Sirdeaner Walker, CSOM ‘87, was recently featured in the New York Times’ annual “The Lives They Lived” issue for her work as an anti-bullying activist after her 11-year-old son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, committed suicide in 2009 as a result of being repeatedly bullied in school. Walker passed away from breast cancer last year at 51 on Oct. 5.
In her early years, Walker studied accounting in the Carroll School of Management under a full scholarship and was even one of the first black majorettes in the marching band. She proceeded to earn her law degree from Suffolk University and eventually settled down in her hometown of Springfield, MA.
According to the New York Times article, Walker's son Carl was a “giggly child, a clumsy but enthusiastic football player, a devoted member of his family’s church.” However, when his demeanor shifted in 2009, Walker quickly noticed. She later found out from him that other kids were calling him “faggot” and “feminine.” Being persistently bullied and called gay led Carl to hang himself by an extension cord at home.
Walker channeled the pain from her tragedy into a fervent call for anti-bullying laws and safer schools across the country. Only three months after her son’s death, she testified in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act in front of the House Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and Healthy Families and Communities. The latest version of the act would require federal funding for schools to address bullying and establish grievance procedures for both students and parents.
“You're not born a bully, it's a learned behavior,” remarked Walker in The Republican’s 2012 International Women’s Day issue. “Something else is going on in that young person's life to make them feel empowered by making someone else feel less than.”
She continued her advocacy as she spoke to school groups, national media outlets (including Dr. Phil, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), state legislature, and Congress. She even delivered her message in a short private meeting with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House during an all-day conference on bullying prevention.
Aside from having served on the board of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and as Director of Homeless Programs at the Massachusetts Career Development Institute, Walker collaborated with the Safe Schools Coalition, a public-private partnership that supports LGBTQ youth, and supported the Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover Foundation that provides scholarships for Springfield area students in Carl’s memory.
Walker tells Carl’s story in her own voice on The Moth, a website dedicated to storytelling, which can be found here.