Julia Walker is used to having a lot to carry. On any given day, she might be conducting home visits or visiting parks, homeless shelters and social service agencies to talk to low-income caregivers, taking inventory, doing speaking engagements, cultural competency work, consulting work and radical activism. This is all while balancing being a Black single-parent who is home schooling her two children.
Walker is the founder of World on my Shoulders (WoMS), a nonprofit agency that provides a number services to low-income caregivers, sexual assault victims and domestic violence survivors to close the gap left by public assistance programs. Based in Tyler, Texas, WoMS has seven chapters nationwide and serves over 1500 people. Much of the work WoMS does also involves educational parenting training, healthy eating support, job readiness and holistic care.
“My theory is anarchistic communism and I think we can’t get there without first taking inventory,” Walker said. “Find the needs of people from their own mouths and give them that. Don’t ask for anything but the chance to help. Don’t press them to fit our mold. Just let people live and then help ’em learn to thrive. After that, other pieces fall into place.
“Imagine a world where we could not be pressed over food and bills? Imagine the art that comes from that, the love that’s allowed to be present.”
Walker’s journey began in 2013 after escaping a domestic violence situation involving her abusive partner. While finding a way to support herself and her children as a single parent, she realized that the assistance programs available only continued the cycle of abuse. “I was/am re-victimized by the systems in place. I asked for restorative justice. ‘Haha’ was the response from the state,” she said. “I found that the systems in place weren’t designed to actually help me thrive but to push me back into similar situations”.
Walker became heavily involved in parenting spaces. She frequently experienced alienation and racism from the white-dominated parenting scene. The lack of attention given low-income Black and brown caregivers who have little access to parenting resources inspired Walker to build her own program, one that would center the needs of parents at the margins. “The rampant ‘-isms’ left me isolated and I wanted to find the ‘me’s’ and get together to help each other,” Walker said.
WoMS got its start serving mostly mothers who were low-income and survivors of domestic violence. It was the very program that Walker herself needed but was missing when she was in troubled times. Providing baby holding equipment, breastfeeding support, parenting education, financial assistance and even domestic violence escape safety planning were all WoMS services that were a godsend to people who couldn’t find the resources anywhere else.
“The first time we paid an eviction, we got the money like six hours before they had their belongings set outside,” Walker said. “Getting to call her up and tell her to go tell the office to quit knocking on her door was one of the best feelings I ever had.”
It didn’t take long for WoMS’ humble initiative to expand to cities all over the country. Chapters popped up in New York, Washington, D.C, Ohio, Kansas, Baltimore and central Texas. Even with very little capital and resources, WoMS has been able to deliver on its mission to provide holistic support to low-income caregivers, mainly because WoMS leaders are low-income caregivers themselves. WoMS chapter leaders are full-time volunteers, all Black and indigenous, and many are survivors of abuse.
“A program like WoMS would have helped millions by now if it were run by those with the life experiences, not the degrees in this,” Walker said. “We’ve been operating on nothing pretty much and are all in poverty but full-time volunteering.”
WoMS had been operating outside of the system without 501(c)3 status until as recently as 2016. Walker’s priority has been integrity above all else.
“Due to the nature of our work and my refusal to exploit recipients, we don’t qualify for many grants that we’ve found but have managed to build seven chapters and serve over 1500 people without them” Walker said. “We haven’t compromised. We are always broke — like $87 in the account with $1,200 or so needed this week. But we’re still us. We’re still full-spectrum doulas, still going into homes to help remove people from DV, still herbalists, still talking about our ancestors, still talking about vegetables and all.
“That’s something money couldn’t replace.”
WoMS today has expanded its realm of services to include gardening and healthy-eating programs, job training, tips for capitalism “hacks,” doula services and custom self-care kits. WoMS also holds events called “free-stores” at the various chapter locations where different groups of disenfranchised people are celebrated and given WoMS services for free. Soon, WoMS hopes to host self-defense trainings, and establish a food pantry and a camping collective. “WoMS means freedom,” Walker said, She seems to be providing it women need a little at a time.