Prophet Walker Grew Up in One of South L.A.’s Violence-Stricken Neighborhoods. Now He’s Leading the City’s Cohabitation Craze and Fostering Community Through Entrepreneurship

Prophet Walker, who was sentenced to 16 years for his fight, was sitting in prison between those ages. Few people saw him as an innovator, leader, or community-builder. Walker was the only prisoner to see any potential in the young man.

Treehouse, a Los Angeles co-living space founder at 33 years old, said that everything around her told him that I was not human and that he was unredeemable. “I can recall people telling me, while I was being trialed, that I was completely incapable of being anything.”

Walker was able to move from being utterly humiliated and disregarded of his humanity to becoming a revered innovator in the cutting edge real estate market for co-living by remembering the sense he felt of community even during hardship.

Walker grew up in Watts, in South Los Angeles. Walker was no stranger to drug and gang violence. He was not alone. At 12 years old, Walker witnessed the murder of his close friend and took it upon himself to hold him. “Everyone supported another. Poverty forced that.”

Nearly 20 years later, Walker still believes in the importance of community. Treehouse’s roots are community, the trunk the communal space, and the branches the network of apartments. The blossoms are connections between friends, and all this grows wild when like-minded souls pollinate it,” the website says.

Co-living isn’t new — it is common in many major African and Asian cities. Walker wanted to create Treehouse to foster co-living in an era when luxury living spaces are often associated with isolation and privacy. Walker described Treehouse as “effectively a micro-studio,” where residents can rent bedrooms and bathrooms that measure approximately 250 sq. feet. They also share their kitchens with three or five other people.

The smaller spaces, which are more “vulnerable” or “inspirational,” are located within the larger complex. Residents can read in the library or listen to their music in the recording studio. Walker described the Cafe as the equivalent of Central Perk in Friends. This is a place that’s constantly buzzing with friendly interaction and human activity.

Walker’s path has been full of lessons in entrepreneurship. Now he works to pass them along to those around, from giving talks at the prison where Walker was once imprisoned to developing meaningful relationships with Treehouse residents.

Walker spoke candidly about these important realizations and how he came across the power of community in shared humanity. Walker’s insights are valuable for anyone considering starting a business, whether they are in the middle of an entrepreneurial journey or just dealing with the challenges of staying productive and grounded during the inevitable ups and downs.

Walker was sentenced to a year in prison for attempting to change his life. He created a college program to allow inmates to obtain two- or four-year degrees. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first to approve his proposal, and the pilot program began with 30 participants. It has helped tens of thousands of juveniles in prison and provided them with an education that they could not have had otherwise.

Walker says that it was a significant moment in my life to realize that, even though I was physically restricted, I still had the potential and power of doing good in this world. “That triggered some things in my brain.”

Walker states, “It is easy to lose sight of myself and say, “No one loves me, nobody cares.” Walker believes in this ability to look in the mirror after being strip-searched or anything and still say, “no, I deserve to be here and continue pushing my entrepreneurial endeavor to new heights.”

Walker in 20s when he was released from prison. Walker began his career as an intern.

Throughout his career, Walker worked in the development and construction business. Walker won the primary election but lost the general election. After that, he returned to the real-estate business and met Joe Green. Walker and Green became friends through many recommendations and met up.

Walker says that after their first meeting, it became clear to him that we shared a few common interests. Walker cites community as the most obvious.

Although they shared convictions, pitching Treehouse’s idea to investors was not easy. Walker and Green had spoken to more than 60 lenders when they sought funding for Treehouse four years ago. Only one of them said yes. Walker and Green had to pitch their idea to hundreds of investors, but only 35 said yes. “Calculate that from a time standpoint,” says he. “Each investor requires at least a 45-minute conversation. It is part and parcel of the entrepreneurial journey to learn this information and move forward.

Persistence, despite its difficulties and endless rejections, was more challenging than long hours. Walker and his team were able to keep pushing forward, looking for people who could share the social and entrepreneurial values of Treehouse. Walker was constantly reminded by investors how the project would eventually fail. Walker says, “During one of my first pitch meetings, a guy all but called me an idiot.” “Imagine hearing that, and then saying, “no, this should exist in the universe.” This should be everywhere in the world, I believe.

“I am not a genius. I am not more intelligent than anyone else. He said that he has the courage and perseverance needed to succeed.

Joe Green, Walker’s business partner, and co-founder is a Harvard graduate, social entrepreneur, investor, and Harvard graduate. Green was not exposed to the atrocities that gang violence caused, but he was frequently bullied. This made him feel “more isolated” than any of his peers growing up.

Even though they lived in two spaces most of their lives, the Angelenos shared a common purpose: to foster community in an increasingly isolated environment. Walker said, “The unspoken secret about L.A.’s divisions are racial- and economically.” It’s very clearly divided geographically.  There, I dealt with poverty and gang violence. At the exact moment, Joe was growing up near Santa Monica and lived a completely different life.” Now, the pair are joining forces to challenge the city’s tangled legacy of segregation, isolation, and poverty.

It was also a practical advantage of the partnership that they had different entrepreneurial skills. Walker says, “I was an expert in real estate. He wasn’t.” Walker says that Walker built start-ups while I did not. The relationship was very strategic and symbiotic. It allowed for us both to have a genuine care about building community and being impactful in peoples’ lives, as well as two complementary skill sets that enabled us to do the actual work. We were off.

Walker often tells his team that they should “figure out which brick is in the wall” Walker believes that overwhelming challenges can be overcome if they can find a way to place one brick. A tried-and-true strategy has been to evaluate obstacles from a first-principles perspective and then try to be open all the ways to the bottom.

He said, “I don’t care about the wall.” Walker says, “I just need to know how to put this brick and evaluate its merits.” Walker is very critical of assumptions. They can confuse the simple truth of whether something works or not. He says engineering school taught him systems thinking approach. “Here are your givens, here is your multitude of variables, and then you can test each variable on their light merits only.” “That’s it. “Don’t make assumptions. Check your bias.”

Making decisions is crucial, as is living with them. Walker’s thoughts are honest. Walker says, “Sometimes I make poor decisions, but that’s okay. Sometimes, I make excellent decisions. It doesn’t make me an expert. It is essential to maintain that balance.

Walker rises every morning from 5:30 to 6. He says, “I try to sit with myself & my thoughts for approximately an hour.” Walker’s daughter leaves school around 5:00 p.m., and he ends his day at work. They’ll do errands together. When it’s time to wind down, father or daughter can do meditation.

Being an entrepreneur is hard work. It requires discipline and monotony. “I guess that’s something you don’t see in magazines and big headlines where people see Joe or I was smiling in a newspaper,” he said. They don’t see monotony.”

Walker emphasizes the importance of being grounded, particularly in Los Angeles, a city where there is always something going on. Although the spontaneous, glitzy lifestyle can be appealing, entrepreneurs must also have the ability to approach their day with a sense of seriousness and calm.

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Samatha Vale
Samatha a senior writer for HC's entertainment team. She is an entreprenuer, mother and an excellent writer. She's also an avid reader, music enthusiast and all around inquisitive person - which is just a nice way of saying she's nosy.

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