By Melanie A. Hahn
When 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
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
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
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."