Walking the walk for justice in Amherst

New Amherst town council member Ellisha Walker

According to her website, new at-large Amherst council member Ellisha Walker is an “advocate for racial justice, community engagement, and equitable opportunities for all Amherst residents, including BIPOC and other marginalized groups.” Walker graduated from ARHS where she was active in POCU and MSAN, and then attended UMass. She works as an executive assistant and office manager at Rich Herbert Law, P.C., a law firm located in Agawam. She also co-chairs the Town of Amherst’s Community Safety Working Group,  which makes recommendations on alternative ways of providing public safety services to the community and suggests reforms to policing in Amherst. Walker believes we can achieve “community safety and wellness through authentic community engagement, research, consultation, and innovative proposals to meet the needs of our entire community.”

SR: Who are you? What are your best or worst qualities?

EW: I am a 28 year old mother of three. I’ve lived and been educated in Amherst for my entire life. I think one of my best qualities is that I’m an observer and so no matter what environment I am in I am paying attention to the feelings and actions of the people around me. I think one of my “worst” qualities is that I will take on large work loads/responsibilities when it has to do with a topic that I am passionate about. Ideally, I would have more flexibility and free time in my schedule however I will always try to squeeze another thing in!

SR: What did you love about your job or life before the pandemic? What was it like?

EW: Interacting with people is what I love most about my job. Because of the nature of my work I’m often dealing with difficult topics however, I usually get to be on the side of trying to figure out a solution to whatever that is. Although I have been able to continue work throughout the pandemic, it has shifted to mostly virtual work and I miss being able to have physical in-person contact with my colleagues and coworkers on a regular basis and without restrictions. 

SR: What is a typical day like for you now? 

EW: Most of my days don’t look the same; however, a typical day for me starts with bringing my children to school. I have morning Zoom meetings which I take in my home office before commuting to work. I do business mostly inside the Springfield district court but occasionally visit other courthouses like Chicopee, Holyoke, and Palmer District Courts. I facilitate one class a day within the Springfield Middle Schools teaching holistic career development, and then I return home usually for evening meetings. Within my role on the Amherst Town Council, I’m also a member of the Elementary School Building Committee which is working on the visioning and design process right now, along with the town’s Finance Committee, all of which meet bi-weekly. I am also a member of the CRESS (Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service) implementation team. We are working on protocols and hiring for the new CRESS department right now and so we have weekly meetings. 

SR: What do you love about your job/life? What are you grateful for? 

EW: The reason that I love my job is that I am able to give back to my community. I am grateful to have had the opportunities and education that have allowed me to be in this position and I am grateful for the members of this community who have mentored and looked after me. 

SR: How did your job or life change in the pandemic?

EW: The biggest change for me during the pandemic was the shift to virtual work. Prior to the pandemic, I was working from 9-5 in person in a law office in Agawam, so I would not have had the opportunities that I have now in terms of being able to participate in local government.

SR: What has been hard for you in the pandemic? 

EW: The most difficult thing for me during this pandemic is the constant need to transition. I feel like there has been a lot of change in rules and expectations and once I’m comfortable and figuring out how to navigate the world in one way, it ]changes. For example, when the pandemic first hit the U.S. my job closed and 

went completely remote, as did my children’s schools. We were told it would be for a two-week period. I was expected to assist my kids with their work and ensure they were meeting their requirements while also trying to do my work. I made a schedule for my family that I thought would allow us to accomplish our daily tasks. It was very stressful but I knew we could make it happen for two weeks. 

So when those two weeks passed and we learned it would be long-term, I again had to revisit my schedule and planning, to make sure all the different needs inside my household were being met. We were able to figure it out and successfully complete the academic school year. Then, we moved into the summer and my job shifted to hybrid. I again had to reassess and plan accordingly. This has been a pattern for the last two years and has been very challenging for me. 

SR: What things are you looking forward to “going back to normal”? Is there anything you want to keep from the pandemic? 

EW: I look forward to spending more time with my friends and family in social settings. I do however hope to keep the flexibility in my work schedule and the ability to work from home, which allows me to more easily balance my work and home life. 

SR: How have you grown or changed during this time? 

EW: I feel as though this has been a huge growth period for me. Being home has really deepened the bond that I have with my children and has helped me understand them more as individuals. I have also learned a lot about myself and developed new interests and goals. 

SR: What are your hobbies/what do you do in your free time?

EW: My favorite place to be is outside, although I strongly favor warmer weather. I always enjoy going for walks or exploring new hiking trails. I spend most of my free time with my children but when I do have time to myself I enjoy listening to music and drawing. 

SR: How do you destress or take care of yourself? 

EW: My self care activities include therapy, training at the gym, and getting my nails done. 

SR: What are some things or who are some people who helped you get through this time? 

EW: Amara Donovan, my campaign manager and best friend, has been one of my biggest supporters since we met at ARMS in 8th grade. She encouraged and supported me throughout my college career and has continued to support me in all professional endeavors, including running for Town Council. I also had support from other community members like those serving on the Community Safety Working Group and my family. 

SR: Has your mental or physical health improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse during the pandemic? How so? 

EW: Being so isolated during the beginning of the pandemic, as a single mother with three small children was incredibly difficult and definitely had an impact on my mental health. I used this time as an opportunity to learn more about myself and my needs and to pay closer attention to my mental health. I increased the frequency of my virtual therapy appointment from bi-weekly to weekly because I wanted to make sure that I had the tools to work through this new experience and kept regular communication within my support system. 

 SR: What was your experience at ARHS?

EW: I don’t know if I appreciated it as much as a student but, looking back as an adult, I am extremely grateful for my experiences at ARHS, the friends that I made, and the curriculum that I had access to.