TJ Walker: Rocky Mount’s Community Leader

Jack Cassidy, Learning and Development Project Manager


Just about out of college and looking toward the future, TJ Walker visited his advisor and mentor at NC Central University and asked him a simple question: How best could he give back to his hometown of Rocky Mount?

The advisor gave Walker two ideas. Neither of them would be simple. One, he could get involved with a nonprofit organization. Two, he could get involved with local government.

“So, I did both,” Walker said.

That decision—and the subsequent action—does well to define Walker, who has become an exciting new voice in North Carolina’s local government. When he has the chance to make a difference, he does.

“It definitely hasn’t been easy,” Walker said. “It’s been valuable though. I’ve seen an impact.”

On the nonprofit side, he started WeFit Inc., which focuses on at-risk male youth in the community. In its fifth year, Walker says he has seen tremendous successes in supporting oft-overlooked members of the community. “These are kids that may not feel like they fit in anywhere,” he said. “This program says you do fit in, and it provides them with those positive experiences.”

On the government side, he didn’t just attend some meetings—he ran for office and was elected at the age of 27, becoming the youngest elected official in the history of the City of Rocky Mount. Once in government, he didn’t just sit back—he got involved with statewide organizations, such as joining the NC League of Municipalities’ Board of Directors.

On both fronts, Walker proceeded through significant unknowns. He did not have experience on how the process would go, how he would be received, how the roles would actually work or how impactful he could actually be.

What he did know, however, was most important. He knew he wanted to serve.

“If you have a heart to serve, even without experience or without knowing what to do or what will happen, it’ll take you far,” Walker said. “You just need that heart to serve.”


Walker’s story is one of community. He has a deep dedication to the well-being of his hometown, Rocky Mount, where he was born and raised. It is where he lives with his wife and three children, and nearby he serves as pastor for First Baptist Church of Weldon. Walker left town only briefly, to earn his undergraduate at NC Central, but when he returned, he noticed that many people his age did not come back. There seemed to be more people leaving Rocky Mount than arriving, especially the younger generations.

“For a city like Rocky Mount to grow, we had to try and engage our younger professionals,” Walker said. “If they leave, how can we get them to come back? How can we bring their skills, talents and abilities back home?”

It’s a question that similarly vexes towns across North Carolina. Walker didn’t have the specific answer, but as a member of the younger generation himself, he knew that his involvement could only help. Simply by virtue of being a new, young voice in local government, he would provide an intangible asset of fresh perspective.

He used that asset through relationships. He leaned on family, friends and community groups during his first campaign, which allowed him to build his profile in town and win the election in 2019. Once in office, he continued that approach of networking.

Even beyond policy actual decision-making, it is through that networking that Walker believes he began building momentum in Rocky Mount.

“Things began to present themselves that hadn’t been there before. Funding, other opportunities—we began to take advantage of that,” Walker said. “Just being present, showing yourself as friendly and approachable, connecting and networking. That has made such a difference, both for the town and for the community members, who begin to believe in the opportunities themselves.”

Walker has seen that approach take hold among fellow local leaders too, he said.

“We’ve seen the impact,” he said. “To me, everything is relational. Relationships make the difference. Once you create those, it helps to progress the city.”

Walker has also seen tangible results in his youth movement in Rocky Mount throughout his nearly five years in office. The local National Guard armory, which Walker noted sat vacant for more than a decade, is now a repurposed youth center run by the Boys and Girls Club. Aiming at his goal to retain young talent, Walker launched a young professionals network that engages community members just beginning their careers. There are also various socials, community gatherings and financial literacy workshops, also overseen by Walker.

These developments are not separate from other city businesses, Walker points out. Rather, it is complementary, building support and momentum for critical policies and programs, which include neighborhood redevelopment efforts and economic development opportunities.

“Everyone’s not going to agree with my philosophy or my style of leadership, but for the most part, I found a greater community that is supportive and engaged,” said Walker. “You’re not always going to see the fruit, but if you keep working and pushing, the fruit will reveal itself the way it is supposed to. You just have to do the work.”

To fill any remaining time he has, Walker meets with each city ward and various neighborhood associations at least once a month. It’s yet another example of leadership through action, of community over self and of a local leader walking the walk.

“It’s hard,” Walker said. “But it’s worth it. It’s working.”