For Taylor Walker, the dichotomy was impossible to ignore.
Every weekday morning he arrived in Santa Monica and found hope: examples of tolerance, evidence of opportunity, signs of wellbeing. Then, at the end of each day — after school, after basketball practice — he returned home to Inglewood.
“Seeing the lack of opportunity for the people around me, it drives me to this day to do something positive,” he said. “I want to create the opportunities that I had. I feel very fortunate. If I can create some time of program, some type of vehicle to share that with others, that would be my dream.”
Shaped by his experiences in the local school district, the Samohi alumnus is aiming to make a positive impact in the world with an unconventional tool: a board game.
Along with his father, Lawrence, he developed Earth Encounters with the hope that the conversations sparked during play will produce fresh ideas for real-world policies, inventions and actions.
The game itself is relatively simple: Players advance across the board’s time zones in search of a rogue alien creature by answering multiple-choice, true-false and other questions on a wide variety of topics, from health and public safety to technology and history.
Thought-provoking dialogue tends to pick up during open-ended challenge questions like “Which has changed the world more: Google or Facebook?” and “If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and why?”
“We talk about serious issues — these are conversations that we think people will benefit from,” Walker said. “Maybe it will make them say, ‘I need to go out and vote.’ You’re sitting with your friends, but at the end of the day we want people to have that dialogue instead of just focusing on their phones.”
Earth Encounters has been in the works since before Walker was born. It was originally conceived in 1989 by his father, who set aside his early blueprints to focus on a career in sales and management that included stints at IBM and Xerox.
A quarter-century later, his son has helped him make the game a reality.
“Ideas to solve major problems in the world are going to come from individuals and families and communities and schools across the nation,” Walker said. It’s hard for my father and I to believe that it’ll come from large institutions or government organizations — they don’t have the entrepreneurial mindset. When we ask these questions, we want people to have a platform to present their billion-dollar ideas to save the world.”
Walker, who attended Fullerton College before receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science from Loyola Marymount University, took on a major role in the game’s creation when he entered the business administration master’s program at LMU in 2013. He learned about marketing, got hands-on experience in operations and bounced ideas off classmates and professors. He is expecting to receive his MBA next year.
Meanwhile, an online fundraiser for the game’s production recently wrapped up. Nearly 300 donors contributed a total of $19,544 — well over the $15,000 target.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life,” Walker said of the Kickstarter campaign. “I was surprised by the support we got. There were a lot of sleepless nights. … Trying to stand out in the clutter, the best thing we had going for us is that we’re a socially conscious company.”
Production of the board game is on the horizon. Walker and his father have hired a consultant to make sure the card questions are factually accurate and grammatically correct, and they’re trying to keep as many of the production and printing jobs in the U.S. as they can.
Walker recently had the chance to show the game to Manny Pacquiao. The meeting came about because one of the boxing star’s associates has trained Walker’s younger brother, Samohi alumnus Corey Walker, who is a member of the Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball team.
“He liked it,” Walker said.
Walker also played basketball for the Vikings under coach James Hecht, and he was a member of the LMU program for three seasons.
He said his experiences at Samohi gave him the skills and work ethic he needed to excel on and off the court — in college and beyond.
“If it weren’t for Santa Monica, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” he said. “I truly believe that. It’s the best city in the world.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.