%984%right%Kim Parker '97 has always been interested in tracing her family history but was hesitant because she wasn't sure it could be done. But after her grandparents passed away, taking with them precious family memories, Parker thought the task might have become even harder. "There's also been, traditionally, this whole dismissal of African-American genealogy because we assume there are no records," she said.
Not so, Parker discovered.
A teacher and educator, she proved this assumption wrong recently when she won a contest sponsored by Woman's Day magazine, awarding winners a genealogist's help as they researched their family histories. Parker was especially driven to enter the contest because of a family-tree assignment her then 8-year-old sister, Ashley, had been given a month earlier. Ashley had been asked to write a story based on a family member and had so struggled with the assignment that she had written about a composite of different family members. Parker says that she understood her sister's frustration from personal experience.
In the fall of 2005, Parker met with a librarian in the Urbana Free Library genealogy department in Urbana, Illinois. "I was amazed at what we were able to find in such a short amount of time," Parker said. She found that her family carries legacies of both home ownership and literacy, two things celebrated and valued by African Americans, she saidand that continue in her family today. She says she has begun to construct a family tree, which is growing as she gathers information. Now she hopes to fill in the gaps.
It's one more project for Parker who, since graduating from Colby, has explored a wide range of interests. She has worked as a sports information director, received her master's in sport management from Ohio State University, and held positions as sports writer/coordinator, Web director, and high school English teacher. She received her master's in education from Boston College and now is working toward her Ph.D. in education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, specializing in education of African-American boys, reading, and multicultural literature.
In the summers she has worked for organizations including the Great Books Summer Program at Stanford University and the YMCA Black Achievers program in Lexington, Kentucky. This fall she will teach reading, language arts, and writing at a small all-black boys' middle school located on campus at Urbana-Champaign. She is especially interested in literacy among African-American boys because so many are so disadvantaged in American society. "No other person in society is more feared than the African-American male," Parker said. "We just sort of give up on them."
Ultimately, Parker intends to pursue a professorship and start a nonprofit organization that runs summer camps around the country aimed at promoting literacy in African-American high school-aged boys. Parker was raised by her grandparents, she said, who continued the family's long-standing emphasis on literacy. Now Parker wants to share this tradition. "My grandmother always made reading a central part of my life, so it was something we shared together and something I share with my students."
But family history isn't Parker's only motivation for her work with African-American teenage boys. She says that going to Colby reinforced the fact that there is a dearth of African-American men in private liberal arts colleges and made her realize she could do something to remedy that. Her hope is that her summer camps will help schools like Colby attract a critical mass of African-American students. She would like her camps to be held at Colby and similar schools to introduce campers to the feel of liberal arts colleges and to further encourage them to attend colleges like Colby. "I'm optimistic," Parker said. "It's timely, and it's important work."
Emily Judem '06