By Jan Pudlow
As a boy growing up in Haines City, Daryl Parks picked oranges after school and on the weekends alongside his mother and grandmother, who raised him with high expectations and steady hands.
Recalling how it took 10 wooden crates full of citrus to equal a bin that paid $7, Parks said: “I have a great appreciation for every dollar I make.”
Parks grew up to be such a successful personal injury and civil rights lawyer in Tallahassee that he and law partner Benjamin Crump made a planned gift of $1 million to fund Legal Services of North Florida in Bay County and Gadsden County, Florida’s only majority African-American county.
Now, Parks’ leadership and philanthropy shine on a national stage.
On August 3 in Baltimore, Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince swore in 43-year-old Parks as the 69th president of the National Bar Association, where he has served as general counsel, vice president of finance, director of Region XI, and president of the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter of the NBA.
When Parks talks about his stellar trajectory from orange picker to becoming one of the leading voices for African-American lawyers and judges in the country, he thanks a long list of people who inspired him to go further than anyone in his family had ever gone before.
“I had a grandmother and a mother who really worked hard, both in the citrus industry, picking oranges. And then they started working in the packing house,” Parks said. “They just instilled hard work. People who lived in that place worked hard. Period.”
His mother, Barbara Parks, “was one of those, despite her limited education of high school and vo-tech, who expected a lot out of me. She used to say: ‘If you bring less than a C, you have to answer to me.’” Though she died in 1993, at the end of Parks’ first year of law school, her influence in her son’s life lives on.
His grandmother, Naomi Parks, lives in Kissimmee.
“I own the house, so I keep in touch. She was that steady hand and continues to be that steady hand,” Parks said.
His father, Major Harris, lived in Missouri while Parks grew up in Florida, but has “made amends,” Parks said. His father came to Baltimore to celebrate at his swearing-in ceremony, and they enjoy Florida A&M University homecomings together.
Beyond family, Parks attributes his success to a few special teachers, who “encouraged me to keep striving.”
He grew up in the Lake Hamilton area of Haines City, a township settled by a group of pickers.
“It happened to be on the side of town of Haines City where more affluent people stayed,” Parks said. “We got a good education. We were the integration part of it.”
First-grade teacher Josephine Howard, a retired principal in Polk County, motivated him to excel at an early age.
Haines City Junior High Principal Lavone Wilcox was “the discipline guy” in Parks’ young life.
“I had friends who got into stuff. Part of it is making sure you’ve got the right kid who got in trouble,” Parks said.
At the same school, another teacher, Eleanor Cobb, taught civics.
“She had the audacity to open up the floor and let a very mixed group of kids talk about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and slaves and all of those hot topics, in a class that’s mixed and mainly made up of socially disadvantaged people.”
And he never forgot what his fifth-grade teacher — “an elderly, majority lady named Clara Laraway” — said to him: “Young man, I don’t care what you do, but you make sure you go to college.”
Seven years later, Parks would indeed become the first person in his family to go to college — to FAMU on a presidential scholarship where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics.
As a trainer for the football team, Parks rode the bus to games with the players, and got the chance to “pick the brain” of Coach Ken Riley, a FAMU alum and former Cincinnati Bengals defensive back.
“As a freshman, it exposed me to the university-wide situation,” Parks said. “My second year at FAMU, I was a residential assistant. And that is harder than being a lawyer! A lawyer can shut his door and go home. Those guys can’t run and hide. When the fire alarm goes off at 1 a.m., guess what happens?”
Parks was appointed to serve as a justice on the FAMU Student Supreme Court.
“That was a unique opportunity to get into student leadership and student welfare, and the whole thing of looking out for students,” Parks recalled. “I really got into it.”
So much so that Parks became the first student body president elected to two consecutive terms, and he founded the National Coalition of Black College Student Governments.
“I have to say, my FAMU experience exposed me to a lot of people. I met Bill Clinton as a governor campaigning. And he and I walked down Adams Street (in Tallahassee) when he was a nobody.”
Last year, when Kendrick Meek was running for a U.S. Senate seat, Clinton came to Florida to help raise funds, and Parks’ grandmother got to meet the former president at her house.
“That was a big day for me,” Parks said. “She said, ‘I really feel important today.’”
A year after graduating from Florida State University College of Law, Parks and Crump started their own law firm in Tallahassee, and their clients included the family of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who died while incarcerated at a Bay County juvenile boot camp, a notorious case that helped convince the Legislature to close all remaining juvenile boot camps in Florida.
Six days after becoming NBA president, Parks was excited about another globetrotting adventure, soon meeting with leaders of the Ghana Bar Association, building on his past international legal experiences interacting with the supreme courts in Cuba and Egypt.
He’s already met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to talk about preventing barriers to voting.
“That’s a tricky one,” Parks said. “The state of Florida is slap dab in the middle of that issue.”
He is working to bring First Lady Michelle Obama to Tampa, and he is involved with President Obama’s reelection campaign.
On August 11, he traveled again to Washington, D.C., on a mission “to improve our Washington presence on presidential appointments, helping our members in dealing with judicial and nonjudicial appointments by the president.”
And he’s involved in rolling out the new NBA magazine before the November 4 Wiley A. Branton Issues Symposium in Washington, D.C., held in conjunction with the Howard University School of Law, so he can fully use the bully pulpit of his NBA presidency.
“My experience as an African-American lawyer is a really unique experience and fits in fully, in a historical and current sense, with the obligation of the NBA to work to improve the status and opportunities of our members. I’m committed to that, and I look forward to moving forward,” Parks said.
But his No.1 goal as NBA president is fundraising.
“We have fiscal issues we have been working on. We’ve knocked down our debt a third. We have a debt situation,” Parks said, declining to give specific figures.
“In the past, we have raised a little bit more money, changed our budgetary process, and we have put a fiscal policy in place and put a debt reduction plan in place. At this point, we have to go raise more money.”
Parks knows he’ll have lots of help, already receiving vows of assistance from Reggie Turner, former president of the State Bar of Michigan, and Karol Corbin Walker, former president of the New Jersey State Bar Association.
“Every room I go into, luckily, I have dynamic members all around me,” Parks said.