Professor of physical education and athletics
Cosumnes River College, Sacramento, Calif.
Los Rios College Federation of Teachers, Local 2279
Faculty, staff and graduate employees who gathered at the AFT Higher Education conference April 1-3 in Philadelphia were inspired by fellow member and 2011 AFT Everyday Hero Travis Parker, who spoke about his commitment to making a difference in the lives of young African-American men through the Alpha Academy.
As Derryn Moten, vice chair of the AFT Higher Education program and policy council, put it, Parker's work at the Alpha Academy helps young men learn not only how to think, but how to live. The Alpha Academy, an outgrowth of Parker's work as director of education for the Zeta Beta Lambda Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, runs a series of workshops where adult male professionals meet with young men ages 12 to 18 to discuss decision-making, motivation, academic performance, teen pregnancy prevention and career goals. Parker, who co-founded the academy and volunteers 10 to 12 hours a week, hasn't missed one session in the seven years since the academy's inception. He also helps with tutoring, parent-support programs and green technology classes there.
Travis Parker helping Dillon Thomas, a sophomore at McClatchy High School.
When accepting his award, Parker noted that one of the most common questions he hears from young mothers is, "Can you help me save my son?" One of those young men who needed direction and guidance is Brandon Wagoner, a former Alpha Academy attendee, who describes Parker more as a family member than a mentor and refers to him as "Uncle Parker."
"I would like to thank Uncle Parker, because without him, I'm sure I would have not been able to make it," says Wagoner. When Parker started working with Wagoner, he had dropped out of school, but today, he is a junior with a 3.8 grade-point average.
"Leadership was a word that I was not introduced to before I attended this academy," says Wagoner. "Learning how to show respect for others, talk out situations with different social skills, get the best grades possible, and have goals for oneself changed my view of life dramatically."
Elizabeth Smoot is the proud mother of 15-year-old Elijah, a high school sophomore, and 13-year-old Emmanuel, a 7th-grader, both of whom have a 4.0 GPA, and sees Parker as a valuable resource for her sons and the community.
"We esteem him highly because of his selfless commitment to mentoring and empowering our youth through various positive events that the Alpha Academy makes available to us as parents, as well as to our youth and the community at large," says Smoot.
"He readily [makes himself available] for tutoring, and brings in dynamic speakers and role models to the Alpha Academy's monthly events, even providing free lunch to all attendees!" she continues. "He has literally taken time out of his very demanding and busy life to pick up my sons and others, spend quality time with them, taking them to community events, while admonishing them with wisdom: challenging them to apply themselves and use the resources available to help them achieve their goals—without excuse!
"These are just a few of the awesome ways Travis Parker made a difference in my and my sons' lives, and knowing that he is a visionary of excellence that we can see and touch is a very timely answered prayer, a reward in and of itself! Professor Parker is truly an angel among us!" adds Smoot.
In addition to the Alpha Academy, Parker works with the Brothers of Kuumba, an organization that teaches adolescent African-American boys through the African elder tradition. He also sponsors the Black Student Union at a local high school and mentors four different families of various ethnicities. And he involves his students at Cosumnes River College, where he is a professor of physical education and athletics, as both mentors and mentees.
As he accepted the Everyday Hero award at the AFT Higher Education conference, Parker thanked the AFT for helping him, and other members, make a difference in the lives of students. "This award will keep me focused. … I will fight for kids until hell freezes over, and when it does, I'll fight standing on the ice." [Photos by Russ Curtis; Video by Brett Sherman]
Watch Morning Joe video.
Morning Joe and Starbucks honor California professor Travis Parker, Morning Joe [video]
Los Rios professor wins national award, Sacramento Bee
Coach Parker honored as an 'everyday hero', The Connection