By: Emma Vondra

In our last installment of the duGood Work series, we explained the rich history of the Nashville freedom riders and the impact they’ve had in the narrative of the city. The list and stories of these incredible people continue to grow today where we will look at Matthew Walker Jr. and Toks Omishakin. 

Pride in the roots of who you are as a person can be a fiery component to igniting change. Matthew Walker Jr. was an individual who embodied Nashville and all of its abundant history. Everyone has their motives for taking action, no matter what the end goal may be. When looking at the change that Walker Jr. helped provoke, it is hard to ignore his distinct pride in Nashville. 

Walker Jr. was born and raised in Nashville, the son of Dr. Matthew Walker, Sr.. When the time came for him to choose where he wanted to continue his studies, it was no surprise that he chose Fisk University. While at Fisk, his story follows a similar pattern to that of Diane Nash and Ernest “Rip” Patton. Noticing a crucial need for change, he stood up and joined civil rights protests around the region. The violence that ensued as a  result of his involvement included an arrest and physical injury to his face and mouth. Nevertheless, he persisted. To remain standing in the face of such danger and punishment meant one was fueled by an unshakable spirit, especially in those days. 

After these sit-ins concluded, Walker Jr. traveled with others to Alabama to join the Freedom Riders on their journey throughout the south. Once reaching Jackson, Mississippi,  Walker Jr. found himself staring jail time in the eyes again, yet he continued to remain solid in the pursuit of his goals – and those of the movement. 

The spirit of having an unshakeable nature is one that can also be found in modern day as portrayed by Tennessee native Toks Omishakin. Starting in Knoxville, Omishakin left to complete his undergraduate degree at Mississippi Valley State University, and pursued his Masters at Jackson State University, his PhD from University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Although Omishakin did not start out in the transportation realm, when given the opportunity to do so, he dove in head first. He has employment history in transportation in the Government of Nashville and Davidson County, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO). All of these impressive roles helped propel him into his current position as the 33rd Director of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). 

In his newest role, Omishakin oversees almost 22,000 employees, 50,000 lane miles of highway, 22,000 bridges, more than 400 public airports, and provides support to more than 200 transit agencies. Not a small or easy feat, but his unshakable nature is something that will help the Director of Caltrans find continued success. 

Both of these men have been unshakeable in the face of obstacles. Omishakin’s role is one that would not have ever been possible without Matthew Walker Jr. and all of the other courageous Freedom Riders. The overlap in history is undeniable and it is important to recognize that Omishakin is paving the way for generations to come after him the same way that Walker Jr. paved the way during the civil rights movement.