December 12, 2013
By Xavier Higgs
LAWT Contributing Writer
As the world mourned Nelson Mandela, who died last Thursday at age 95, Hildred “Hal” Walker and AMEN, Inc will continue a commitment to educating South African young people.
Hildred “Hal” Walker, 80, retired aerospace engineer from Hughes Aircraft Company, is co-founder of AMEN, Inc an Inglewood based a science and technology mentoring program.
In 1994, former State Senator Diane Watson invited Hal and wife Dr. Bettye Walker, a retired educator, to visited South Africa as part of a Los Angeles delegation.
About 80 professionals traveled to determine the needs of the new South Africa and how to assist its people. The Walkers were encouraged by what they saw and return to South Africa to explore ways to utilize their expertise.
While visiting the ANC Headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa in 1997 Hal and a group of 14 students from Compton, were introduced to President Mandela.
The President took a break from a cabinet meeting for a photo opts. Included in this meeting was Vice President Thabo Mbeki.
According to Hal, “the President was so impressed with the young people he cancelled his next appointment.”
“He engaged them about their education interest and their preparation for the future,” says Hal.
Many of the students spoke about space technology and their ambitions in life.
Hal recalls, Mr. Mandela “seemed amazed at their level of knowledge and technological awareness.”
Mr. Mandela was visibly impressed with the impact of the AMEN. He asked Hal and Dr. Walker if they would come back and duplicate the AMAN program in South Africa.
“We said yes, how could we refuse Nelson Mandela,” says Hal.
For 13 years Hal and Bettye commute to and from South Africa.
Before retiring Hal spent some 35 years in the laser industry, and was responsible for the Laser Ranging experiment conducted during Apollo 11.
AMAN was formed 1986 in Compton, CA from a research grant. It was created to study the decline of the African American male.
Along with Rotary International, they worked with a farm school. Today AMAN is affiliated with 10 sites in South Africa. These schools are located in the Johannesburg and Cape Towns areas. AMAN’s headquarters is located in Cape Town.
Hal says it was former President Mandela’s goal to bring South Africa’s education system into the 21st century using a new learning method. There is an educational gap in the country. He saw the AMAN youngsters, ages 9 to 14, as a model of what can be done with the youth of South Africa and build the next generation of South Africans.
He is proud of their success. AMAN has its first Ph.D. in computer science and in 2004 one of their high school students participated in JPL’s Mars rover program.
In addition to AMEN’s success, Hal is instrumental in establishing a chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
The question is “where do we go in South Africa,” says Hal. “We must make sure there is a sustained educational program as well as jobs in South Africa. This includes turning around the aids epidemic. AMAN’s job is to continue Mandela’s dream through our education models.”