walker has trained and coached policy leaders, philanthropists, non-profit leaders, political candidates and countless others.
One organization and one leader at a time, Whittaker-Walker is helping individuals better understand equity, integrity, empathy and impact, all with the goal of improving fairness, awareness and ultimately impacting social justice.
“If we look at the last five years or so, there have been so many large social movements led largely by youth, so everyone is aware,” says Whittaker-Walker. “With that heightened awareness, organizations are asking themselves, are we doing our best? There are new opportunities to look at that.”
Whittaker-Walker came to Cranbrook as a freshman after attending a summer program at the University of Michigan and hearing about the school from her roommate. “I was so excited about it,” Whittaker-Walker recalls. “I went home and asked my mother if I could go. She told me that she had always wanted to go to Cranbrook growing up. Once I was accepted, she, my grandmother, and other family members found a way for me to attend.”
The school lived up to her expectations. “I was blown away,” she says. “My friendships, the rigor of the coursework and the beauty of the campus (were wonderful).”
At Cranbrook, Whittaker-Walker’s natural leadership skills were put to good use especially in extracurricular clubs and activities. “I knew how to set agendas and run meetings at the age of 15,” she says. “It helped build up my confidence as a young leader. As a black woman, being in spaces where I had to work across lines of difference so young really helped.”
As a student, Whittaker-Walker had an interest in engineering, delving deep into the subject and earning awards for her work. “I thought of it as problem solving,” she says. “I knew I wanted to change and fix the world’s problems and I thought it would help me re-engineer things and find answers.” Then she discovered public policy, which she studied at Northwestern University, earning her undergraduate degree there.
After college, she joined Teach for America. “I knew I cared about human and civil rights and what better way to advance that than in a classroom,” she says. “I wanted to bring a ‘mirror and window’ experience to the children – a mirror so that they could see themselves in me and a window so they could see new opportunities and experiences.”
In addition to teaching, Whittaker-Walker designed curriculum in Chicago, she partnered with other scholars, activists, and teachers to train educators to teach issues of social justice with integrity. She later became a principal in Detroit.
During her tenure in education, she saw the vast challenges that small schools faced and realized that public policy and advocacy could help put the spotlight on issues like poverty and racism that so deeply affect the environments in which children learn.
Her interests and experiences led her to Leadership for Educational Equity, where she led a national team dedicated to advancing the leadership of historically underrepresented communities in policy, advocacy, organizing and elected leadership. She later joined the Council of Michigan Foundations, where she led its public policy strategy development and supported collaborative philanthropic responses to Michigan’s most critical needs.
Two years ago, Whittaker-Walker was named a Pahara NextGen Fellow, joining 24 other leaders nationwide who were recognized for their exemplary contributions and commitment to advancing equity in public education.
Throughout her career, she has designed and led hundreds of programs, workshops and training sessions across the country. She also has led social justice projects in countries in West Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe.
Most recently, Whittaker-Walker launched the Gloria Whittaker Scholarship for Women, honoring the grandmother who helped make it possible for her to attend Cranbrook. The scholarship provides support for working mothers of color who make less than $55,000 a year and is helping two women in its inaugural year.
In the near future, Whittaker-Walker plans to build her business, expand her civic leadership and volunteerism and continue to work for social justice. She is currently at work on a book about her experiences and is not ruling out a run for political office in the future – the ideal way to try and shape a better world for others.