Thousands from across the nation came together Saturday to celebrate the life of former Miami-Dade Police Director Robert L. Parker, a man who most agreed touched countless lives.
As the American flag was raised into overcast skies at Florida International University’s entrance, the choir’s rendition of “Trading My Sorrows” filled the university arena. Those who gathered to celebrate Parker’s life included current and former mayors, police and local leaders.
“I’m trading my sorrow,” the choir sang. “I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.”
Parker’s sudden death a week ago devastated his family and many in the community. He was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head next to a canal near his northwest Miami-Dade home. His death was ruled a suicide by Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner the next day.
“Our hearts are heavy,” Anthony Buie, leader at St. Joseph’s Revival Center in North Carolina, said in describing how he felt immediately after Parker’s death. He said he asked God clarity to make sense of his passing.
The memorial service on Saturday — filled with hymns of praise, family photographs, videos and stories — honored Parker as the embodiment of a strong black man.
After living next to Parker for years, Rev. Woodrow C. Jenkins said the former police director was “industrious” and always working on a “do it yourself” project at home.
“He’d be up early in the morning always fixing something,” Jenkins said. The two talked often at an opening between the two yards; the conversations brought the men closer over the years. “We would go there and talk, about sports, about church, about family — he was a wonderful person and he was always so busy.”
The 62-year-old Parker’s legacy includes a 33-year career in law enforcement where his rise through Miami-Dade County Police Department’s civil service ranks helped earn the respect of his superiors and subordinates. He made history in the county in 2004 when he was appointed as the first black director in the department.
“He was one of the best directors this department will ever see,” said Carlos Alvarez, former county mayor and police director.
Alvarez said news of the first African American police director overshadowed Parker’s work ethic that led him to become director.
“Nobody gave him anything — he earned it just by doing his job,” Alvarez said. “Regardless of how Bobby Parker left us, his living will not be in vain.”
Parker’s character, according to close family and friends, started at home when he was young — and it was something he tried to teach his children.
Kalika Parker said her father was tough but never went a day without telling his children that he loved them. “And if he couldn’t tell us in person, he’d have mom tell us,” said Kalika, Parker’s only daughter.
“My dad raised so many people,” Kalika said. “Not just family; he raised friends.”
Parker’s willingness to help anyone made him extraordinary — as a father, police, friend and man of faith.
During the service, however, Lovell Williams, a close friend of Parker’s, said the death of his “special buddy” revealed something.
“Instead of giving all the time, you have to take care of yourself,” Williams said. As a friend, Williams said he tried to be an escape for Parker, a pillar in the community who always gave and rarely asked.
“I couldn’t get him on the back of my motorcycle, but I should have tried harder,” Williams said.
Darrell Richardson, a former North Miami Police officer and Parker’s cousin, said Parker left a community of people who leaned on him for support and guidance, especially black police officers.
With police reform getting national attention, Richardson said Parker believed police “were ordained by a higher power” to work with the community. Earlier this year, Parker was tapped by federal officials to help a team review police procedures and practices in Baltimore following the riots there in April.
“Robert engaged himself in community policing,” Richardson said. “He showed that you have to have patience to deal with anyone — black, white or yellow.”
His character inspired anyone he came across, Richardson said.
“You can tell by all the people here how [Robert] impacted everyone’s life,” Richardson said. “He was the reason why I got into police work.”
Parker is survived by his wife, Veronica, sons Robert Jr. and Kyron, and daughter Kalika.