Joe Parham Stands Up

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Still, Parham's license remained suspended.
To see if Parham was practicing despite the suspension, the psychologists board sent a detective masquerading as a patient to Parham's office. Later, the detective testified Parham "treated" her for about 10 minutes, after which she gave a check to the downstairs bookkeeper and left the office.

Parham claims that he did not treat the woman, that he just chatted with her for a few minutes and sent her to another doctor. He says he had no idea the check had been paid to the bookkeeper.

But at a hearing, the state board concluded that Parham was practicing while his license was suspended. What's more, the state board said, the psychologist had lied to a board doctor about his prescription medications to curb anxiety and depression.

Even more tests were ordered.
In December 1995, a doctor from Barrow Neurological Institute testified that Parham had suffered an inexplicable form of brain damage. "I documented the presence of impaired brain function," said Dr. Bruce Blackwood, "but I also explicitly stated in the report that the fact that Dr. Parham has some impaired brain function may or may not have any relevance to the practice of psychology. One of the things we know in neuropsychology is that individuals who suffer reduced capacity because of injury or illness tend to do best at things they know best.

"With many many years of experience and background and exposure to the activities of his job and completing the activities over many, many years, Dr. Parham could very well be able to comply with the demands of the job even with the obvious abnormalities that show up on my examination."

Parham had his share of other supporters during the hearing on his license suspension.

Several clients wrote letters to the psychologists board. Wesley Lamont Rudolf is a typical client: "I am from the roughest streets of California. I can rip you off faster than you could imagine . . .

"He [Parham] is like a father figure to me. He should be something to you, too. I am not in your jails. You are not supporting me and my family through welfare . . . Dr. Parham gave me reason [sic]. Don't take this reason from me and hundreds of other street smart men, women and children who need him."

Counts, the only African-American member of the board, consistently questioned the suspension.

"The African-American community doesn't have many African-American psychologists," Counts said. "Not many people will work with inner-city gang members--there's a tremendous need. . . . We've had him [Parham] evaluated and evaluated and evaluated. There's really only one expert who said he's dysfunctional."

No consultant could really explain how the brain damage might have caused the bizarre behavior reported by the complainants.

That was back in 1995. Parham went home and tried to pull together a plan for a year-round charter school for at-risk kids. At first it appeared that he would get the charter. Then the Department of Education learned about Parham's license suspension and killed the application.

The way Joe Parham sees it, the Man finally got him. Joe had assimilated to white culture for a long time, but he knew sooner or later the System would take him down. He should have followed the advice he gave African-American students: Be vigilant. Be extra cautious.

"I hate to sound egotistical," he says, "but Arizona lost a damn good psychologist."

On Parham's wall in his tiny office at Glendale Community College, there is a painting of the Last Supper. The disciples are Elijah Mohammed, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and other African-American heroes. Only the skin color of Jesus is unclear--the painting shows his halo and robed back.

On the other side of the cramped space, there is a bulletin board upon which is tacked an advertisement to consider a career in chiropractic.

Parham has counseled for the community-college system for more than two decades.

"Joe is a good counselor," his supervisor, Chuck Zontanos, says. "He's appropriate and very intuitive, and as far as I'm concerned he's qualified."

An evaluation form submitted by students in Parham's "Personal Development for African-American Students" class gives him superior ratings.

One of those students is Jevon, a 21-year-old emigre from the streets of Los Angeles. His brother, whom he loved, was recently murdered, shot twice in the chest in what Jevon calls a "walk by."

Jevon has other problems--a baby on the way, bleak employment opportunities unless he can get through Glendale and transfer to ASU.

Jevon asks Parham to explain why a reporter is sitting in the office. Parham leans forward and looks at Jevon. For the first time, he comes down off the pedestal.

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Terry Greene Sterling