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 Former Krannert track star passes baton of opportunity

By Melanie A. Hahn

Roland ParrishWhen Roland Parrish came back to visit Purdue last October, he brought a few people with him - a busload, to be exact.

Around 30 young men from his old neighborhood of Hammond, Indiana, met him at Purdue to watch the Purdue-Iowa game and then participate in a special presentation by current Krannert senior, Temesgen Strickland, accounting. The day included breakfast and lunch as well.

Parrish, BSIM '75, MSM '76, sponsored the day's outing through a program called VALUES, which stands for Voice, Achievement, Life, Understanding, Education, and Self-esteem. Walter Watkins, the vice president of education for VALUES, and Maxine Simmons, director, who is also a longtime friend of Parrish, accompanied the students to Purdue.

The program grew out of the results of a study on the social and educational status of African American males, performed by the University of Chicago, which showed that more and more young black males were going to prison or dying violently rather than leading productive and happy lives.

Prompted by the disheartening statistics, the School City of Hammond created VALUES to help identify at-risk African American males in grades 4-12 and give them not only educational and recreational opportunities, but also help them create strategies for fulfilling their ambitions despite their chaotic and unpredictable environment. Each year, the students take several trips to participate in recreational, social, and educational activities that are meant to open their eyes and minds to new ways of seeing the world and their opportunities. The trips are financed by contributions from people like Parrish, who has spoken at VALUES programs and events since 1993 and is planning on sponsoring an outing every year.

Feeling a younger man would be able to relate to the students better, Parrish asked Strickland to give the presentation that is always a part of the outings. Strickland, a native of Chicago, began with a reading of a poem he wrote, titled "Blues," about growing up in an environment of violence, prejudice, and poverty. As the students listened respectfully, he then told them that though things may seem hard, they had the opportunity to make something of their lives - and to make themselves into men.

Strickland explained that plenty of smart people still fall by the wayside. "I had a friend who was like a genius," he said. "I heard he was locked up. I'm not sure what he did." What makes successful people different, Strickland said, are three things: chance, opportunities, and motivation. Successful people make their own opportunities and aren't afraid to rely on people. "Let everyone know what you're trying to do," he said. "You never know who can help you."

Strickland told his audience that getting to college is just the first step. College is a whole different environment. "There's no one watching you in college. You can do whatever you want," he said. The goal is to discipline oneself and get involved. "You need to be aware of what's going on in the world," he said. "Things never change - unless you decide to change them."

He cautioned them not to get so caught up in books and studies that they neglect their friendships. "You need balance," he said, meaning they should not only have friends, but also have a spiritual connection to their lives.

Strickland also gave purely practical advice ranging from financial suggestions like avoiding credit card debt to practicing responsible sex. He encouraged students to find out more about business opportunities no matter what they wanted to do. "Everyone should learn about business," he said. "Doctors, lawyers, are still businessmen."

Finally, Strickland told the kids not to feel intimidated. "When something intimidates you, you just don't know enough about it. You need to research it," he said. "Fear is just false expectations appearing true."

Parrish, the owner/president of Parrish McDonald's Restaurants, which operates 15 restaurants in Dallas, knows the importance of giving back to his community. The first student recruited by Dr. Cornell Bell of Krannert's Business Opportunity Program, which offers minority students the chance to attend college, Parrish is an excellent role model and leader. While at Purdue, he lettered in track for four years, setting 11 records. His 1,000-meter indoor record still stands unchallenged. The star athlete also made the dean's list seven of eight semesters. Part of his motivation to make a difference comes from his father, the Rev. John Parrish, who was the first African American councilman in Hammond and a role model in his own right.

It's therefore no surprise that to Parrish, making a difference means giving more than money. "I could have sent money, but I also wanted to be here," he said. "It's very important to me." Students need to actually see someone who has made the leap to another way of life, he explained.

"It is through this kind of support and commitment that VALUES is able to thrive," Watkins said. "The students who spent the day with Mr. Parrish were truly inspired by his generosity, encouragement, and words of wisdom. Mr. Strickland's participation also significantly enhanced the experiences of the day."

At the presentation's end, Parrish told the students that being smart young men was the best thing they could do for themselves. "It's not how much money you make," he said; "it's what you do with it." And part of being smart means behaving intelligently.

"Be students. Be athletes," Parrish said. "But I also want you to be gentlemen."

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