Sophomore appointed to California's racial profiling advisory board

Sophomore Timothy Walker, a political science major, is the youngest member and the only college student appointed to California's newly established Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board. 

Political science major is the youngest member and only college student appointed

At 19, San Francisco State University sophomore and political science major Timothy Walker is the youngest member of California's newly established Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board. He's also the only college student on a board composed of current and former law enforcement officials, attorneys, community and spiritual leaders, university professors and civil rights activists. Appointed by California State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, the 18-member board was mandated by Assembly Bill 953 and is tasked with helping to eliminate racial and identity profiling in law enforcement.

Walker grew up in the South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles, one of six children raised by his single mother. His history of community activism and leadership goes back to his days in junior high school and continues at SF State as the leadership development director for the Black Student Union. 

Walker discusses his background working in the social justice movement and his aspirations.

How did you become involved in social justice work?

When I was in the eighth grade, my mother got involved with Community Coalition, a grassroots social justice organization in L.A., and she did advocacy work for schools. Community Coalition also works with student organizers at high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to mobilize youth to create change. My twin sister and I joined the youth component and for the first few months I wasn't too sure I wanted to stay involved. Then they began to launch different campaigns around education. After seeing how much it was actually led by the students, it gave me a sense that, "Wow, if I look around in my community and see something that needs to be improved or that I don't think is right, we can really do this. We can really do this together. We can really do this in a way that allows our voices to be heard."

My sister and I stepped into leadership roles during our sophomore year, and each year there was a campaign that we took the lead on. This summer I was an intern at Community Coalition and did a lot of research about racial profiling and the criminal justice system to prepare me for what I'm going to be doing on the Racial Profiling Board. During the internship I also attended meetings with diverse groups of people who deal with law enforcement.

How were you selected to be a member of the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board?

During my junior year in high school, Attorney General Kamala Harris and her staff hosted a youth forum at Community Coalition to give young people a space to share the frustrations they had with being racially profiled by the police. During the meeting, we were trying to come up with solutions and sharing our experiences.

A lot of the things going on with law enforcement and racial profiling really hadn't changed, and I was getting frustrated and upset because I didn't think [the Attorney General's office] was being assertive enough. I let them know of my frustration and how I thought the meeting was going. Apparently [Attorney General Harris] felt I had something in me that I could give to the board, because after that her office stayed in touch with me.

What are some of the challenges you've faced? 

There are challenges every day that people in the black community face. Those challenges can be anything from not enough resources to pay the bills or going to school and having technology and textbooks that are outdated. It could be not having access to healthy food, when on every corner you see a McDonald's or a Jack in the Box. It could be not having good relationships between the community and law enforcement, city officials and those in elected office that represent the community. 

There are things that happen that you may not have control over, and you want to have a sense that you did something to help. A lot of people may not know how to go about it. When you face those kinds of challenges, you feel helpless.

How did you become interested in political science?

Through my work with Community Coalition, I saw firsthand the impact that putting pressure on politicians, school board members and school administrators had. My decision to go the political science route is a direct result of all of that. I want to use that knowledge so I can come back to the community and change it through policy work. I want to use it as a way to empower people, and in that way they can empower themselves.

What are your future plans?

Long-term, I would like to be the mayor of Los Angeles. And along that journey, in whatever position I find myself in, if I feel that I'm creating change and I can help other people create change, then I'll stay there.

What advice do you have for students who are looking to make a difference in their communities? 

In whatever way you believe you can help change someone's life, do it. Don't shortchange yourself by thinking that what you're doing isn't enough or it won't make a difference. It takes everyone coming together to make the change that you would like to see in this world.

Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in everything that you have to overcome. But use those things as motivation. Use them to tell other people who will come up behind you so we can all keep moving forward.