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Domonique Walker ’09

After finding her voice in the 11th grade, Newark Public Schools Choir Director Domonique Walker ’09 had to catch up with peers whose vocal training began in childhood. But when she discovered her love for education, she knew she was in the right place at exactly the right time.

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There was a time when a Walker family gathering would not be complete without a special presentation written, choreographed and performed by Domonique Walker ’09 and her siblings. “As long as I can remember I enjoyed everything about entertainment – singing, dancing, acting, musical theater – anything to do with the performing arts,” Walker tells us. “I performed in school talent and variety shows too, and even had a solo part in one of the holiday shows. When I wasn’t involved in a school performance or putting on a show for family and friends, I was singing to myself.”

Even though Walker continued to participate in choral programs in high school, the idea of a career in the arts didn’t occur to her until the 11th grade, when she had to decide her future plans post high school. After watching her favorite film Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, featuring singer-songwriter, actress and producer Lauryn Hill, it was then she reached her epiphany. “Until then I had been very involved in sports,” she says. “I played soccer, basketball and softball. I saw Sister Act 2. After the movie, Lauryn Hill released an album a few years later, and I was inspired to become a vocalist.”

Walker auditioned for a spot at a local vocal studio. “Vocal teachers are selective in accepting students,” she explains. “And I would need professional training to prepare for a college-level audition.”

The vocal teacher saw Walker’s potential for classical training in opera and took her on as a student. Walker’s path to a college-level voice audition would present extra challenges, however, as most vocalists begin lessons at a much earlier age. “I was late to the game,” she says. “I would have to find a college that would accept me with relatively little training.”

Walker’s talent and drive earned her seats in multiple performing arts programs, but she chose Montclair. “I fell in love with the campus, and with the program,” she says. “My dream at this point was to perform, and to open my own music school.”

Walker excelled in her vocal training – she was selected to open a spring studio showcase with “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess – and brought her high energy to the Montclair University Singers. In addition to roles as a resident assistant and desk assistant, she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the Organization of Students for African Unity (OSAU), serving as cultural affairs event coordinator and later as president. She even assisted in starting a successful dance troupe on campus.

When Walker began the education portion of her degree, she realized her true calling. “I love children, and I love educating people,” she says. “I went into the program thinking I was preparing to open my own school, and then I did my practicum in the Newark Public School system. That’s when I knew where I was headed.”

“For my first professional role I joined Robert Treat Academy Charter School in Newark,” Walker continues, “because they gave me an opportunity to build a music program from the ground up. My students won several competitions, performed for many dignitaries, appeared on local television as well as on stage at the prestigious Radio City Music Hall in NYC. Twelve years later I moved to the Newark Public School System and now I am working at American History High School for the same reason – the opportunity to launch a start-up choral program.”

At Montclair, Walker is helping to build the Black Alumni Advisory Council. “The group is focused on mentoring students and building school pride,” she says, adding that she is co-chair of the Council’s engagement committee. “It means a lot to students to see alumni come back to campus, and to know that we support them and the University.”

Walker is particularly proud of Montclair’s outreach programs and efforts to partner with schools in Newark and Paterson. “Dr. Heather Buchanan, the University’s director of Choral Activities, has a youth program for vocalists,” she points out. “What a great way to encourage young artists, and to help them transition to college.”

Recently, Walker came across notes from one of her Montclair classes. “The professor encouraged us to articulate a philosophy as an educator,” she says. “Mine revolved around creating a safe and fun environment where children will feel confident to find the talent within.”

Now nearly 15 years into her career, Walker remains committed to this philosophy. “I don’t always know what will reach students,” she says. “I have to be creative.”

And she has been teaching long enough to hear from former students. “I get such nice notes from them,” she says. “They reignite the flame.”