She was a young widow,
single mom, parental caregiver,
new wife, and a working homemaker
who wouldn’t give up
In 1993 at 18 years of age, Latosha Walker graduated from Hirsch Metropolitan High School of Communication on the South side of Chicago. Her life’s goal was to play professional basketball and go into the military. But things did not go as planned. Fast forward 25 years, and not only did she cross the stage at Northwestern College’s commencement ceremony, but she was honored to step behind the podium and present one of the two student speeches of the 2018 ceremony.
The recently remarried widow, mother of three, caregiver of her father, and 26-year social services manager stands as an example that hard work and focus does pay off – but not always in the timetable we imagine.
Life simply “happens.” Sometimes it takes a little longer to achieve the goals we set, and sometimes those goals are replaced with new ones.
In June, Latosha graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Medical Assisting Program of Northwestern College and is now well underway to earning her nursing degree at the College’s Violet L. Schumacher School of Nursing – one step closer to her dream of becoming a Nurse Practitioner.
Walker took the podium before the Class of 2018 and shared the rocky road of her journey to become a college graduate. “Between my dad and sister’s cancer treatments, my older daughters’ college needs, my young-
est girl’s numerous extra-curricular activities, my own personal health issues, running a household, being a wife, studying and doing my homework, all while making sure I got my butt in the seat every class was, to say the least, challenging, and at times overwhelming,” she professed to her fellow graduates, all in one breath.
But at the core of Latosha’s speech was her heartfelt thanks to all of those around her and her fellow graduates; she understood that many had sacrificed so they all could cross that stage.
Walker is a product of Chicago, having grown up in the Cabrini Green housing development on the North side, then Englewood and finally Hyde Park on the South side until 2014, when she bought her first home in the south suburbs.
As a child, she was one of 16 siblings raised in a two-parent household, with one brother lost to gun violence and another to kidney failure. Her father was the provider while her mother took care of the home and family, in addition to caring for some of the less fortunate children in the neighborhood. “My mom and dad were amazing, and had the biggest hearts in the world,” Latosha said. “My mom is the reason I’m so passionate about helping others.”
After graduating from high school, focused on her dream, Latosha headed to Northeastern Illinois University to play basketball. But after her mother had a stroke, she chose to leave the team to take care of her. It was at this time that Latosha began her career in social services, working as a youth supervisor managing teens who were employed for the summer throughout the city. This choice began her 26-year career in social services management, working for organizations that assist veterans, youth, seniors, and families seeking to attain and maintain self-sufficiency through a variety of services.
In 1997 Latosha met her first husband through mutual friends and raised three daughters. After caring for her mother who passed away in 2010 from lung cancer, she also took on the responsibility of caring for her young brothers who were 16, 17 and 19. But in 2012, after 15 years of marriage, her husband passed away from cancer of the kidney, leaving her on her own to raise their family.
At that time, Latosha was a working mom living in Hyde Park, focused on her children and working to get her life back on track after so many devastating losses. She had no intention of dating, let alone getting into a relationship, but in 2013 she was introduced to a man who would eventually change her mind, and her life.
Will was also consumed with his own work, with no intentions of getting into a serious relationship, let alone remarrying. But one conversation led to two, one date led to another, and before they realized it, they had fallen in love. A few years later they married and became an inseparable team. “He is indeed truly a blessing to me, my daughters and my father,” she said. “He stepped up and took on the role of being my children’s father, and I couldn’t have asked for a better man, friend and soulmate. He is the awesome ray of hope we needed, and without him, going to and getting through school would not have been possible.”
Latosha’s college education became a “family project.” Her husband Will single-handedly covered the financial responsibilities and cared for the home and family so Latosha could go to school. Her daughters Carme-
lia, Carifia and Caprice (now 24, 22 and 15 years old) also played a role in her education, pushing her to work hard to maintain her 4.0 GPA.
The girls were in college and high school, and Latosha became a strong role model for them. She showed them that despite a full-time job, a house and family to care for, and a sick father fighting cancer, success in college was still possible. There was no excuse for not achieving your goals and dreams.
Throughout her life, Latosha was regularly challenged to step up and help others. She had helped care for her mother during her illness and until her death in 2010. When her father Roscoe was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, she stepped up yet again. She traveled daily from work or school to get him to his chemo and radiation appointments and to care for him in his home in Woodlawn.
But as his illness progressed, Latosha and Will took him into their home to care for him. It was at that time while she cared for her father, and with the encouragement of her husband, that Latosha decided to enter college. School got tough and at times she wanted to quit, but along with her husband, her father helped motivate her to stay strong. Eventually Latosha and her father made a pact: she would keep fighting to finish college, if he would continue to fight to overcome cancer.
At commencement, her father Roscoe gathered the energy he needed to get to the auditorium and watch his daughter not only graduate from college but give one of the two student speeches. With great emotion, Latosha recognized him in front of all. “To my dad, I didn’t think that you would even be here today to see me mark this great milestone in my life,” she began. “You have shown me what true strength really is.” She acknowledged their “pact” when, with tears in her eyes, she went on to say, “With the Grace of God, you continued to fight, and regardless of what I faced along the way, because you kept fighting, I kept fighting. For that, you are my hero.”
Latosha completed her coursework and earned her Medical Assisting Certificate in December and was immediately accepted into the Violet L. Schumacher School of Nursing. She began classes in January 2018, adding nursing clinicals to her regimen of work, classes, studying, and tests.
With her husband on her side and her father continuing to fight, the road to her RN (Registered Nurse designation) will continue until December 2019 when she will once again cross the stage and accept her diploma. Then her real dream of becoming a nurse will be fulfilled, with her remaining goal in sight – becoming a Nurse Practitioner with her own practice in Dialysis.
Thanks to her new college credential, Latosha left her job in social service management and took a position as a medical assistant, assigned to dialysis as a technician. She is one step closer to achieving that dream, which she can now see in front of her every day at work.
“For some, this may be the end of the road, for they have accomplished what they set out to do,” Latosha told her fellow graduates. “For others, this is just the doorway to the next level along our journey. Many of us started this race standing tall and running full speed from the starting line, and some of us ended the race by merely crawling across the finish line. Either way, we made it!”