Behind every Black-owned business is a story rooted in resilience. The creation of these ventures is often inspired by the legacies of ancestors and fueled by the vision of a brighter future. As the anniversary of the harrowing Tulsa race massacre nears, Oakland-bred educator and founder of HBCU Prep School Claudia Walker is using her family-owned multimedia education company to empower youth through amplifying the narratives of the Black entrepreneurial trailblazers who cultivated Black Wall Street.
For Walker, the different facets of Black history were largely omitted from textbooks and class curriculums while growing up. Her parents—both educators who were raised in the deeply-segregated South amid the Jim Crow era—curated a home environment that was celebratory of the richness of Black culture. She vividly remembers reciting Langston Hughes sonnets during church recitals and attending stage plays like Sarafina! that provided a lens into the experiences interwoven in the African Diaspora. Walker credits her mother—who was passionate about poetry and theater—for elevating her awareness of the activism and artistry that birthed the Black Arts Movement.
Her reverence for Black history and culture is what led her to further her education at Spelman College. It was at the HBCU, tucked in the heart of Atlanta, where she expanded her strong foundational sense of self-awareness and self-efficacy. “Spelman was an amazing experience for me because it celebrated who I was as a Black woman,” Walker told NewsOne. “It was a place where you have Black women from all over the world coming together for this common purpose of empowering ourselves, learning about our history, and finding ways that we can be changemakers within our communities.”
Walker—who was an English major—initially had plans to go to law school until a unique opportunity to work on Wall Street in New York City presented itself. With the encouragement of a professor, she traveled to the Big Apple for an internship in the finance industry that eventually led to the beginning of a career as a Wall Street analyst. The transition from desiring to pursue a career in law to working on Wall Street was a major pivot, but for Walker it stemmed from something bigger than herself. She strives to use the experiences and knowledge she garnered as tools to empower her community.
Four years into Walker’s career as a financial analyst, the nation was shaken by the devastating September 11th attacks. For Walker—who was in New York City at the time—the traumatic events led her to a period of reflection. “Although I enjoyed working on Wall Street, events like that allow you to pause and recognize that life can change drastically in the blink of an eye,” Walker shared. “It gave me the opportunity to ask myself ‘Am I doing my life’s work?’ ‘Am I truly aligned with what God has called me to do?’ I knew Wall Street was part of the story, but it wasn’t the entire story.” She decided to return to the West Coast and chart a path in education; something that has been a common thread throughout her entire journey.
After experiencing how the art of teaching could transform the lives of youth, Walker decided she wanted to drive impact beyond the classroom. She first released a book dubbed The ABCs of HBCUs in 2020 which led to the creation of HBCU Prep School. The company develops learning materials that center Black excellence and joy; showing youth they stand on the shoulders of greatness. HBCU Prep School’s collection of products includes activity books, coloring books, flashcards and apparel.
The company’s latest release is a book titled the ABCs of Black Wall Street. It encompasses the stories and contributions of pioneers like O.W. Gurley, who created the vision for the thriving Greenwood district, Loula Williams, who founded the Dreamland Theatre, distinguished surgeon A.C. Jackson and other prominent innovators who used entrepreneurship and ownership as sources of Black empowerment and pride in the face of oppression and marginalization. “I wanted to merge Black history, culture, and the stories of those that created this incredible entrepreneurial community in Tulsa with the experience I had on Wall Street,” said Walker. “I recognized there was not only a gap in knowledge of the stories of those that created Black Wall Street but there was also this gap in Black communities of understanding how to create generational wealth and teach our children about financial literacy.”
The ABCs of Black Wall Street—which features lively illustrations by Jessica E. Boyd—was designed to uphold the legacies of Black leaders who are woven into the tapestry of the historic vibrant cultural community.
In the midst of a society where the push for book bans is threatening critical pieces of literature that illustrate truths about America’s past, Walker aims to use the book as a tool to help parents foster an enlightening learning atmosphere outside of school. She also purposefully decided to self-publish her work because she believes in the importance of controlling your narrative.
“It’s important for us to recognize we have to take the power back into our hands,” she said. “The stories I tell are so personal. I didn’t want to leave the imagery to people who may not understand Black culture or HBCU culture. I wanted to have complete control over the narrative, the authenticity in the market and how I engage with readers. I understand how important it is for young people to see themselves reflected in literature. It’s vital to make sure literature is a celebration of the children, the ancestors and the culture.” She added fostering connections and leading conversations with elders in communities about their experiences is also an impactful way to learn.
Walker—who is currently in the process of co-writing another HBCU-inspired activity book with her 13-year-old daughter—says the children’s book is just one element of her larger mission to amplify the importance of financial literacy and building generational wealth.
“Within the next few years Black wealth may fall to zero and that is a startling number,” Walker shared. “If we can learn about the ways we can pour money back into our community, we’ll see a shift. There was this statistic that indicated on Black Wall Street the dollar circulated for up to a year in the community. Now, within the Black community, the dollar leaves within a matter of hours. When we spend money with Black entrepreneurs, we’re not only helping them grow their businesses, we’re supporting their families and helping them build a legacy. Teaching our children how they can invest in themselves, in their communities and that their ideas matter can be a game changer in their life trajectory.”
Walker believes learning about the fullness of Black history will enrich future generations.