A man sitting and holding a guitar talking to another man.

Alumni Voices|


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icon of a pencilBy Joan Carleton

A-major Influence

OU legacy student turns family passion into career ambitions

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Robert Hall

Parrish Roberts, SBA ’86, has always had a keen ear for music. Throughout his time at Oakland University studying general management and economics, he frequented Meadow Brook Amphitheatre and kept up with the latest Hi-Fi technology. Once his career launched at Blue Cross Blue Shield and his children were born, he spent weeknight evenings listening to jazz, hip-hop and rap.

“My sons would gather around me, and I assumed it was just so they could be close. I didn’t even realize that they were soaking a lot of that music in,” says Parrish.

For most parents, it’s near impossible to fully comprehend the impact on their children. For Parrish, many of the influences are quite clear. His passion for music, fond memories of Oakland University and the drive to make a difference in his community are now mirrored in his oldest son, PJ.

Parrish was a constant presence when PJ began exploring music on his own. Starting with choir in kindergarten, Parrish attended every talent show, musical and open-mic night. In early high school, PJ decided to turn this passion into a future career. Now, he’s at OU studying public relations and strategic communication, with sights set on Nashville or Los Angeles to launch a career in songwriting. And he continuously looks to Parrish for guidance and feedback.

“Quite often, my son sends me his music,” says Parrish. “Music tells a story, so I’ll provide input if I think there’s something he can tweak to make the story clearer.”

“Great music is timeless — that’s why I appreciate my dad’s critiques,” PJ chimes in. “He’s not taking the approach of current marketplace salability, but instead is coming from the perspective of great storytelling. And I take that to heart.”

Father and son’s mutual choice of OU for their undergraduate experience is, in large part, for similar reasons. Parrish chose OU for its beautiful campus and contemporary feel. And though the physical campus has changed over the years, Parrish’s anecdotes about college life at OU encouraged PJ to attend.

“Much of [my decision] was based on my dad’s enjoyment of OU,” says PJ. “He could speak to being close to home yet feeling far enough away to still get that college experience — especially living on campus.”

Parrish also recalls that during the 1980s, the SBA had an extremely small African-American community, which meant a very tight-knit group. “I would be the only minority in most of my business classes, so we really developed a close bond and friendship,” he shares. “Our accountability for each other led to study groups where we would push each other to succeed.”

“This vibrant community he describes led me to feel like OU has a very home-like quality, with the opportunity to make potential friends for life,” says PJ.

In order to make a larger impact on diversity and inclusion efforts across OU, Parrish had joined the student council. PJ is continuing this mission, fully immersing himself in the OU community and working toward the same positive impact. He currently serves as vice president of Gold Vibrations A Capella and director of diversity events with the Student Program Board, and previously served as director of diversity and inclusion for the OU Student Congress. And Parrish enjoys reconnecting with his OU spirit alongside his son, through basketball games and OU Alumni Association Black Alumni Chapter events.

“PJ tends to be active in those same manners, by trying to make a difference and establish fair representation. That was a mission of mine back then, and one that he’s carried on,” says Parrish.

PJ is also following in his father’s management footsteps through his internship as manager of the Good Vibes Only (GVO) hip-hop collective, which aims to explore the roots of hip hop through poetry, instruments and the establishment of a strong community.

“Thirty-plus years of my career were in business management. Now PJ manages the GVO collective. Management is in his DNA, whether he realizes it or not,” says Parrish. Even after graduating from OU and heading to the music city, father and son won’t be far.

“As a retiree, I am looking to move to a warmer climate — Phoenix or Atlanta. Nashville wasn’t on the list until he mentioned it,” explains Parrish. “But if he establishes roots there, that would be one of the areas I would consider.”

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