March 04, 2021

Celebrating Black Futures by Demanding Equity

An Interview with National Board Member Bryan Parker

In January 2021, Friends of the Children National Board Member, Bryan Parker, participated on a panel for the National Mentoring Summit titled, “The Role of Board Members During & After a Crisis.” Bryan shared how the Friends of the Children Board of Directors is holding our staff and itself accountable to drive equity within our organization. Following the panel, we reached out to Bryan for a short interview to gain insights on why he joined the Friends of the Children board of directors and what inspires him about our work and his company, Legal Innovators. Below are the responses Bryan gave in an interview as well as quotes from his panel presentation. We are honored to have Bryan co-leading the board racial equity committee of Friends of the Children.

Why did you join the national board of Friends of the Children?

I joined in October 2019. A good friend and mentor, Greg Goodwin, was the chair of the board at the time I joined. As I got to know more about the mission of Friends, I saw that it was an established brand that had done some very good work. One thing I appreciated about Terri and the leadership team is really taking a data-driven approach to the work. I was particularly impressed by the Harvard study that quantified for every $1 invested we can get $26 of societal impact – and that is transformative going at generational poverty. Even as an established brand, Friends has ambitious plans for growth and I’m a growth person. There’s still an opportunity for an impact. I think that Friends of the Children has such an innovative model, to start with someone as young as kindergarten or sometimes earlier and staying with them through high school no matter what is something powerful and I wanted to be part of it.

Panel Quote: “The very definition of equity vs equality. We’re going to focus on the infrastructure, so everyone has an equal chance. There are multiple crises at once, which is forcing us to really examine and unexamine ways of all the things that are going on. We have COVID, we can’t do in-person programs as much as we used to do. But we have these folks that are Black and Brown and the vast majority are poor – what happens when food insecurity, what happens when people are being faced with evictions, what happens when health care outcomes are being exacerbated – when Black and Brown folks get this virus, they’re dying at a 4X clip. Is that COVID’s fault? No, these inequities existed before. People before were facing all these factors of environmental racism.”

What are you most excited about accomplishing in your role on the board?

Two things: Being a part of an organization that serves a population that needs help through one of the greatest pandemics in our lives; and the committee that I co-lead with Ellen Frawley on racial equity.

Panel Quote: “One of the challenges that we’re facing, just to be frank and transparent with folks right now, the racial equity committee that I lead on the Friends board is relatively new. If we’re serving a population that is 88% Black and Brown and we don’t have a finger on the pulse and we’re not sensitive, it’s not a core part of our mission. How are you serving those folks? Because it’s not just our kids, it’s their families. We have professional mentors who work with each kid from kindergarten or first grade up until high school – no matter what. And they’re going and experiencing, at the very least, large amounts of trauma by seeing people who look like them, killed in the case of George Floyd, beaten, shot at, all these other things.”

Our leadership, Terri Sorensen and George Granger, realizing there’s a hole, witnessing what has been happening externally to Black people across the country. Taking action beyond just putting out a statement and doing performative justice, our organization is one about actual justice and equity. Committing dollars to hire a Chief Equity Officer. Being able to help bring that vision to life and educate the board. We’re asking the questions to be able to assess what it means to be an active anti-racist.

I think our opportunity is to work across the board, staff, Friends, parents and our kids to listen to everyone, and to ensure we are all working together from one integrated, agreed upon strategy that we have all contributing to developing.

Panel Quote: “How do you create allies? You’ve got to speak truth to power. We’ve had some very difficult conversations and allowing people to come in. And yes, for a little bit that means the double burden of Black and POC on the board to have to heal and teach at the same time. But that’s the burden if you want allies to come along with you. And to the credit of our allies on the board, they really went to work about listening and trying to understand and engaging in empathy. And then we went to education, myself and others wrote extensively on the topic. We went to reading books: Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, Caste from [Isabel] Wilkerson, and White Fragility [by Robin DiAngelo].”

What inspires you about Friends of the Children?

We are not coming in as the saviors, we practice humanity and empathy in this work. The kids and the Friends who are on the front lines. And also, the parents who themselves are not always in the most perfect situations, who are making a conscious decision to put their kids in a better situation. Some of the stories we’ve seen from our young people who have graduated high school or are about to graduate high school, hearing them talk about how the program has changed their life.

Panel Quote: “We seem to have conveniently forgotten that in 2014 in Ferguson with a guy named Michael Brown is when we started all of this, and now six years later it’s started again and now we see George Floyd. If we’re always reacting to something that’s episodic, we’re never going to achieve the structural and systemic gains that we need to.”

About Bryan Parker

Bryan Parker is the CEO and Co-Founder of Legal Innovators. He runs the day-to-day operations of the organization. He understands the challenges of running corporate law practices and law firms. Not only is he trained in the law, but he is also a leader in business. Bryan and Legal Innovators are working to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal field by providing training, mentoring and making the legal field accessible for Black and Brown people. He strives to work with Friends of the Children to create a pipeline of future legal professionals similar to how STEM programs have found success reaching high school juniors and seniors entering post-secondary education. You can read more about the efforts in Legal Innovator’s white paper: Restoring Lost Hope–How to Drive Systemic Change in Diversity & Inclusion in the Legal Profession.