Education: Bachelor of Science in Journalism, Northwestern University; Master of Science in Public Service Administration, University of Evansville
Resume: Producer, WTVF-TV, Nashville, Tennessee; Special Projects Producer, WSMV-TV, Nashville, Tennessee; Producer, WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee; Christian Education Director, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Perrysburg, Ohio; Executive Producer, WNIN, Indiana; Executive Director, then President and CEO, Youth First, Inc., Evansville (2004-present)
Hometown: Murfreesboro, Tennessee
“Bloom where you are planted” is a motto Youth First President and CEO Parri Black abides by each day, cultivating seeds of collaboration by telling the stories of the communities she has lived in during her career in news media and nonprofits. Among the collaborations bearing fruit is Youth First, celebrating its 25th anniversary in April, and which Black has helped grow into a vehicle supporting the well-being of regional youth and the families, teachers, and communities who care for them.
“It’s really our youth social workers and our program team making that direct impact,” she says.
Why did you become involved with Youth First?
When I moved here in 1998, I worked for WNIN producing public affairs programs, documentaries, and political debates. I learned about Youth First and its founder Dr. William “Bill” Wooten. Around 2000, I reached out and asked, “Is there some potential partnership between Youth First and public television that we could develop?” We decided to partner on a couple of grant proposals focusing on underage drinking and received one. It was a two-year project. I became intrigued with the work they were trying to do from the storytelling side, how public media could impact an important health issue and help the community address it. The first executive director of the organization left, and I had the opportunity to apply for the position.
How has your communications background aided your work?
It’s important to tell the story of the organization and its impact to engage others so they want to be a part of it. I also just had some skills at administration probably related to producing newscasts for many years. I was used to working on deadlines, along with my writing skills. I have developed a lot of skills around how you run a nonprofit organization: how you work collaboratively with your board, volunteers, and community partners. I would say that I’m good at connecting the dots or connecting people or relationships.
How has Youth First’s focus evolved since its founding in 1998?
Opioids were not top of mind 25 years ago. There were other forms of substance abuse. The key to prevention, no matter the potential risk, is helping young people develop resiliency and coping skills. Now, our focus as a prevention agency is on promoting mental health and the well-being of young people and families.
Early on, Youth First came upon an idea to embed master’s-level social workers in schools. We call them “specialized mentors” for kids and “prevention coaches” for parents and teachers. That really changed the whole focus of the organization when we realized how impactful that could be. When I joined the organization, we had nine social workers embedded in schools. Today, we have 83 social workers and prevention programs embedded in 117 schools in 13 counties.
How has your involvement with Youth First changed you?
If the person I was in 2004 was hired to be in my seat at Youth First, I wouldn’t be prepared. There have been very stressful periods where I wondered, “Can I keep doing this?” I’ve always been able to find a way to renew, refresh, and re-energize. I think that’s the secret for all of us, one of the things that we’re able to help young people with, too. We’re always going to hit obstacles, roadblocks, and barriers. How do we overcome them and move forward? Getting through those hard times is what fuels you to keep going. It doesn’t just depend on you. You can stand on the shoulders of a lot of people to accomplish good things. You can tap somebody’s skill sets that maybe you don’t have, and they can help you. That’s a wonderful thing.