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The Inclusive Excellence Podcast: “Wherever I Go, I Want It to Matter That I Was There” with Cal Walker

In the season finale of the Inclusive Excellence Podcast, Erin Sember-Chase and Toral Patel are joined by Cal Walker, a retiree of Cornell and longstanding citizen of Ithaca for nearly 50 years. Walker shares his journey from Civil Rights-era Alabama to New York, arriving in Ithaca in 1977 and wasting no time to make a difference in the community.

“When I came here, I immediately looked for ways to get involved,” Walker said. “I began to connect the dots and discovered there were disparities among race, class, disability and socioeconomic status going on here in the local education systems. And so, I did what my dean at Livingstone College always said, ‘blossom where you are planted.’ I decided this is where I’m going to be for the long haul, and I can’t think of a better place to have done that than right here in Ithaca.”

Walker blossomed into many roles in the community and at Cornell. He is the co-founder of Village at Ithaca, a youth and family-centered organization in Tompkins County with a mission to address systemic injustice and build an equitable and inclusive community.

He also served as the associate director for the Learning Strategies Center at Cornell and outreach liaison for Cornell’s Office of Community Relations. Before retiring in 2018 after nearly 25 years of employment at the university, Walker connected many schools in the greater Ithaca area with Cornell, building bridges between the two communities and increasing the accessibility of the university and its resources.

“It was so much fun,” Walker said. “What made it so enjoyable for me was that I was very familiar and well-networked with the schools in Ithaca. I knew the principals and some of the teachers, and it made it easy for me to be a liaison between a community that I knew really well and the opportunities here at Cornell. And I loved making those connections.”

Walker’s social entrepreneurship, activism and motivation to tackle challenges in education emerged from his long history of encountering racism and social injustices during his education and professional journey. From facing wrongful conviction to encountering racial discrimination in an Algebra II class and enduring racist remarks from a manager, Walker has transformed these experiences into catalysts for social change, igniting his passion to “affirm, inform, encourage, inspire and motivate” those around him.  

“There's this saying [by Samuel Johnson] that goes, ‘nothing would ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome,’” Walker said. “And so, I say – do the activity. Do the things designed to move the needle on whatever you're trying to do. And you're not always responsible for the results. You're just responsible for doing that which has the capacity to help get the thing accomplished. If it's important enough, we'll find a way.”

Tune in to Episode 83: “Wherever I Go, I Want It to Matter That I Was There” with Cal Walker to learn how the social entrepreneur has yet to slow down – fostering 60 children, surviving terminal cancer and continuing to make an impact in the Ithaca City School District. Visit to access the episode and transcript.

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