by Marcus Harden
(Black History Today is published in collaboration with Rise Up for Students)
“In playing ball, and in life, a person occasionally gets the opportunity to do something great. When that time comes, only two things matter: being prepared to seize the moment and having the courage to take your best swing.”-Hank Aaron
“Servant leadership” at times has become a cliched term — many people talk about it, but not all reach the actuality of it. The reasons for that are simple. Those who truly embody it are too busy serving and leading to bask in the glory of the lives they’ve affected and changed.
When it comes to national figures who embody servant leadership, I think a small photo of Aaron Walker should appear when people Google the phrase. Aaron’s role as founder and CEO of Camelback Ventures, a social venture organization that provides funding for Black, Brown and Indigenous leaders in early-stage funding, is an amazing one, but it doesn’t fully capture his service or his leadership.
To be a leader, one must possess a multitude of characteristics. Aaron, born and raised in South Orange, NJ, had the values of hard work and humility instilled early. He sharpened his technical skills attending the University of Virginia and The University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Yet it was as a 9th-grade English language arts teacher in West Philadelphia (Will Smith voice), that the servant adaptability in his leadership began to thrive. It is through teaching that he truly learned the multitude of talent and the multitude of needs for not only students, but teachers, specifically black and brown men and women.
From this space, Aaron, with the blessing of his wife (who is incredible in her own right) and children, launched Camelback Ventures. “It was inspired,” Aaron said, “by the notion that the genius of all people and all voices are needed to change the educational landscape for our children.”
The greatest portion, though, of Aaron’s servant leadership is not in the 82 (Eighty-Two!!!) ventures that he and his amazing team have launched. It’s embedded in the care and commitment he has for his family. From that foundation, his quiet humility meets his ferocious passion to transform outcomes for those who have always had the potential, but not always the platform and the resources to fulfill their dreams.
Aaron’s childhood hero was Jackie Robinson, and for most of us, as hard as we try, we often fall short of our heroes. While Aaron,’s path is unique, in many ways, it runs parallel to his hero’s. Aaron’s powerful humility and expansive impact on Black culture echo Jackie’s, and both did it it all while walking into rooms and spaces that often wouldn’t have him there. With a quiet confidence and unyielding determination, always keeping the bigger picture in mind, Aaron has blazed new trails of his own — not for his own gain, but through a grateful sense of responsibility to uplift the world around him.
Aaron and Camelback Ventures threw me a rope as I began to climb my “second mountain” in life and helped open the door to a revitalized purpose and new courage, allowing me to go and effect change in my sphere. His work has been in humble servitude to the dreams of others who only look to serve. His brilliance and his leadership, rippling across countless communities across the country, are transforming lives for the better.
Aaron’s motto is, “You either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same.” Thanks to Aaron’s commitment to getting better, he’s thus made us all better, and that is why Aaron Walker is indeed Black History, today!
For more information on Camelback Ventures please visit www.Camelbackventures.org
Marcus Harden is the creator of Black History Today, an annual series honoring Black History Month that pays tribute to the living legacy of Black history in our community and beyond.
He is a seasoned educator, with experience as a teacher, counselor, dean, administrator, program and policy manager.
Marcus focuses his work on creating better culture and climate for students, families and staff. He believes deeply in restorative justice practices and in mindset and resiliency work that leads to excellent and equitable educational outcomes for all students.