February 23, 2011 12:12:00 PM
Often when I visit a new place or meet a stranger, I think of my Mormon father. James Parkinson and I may not look like father and son, but Parky, as I refer to him, has had an important impact on my life, an impact that started when he became the first white man to join the 100 Black Men of Columbus.
Parky was born in New Orleans but raised mostly in California. He went to undergraduate and law school at Brigham Young University. Before law school, like many Mormons, Parky was assigned a mission to spread his faith. The Church of the Later Day Saints sent him to Argentina for two years, and, while there, the missionary work forced him to travel around the country, learn the Spanish language and culture, and interact with new and different people.
This taught him how to be friendly and talkative to strangers - a trait that has helped him tremendously as a trial lawyer - and to be open to other points of view. More importantly, it showed him how much people have in common and left him with the desire to help others.
Parky and my father met at a conference, where Parky was invited to speak about his legal representation of survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March of 1942 during World War II and others who were used as slave labor for Japanese corporations - such as Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Nippon Steel - for 3-l/2 years.
My father and Parky got along right away, and ended up traveling to Africa together, along with other Columbus folks - Dr. Paul Veal, Dennis Erby, and Dr. Greg Nunez. Since that trip, the group and Parky have been busy trying to find projects to help people.
First, my father and Parky realized there was a huge need for mammograms in Tanzania, so they collected and donated mammography units to hospitals while also providing doctors to train Tanzanians doctors about how to use them.
I met Parky when he was invited to speak at a mentorship program put on by the 100 Black Men of Columbus. I was struck by his personable nature. He had a larger than life presence, with his tall frame, clean bald head, and constant bright smile. He was continuously self-deprecating, so much so that you realized it hid a deep inner security. He enjoyed the experience in Columbus and work done by the group and therefore decided to become a member of the club and has been ever since.
Parky later discovered research from the Waterford Institute about the effectiveness of having computers in the home to help poor kids close the achievement gap. The research showed that this is cost efficient way to have ensure some early childhood education for children with less resources. Therefore, on Parky''s next visit to Columbus, when he learned that there was a need for computers for the homes of members of United Christian Baptist church, he and others collected computers and donated them to the church. Parky''s been working to spread this program to other parts of Columbus and the state.
I admire Parky for many reasons, including his love for family, his intelligence and his character. But, more than anything, I think Parky''s life illustrates the benefits of exposure to different cultures. Because Parky had the courage to live and volunteer in Argentina, he developed an openness and commitment to others that has helped him lead a fulfilling life, a life not just fulfilling for himself, but also for others. Because of him, more women in Africa will have their breast cancer diagnosed earlier and more kids in Columbus will have access to computers earlier and thus stand a better chance of keeping up with their peers.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.