No one knows better what it takes to be a resilient survivor than Katrina Walker. She may have been kicked down multiple times throughout her life, but she always found the strength to come out victorious. As a woman with such a warrior spirit, it’s no wonder that she was able to transform herself into a multi-millionaire from scratch.
Coming from humble beginnings in Akron, Ohio, Walker was an entrepreneur by the age of 8. The self-sufficient little girl collected bottles, knowing that she was cut from a different cloth and that one day, she would rise above her poor surroundings.
She then became a teenage bride and had four children. She began a career at FedEx, but had no clue that hearing the soul-stirring words of FedEx Founder and CEO Fred Smith would change her life. From there, Walker knew she was going to be her own boss.
Success did not come without its fair share of trials. After divorcing her abusive husband of 20 years, more dysfunctional relationships followed. Walker, who grew up watching her own mother suffer from physical abuse, had married the wrong man a few times, but she did not allow it to waiver her aspirations. In the midst of the rough marriages, she opened a 24-hour day care center, RainbowKidz Learning Center, in Tennessee. Before she knew it, her passion for children and her unwavering grind had made her wealthy.
Today, Walker is on the verge of opening a third RainbowKidz location, in Alpharetta, Georgia. She motivates others to become their own boss, and she opened the BE (Blind Eye) Foundation to help those suffering from domestic violence and substance abuse. She is also in the process of writing her memoir with former Jet magazine writer and editor, Clarence Waldron, titled Unbreakable, The Down Home Truth: The Katrina Walker Story. The book is expected to be released in May or June of 2016.
What sets Walker apart from many other self-made successes is that she never forgot where she came from, and she loves to give back. So, in hopes that others will learn from her story, she shared with rolling out how she mastered bouncing back from difficulties, even when a life of success seemed almost unimaginable.
Tell us your backstory.
As a young kid, I was different. My mother got pregnant in Ohio. She told my grandmother she was going to the store. She comes back a year later [with a baby girl] and tells my sister at 5 and a half years old, “Come here, take her.” So, that was the story that was told to me.
I was married as a teenage bride. There was a lot of abuse. But what I had was TV, like the “Leave It to Beaver” family, for example. That’s the way I always thought things would be, even though I never had a father. So becoming a teen bride, in my mind, I thought “This is how my life is going to be.” And it was not. I suffered from a lot of abuse. I had four children. And I stayed with that husband for 20 years. It was a lot of running, hitting, and whatever money would come in, he would always be scuffling. I was always just trying to feed my children, but it was like, if there was one piece of chicken, he would be getting it. And he would come in and just be wanting to fight.
I remember one particular incident when I thought “I can’t take no more.” I was running to my little boy’s room and putting him and my little girl, who were 3 and 4 years old, on the top bunk bed. I locked the door, and [my husband] kicked the door in. I got on the bottom bunk, and my little boy yelled out, “Mamma, duck!” The iron [he threw] landed inside of a wall. From that day on, I knew that if that iron had have hit me, I wouldn’t even be living and standing to talk about it.
The advice I got from women back then was “Stay with him, you can’t do any better, you’re not going to be able to survive with your children.” And that was far from the truth.
After leaving your husband, what did you do next?
I took my four children and I came up with a plan. I landed a decent job. FedEx was a young company, so I started straight from the bottom at the temporary service and talked my way in by listening to Fred Smith talk about moving up in his company. I said, “I want to move up. I want to make my life better.” When I would hear him speak, I would always say to myself, “You know what?” I don’t want this to be my life. I’m going to start my own business. If he can do it, I can do it.”
I knew that I was good with children and I knew that companies like FedEx had packages that were being stored overnight, so those parents needed a place to take their children. So I wanted to teach little girls, and my [childcare service] grew from there. The mothers loved me. So I started advertising within companies like FedEx. Then I thought, people need a good daycare to take their children to. So I went and found myself a building. And I said, “You know what? I’m going to do something different. I’m going to run this thing 24 hours.” I’m always thinking outside the box. From there, I said I was going to make my first $5,000. Before I knew it, it was $20,000. The day care business was booming. I had no where to place kids, there was a waiting list.
What happened with your next relationship?
This time was even worse. He walked right into my life. He was an architect engineer and I was in the process of building my new [childcare] center. This marriage only lasted 8 months. Two of my children were adults at this point. I started building another [location], and he had a crooked contractor who was taking my money. He was taking all my ideas and building another childcare center for him and his wife on the other side of town. So I went through a lot, but I always went down and then came back up.
How do you think you landed in those tumultuous relationships?
I think before I gave myself enough time in between one relationship, I would get into another to kind of forget about the past. I think I was as green as the grass outside. I didn’t know that these people were cheaters and abusive.
Are you married right now?
I’ve been married close to 10 years now. I have a wonderful marriage and I’m very happy. I really believe in marriage, but I don’t believe in cheating and abuse. [The mistakes] don’t make me a bad person. You don’t always know someone’s true intention.
Tell us about the BE Foundation.
It’s all about my nephew. He was addicted to crack cocaine. Back in the day, when a lot of people didn’t know [about the drug], people needed help. I always told myself I would never forget where I came from. We just go about our daily lives and we see these people who need help — hungry children, the mother with a black eye or no utilities. Blind Eye is where I want others to try and help somebody. Right now, I’m about to build a rehabilitation place to help drug and alcohol abusers. I also want to do have a facility for domestic violence abusers.
How many RainbowKidz locations are you looking to open?
I have three, because one is going up in Alpharetta, Georgia. We will be franchising out to one in New York and one in Virginia.
What’s the most important advice that you would give someone with lots of obstacles who feels it may be difficult to become a success?
Change your thinking. You can’t keep thinking you can’t do it. And you have to get out there and make it work. And you’ve got to make good choices in your life and be skeptical about who you let in your world. Be consistent with what you’re doing. I bought a little book. I wrote in that book every day, even if it was a little thought that came into my mind [and] all these great ideas. To me, that was a big deal.
For more information on Katrina Walker, visit www.mskatrinawalter.com. Follow her on Facebook at thekatrinawalker and Instagram @mskatrinawalker.