by JENNY WOLFE
On Jan. 1, Forrest Parker, the founding director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center, passed away at the age of 64. Parker also co-founded UMW’s Annual Multicultural Fair, which will celebrate diversity and inclusion, along with Parker’s life and legacy, on March 13.
According to Parker’s obituary, he was a devout man, a sports fan and someone who had an unwavering dedication to his community. Before he joined the UMW community, Parker spent the majority of the 1980s working at his alma mater, James Madison University, as a diversity recruiter. There, he worked to admit students from diverse backgrounds to assist JMU’s efforts to comply with Virginia’s revised desegregation plan.
Parker also helped create Brothers of a New Direction and Women of Color, two organizations that sought to help minority students find community and comfort at the university. Following his tenure at JMU, Parker joined the UMW community as the Associate Dean for Admissions in 1989 and was promoted to Vice President of Multicultural Affairs in 1993.
At UMW, he directed the Summer Orientation Adventure Retreat and the James Farmer Scholars Program, according to his obituary. What Parker is most recognized for on campus is being the co-founder of the Multicultural Fair, which attracts individuals from UMW and the Greater Fredericksburg community.
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Director of Multicultural Affairs Marion Sanford spoke about Parker’s character.
“He was a very humble person,” she said. “He didn’t talk a lot about different awards that he had received.”
About how the general community felt about Parker, Sanford said, “He was well-respected and well-loved in the community. He had a wonderful, outgoing personality, and if he was in the room, you knew it.”
Even after leaving UMW in 2001, Parker consistently attended the Multicultural Fair. Sanford spoke about Parker’s legacy at UMW.
“The thing that mattered to him the most … was the impact he had on students,” said Sanford. “It really mattered to him that students knew that they felt valued and also had the confidence to succeed at whatever they were to do.”
Along with the fair, Parker was a leading advocate on campus for various cultural organizations, as he encouraged students of different heritages to create clubs centered around their cultures.
Along with this diversification of student organizations, Parker also cultivated the JFMC’s Cultural Awareness Series, which educates students and community members about the different cultures in the Fredericksburg community through celebrating cultural arts.
The students in these culturally focused organizations are still participating in this series after more than 30 years of its existence, and the JFMC boasts the participation of more than a dozen of these organizations and offices in the series as well as many of their other programs.
Junior political science student Nahjah Wilson spoke about what the JFMC means to her.
She said, “[The JFMC] is a safe space for underrepresented students on campus so anyone who does feel they need a safe space, this would be the place to go.”
After 11 years with UMW, Parker became the Chief Executive Officer at the Rappahannock Chapter of the Boys & Girls Club. There, he brought the skills he cultivated throughout his years in higher education to help coordinate the organization that helps at-risk youths in Fredericksburg and surrounding communities.
Sanford said that when Parker attended the Multicultural Fair, “he would bring young people from the Boys & Girls Club with him as well, so he did a lot to really continue his support of the different programs.”
In remembrance of Parker, Associate Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Shavonne Shorter shared her thoughts on Parker’s legacy.
“Gratitude is the first word that comes to mind when I think about the legacy of Mr. Parker,” she said. “I am so very thankful that he championed diversity, equity, and inclusion in so many ways at UMW. He set the standard for what we mean in our ASPIRE values when we say that we commit ourselves to inclusive excellence … his indelible impact will never be forgotten.”