Joe Parham Stands Up

Is the African-American psychologist and former Ev Mecham staffer incompetent--or just streetwise?

But Parham did not want a blue-collar job, and if Frank Kush wanted him to play at ASU, it was a ticket out.

His experiences on ASU's football team were fodder for the doctoral dissertation he would write several years later. The well-researched thesis examined reasons most black athletes failed to graduate from the university. Parham concluded the school regularly recruited undereducated blacks, encouraged them to take easy courses so they could maintain grade point averages necessary to qualify them for athletic scholarships and then four years later, when the scholarships expired, dumped the athletes back on the streets, without professional football contracts or diplomas. Parham offered a number of solutions, including remedial classes for black athletes.

"If the University is going to continually recruit deprived blacks, it must also provide the athletes with the special educational treatment they require," he wrote in his dissertation, which caught the attention of Phoenix newspapers and infuriated ASU athletic officials.

Parham had no remedial classes. He remembers staying up night after night, trying to master reading and spelling and math that had not been drummed into the heads of the future factory workers at Muskegon Heights High.

There were other struggles, of course. He almost left school for good after a dorm official accused him of stealing sandwiches. He occasionally had to return to Michigan to work in factories to help support his child. And during these visits, he sired other children.

"Every time I went home," he says, "somebody got pregnant."
During one visit to Michigan, Parham and his girlfriend got in a fight, and he brought his son to live--illicitly--in the dorm with him. His friends baby-sat when he went to class.

In all, Parham has seven children from four different women. He only married two of these women--briefly. The others, he says, wanted to marry him, but he was wary of marriage. He says the women may have become pregnant in order to coax him into marriage. He modeled his relationships with the opposite sex on the behavior of his dad, who had children by different women.

In Parham's streetwise world view, there is nothing morally wrong with his having had a bunch of kids with a bunch of women, because, he claims, he financially supported all his children.

Despite the obstacles, Parham was the only African-American member of his football team to graduate from ASU in 1967. A year later, he entered graduate school on a scholarship, working on the side as a counselor for ASU, the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County.

When he received his doctorate and returned to Michigan, a few of his old friends didn't believe he'd actually earned the degree. Many thought he'd been in prison or in Vietnam.

He began to see he was different. He saw himself as a role model for his race, and he began to feel isolated--even from the women with whom he was in love.

Those relationships never lasted because he hid his failures and weaknesses, he now says.

After a while, he gave up on the thought of being happily married.
In Arizona he always seemed to be working several jobs at once. He spent so much time with street kids and gang members that he had little time for his own children. His adult daughter Renae says she felt her dad was unavailable, distant, sometimes inflexible.

"He feels we have to go through the same struggle he did," she says, adding that she learned of her father's battles with the psychology board from a newspaper article. He could not bring himself to discuss the embarrassing event with Renae.

"He can't take failure," she says. "That's not allowed in his life."
Not even Parham's 80-year-old mother, Maria, who has lived with her son in his Tempe home for the past six years, knows of his struggles with the state board. And even Maria tires of her son's addiction to work. She plans on permanently returning to Michigan because she's lonely in Arizona. Life's not meant to be spent in front of a television set.

All Joe does, she says, is "work, work, work, work."
During several lengthy interviews with New Times, Parham has occasional difficulty concentrating on questions and tends to repeat himself. For instance, he mentions several times that in 1994, at the very time the board was investigating him, he won the Hon Kachina Award for his work with gang members. (The award, issued each year to 12 people who volunteer in the community, is sponsored by KPNX-TV, Channel 12, and Luke's Men, a group affiliated with St. Luke's Hospital.)

He also says several times during the course of the interviews: "I got a headline for your article. 'Will the Real Joe Parham Please Stand Up.'"

Until now, Parham has kept his personal life quite private, largely because he thinks of himself as a role model for young black males. Experts say his decision to keep problems to himself is typical of middle-aged black men with working-class backgrounds and advanced degrees. Such men often feel isolated by their "role model" status.

"When you go home, friends and family look at you as if you are on a pedestal," says Mitchell Gibson, an East Valley African-American psychiatrist. "So it's a very precarious position, because you don't know exactly what it will take to bring that down. You feel if you make a mistake, the whole thing will come tumbling down.

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