At three days old, Parker went to live with her grandmother, Willie Mae Parker, in Marietta’s now-demolished Lyman Homes housing project off North Marietta Parkway. Both said Jazma Parker’s mother and father faced too many personal issues to raise a child.
But Jazma Parker, the oldest of nine children, always knew she was different. Her grandmother was a strict disciplinarian. She always pushed her grandchild hard, working to keep her on the right path and away from neighborhood dangers.
“When Jazma turned 13, I asked her to write me a letter and let me know what she wanted to become,” Willie Mae Parker said. “She sat down and said, ‘Momma, I’m going to be successful.’”
Willie Mae Parker knew the only way for her granddaughter to escape poverty was to get an education. She asked God to order her footsteps so Jazma would make good decisions later in life.
It was a lesson she’d learned from her own mother, Jessie Mae Parker, who died in 1993. Though Willie Mae’s daughter had fallen into trouble, she committed to doing her very best with her granddaughter.
“I said, ‘This is my second chance,’” said Willie Mae Parker.
At the end of her senior year at Marietta High School in 2004, Jazma Parker received the Alexis Grubbs Memorial Scholarship. Alexis Grubbs was the daughter of Cobb Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs and was killed in a car crash in 1998 while attending MHS.
The scholarship, sponsored by the Cobb County Bar Association, is named in her honor and is awarded to Marietta High School students entering the legal field.
The scholarship started out paying a total of $4,000. Last year, $19,000 was awarded through the scholarship, according to Adele Grubbs.
Parker had an interest in criminology, which was considered a legal field for purposes of the scholarship, and the Grubbs award helped her attend the University of West Georgia in Carrollton.
“I’ve always been infatuated with law and justice,” said Parker, 28. “Of course, not crime itself, but why people do the things they do. A lot of it has to do with where I grew up in Marietta. There were high crime levels, drugs and all of the issues that come with living in an impoverished area.”
Parker said college was a great experience for her, and a forbearer of things to come.
“In college, I was able to meet a lot of exceptional people that had the same dreams and goals that I had,” Parker said. “It was a big culture shock, but at the end of the day, I was able to transition very effectively.”
After graduating from West Georgia in 2009 with a degree in criminology, Parker promptly moved to the Washington D.C. suburbs. She also enrolled in a graduate degree program in administration of justice and security with the University of Phoenix, graduating in 2011.
Parker became a background investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in 2010. The job was similar to a human resources position. She then took a “leap of faith” and joined the FBI as a personnel security specialist and adjudicator. In this role, she processed security clearances for the FBI at the agency’s headquarters — screening employees to make sure they were fit for duty.
In August 2012, a second leap of faith took Parker all the way to Kandahar, Afghanistan, with the Air Force to become a special security officer. Much of her job duties are kept secret, but she gave a brief explanation of the position.
“I work with the Special Operations Task Force,” she said. “I work with an elite group of men and women assigned to that area in the Army. These men and women are the people on the front lines fighting al-Qaida. It’s a very sensitive environment. Very high-paced and high-strung. I’m responsible for ensuring all security measures and practices are in place.”
Last week was her first trip back to Marietta since her deployment. Coming home, she saw the changes in Marietta since she left.
“I drove (to where Lyman Homes was) yesterday out of curiosity,” she said. “They have $300,000 homes over there now. You would have never imagined they had a housing project there.”
She heads back to Afghanistan next week to finish out her tour, which ends in October.
Keeping in touch
Adele Grubbs, a longtime Mariettan with a touch of a British accent from her youth in England, loves to keep in touch with Grubbs scholarships winners.
“They call me at the office; I see them sometimes,” Grubbs said. “When they come in, they want to talk about what they’re doing, how they’re doing. They can call me for advice and encouragement.”
Parker is no exception.
“I knew her in high school,” said Grubbs. “She sent me an email from Dubai recently. The question I wanted to ask was, ‘Did you ever believe you’d be in Dubai when you were in high school?”
Parker describes Grubbs as a mentor. At 13, Parker became active in a nonprofit called Young Women in Search of Excellence, a program in which Grubbs was involved.
“She was one of the first mentors I had growing up,” said Parker. “She is someone I looked up to.”
Today, the two exchange emails a few times a month, send each other cards and talk on the phone. Through Grubbs, Parker said she learned not to be a pushover and to exude a presence of dignity.
Grubbs said she is impressed with Parker’s determination to make something of her life, rather than waiting for the world to come to her.
Overcoming the odds
“I’ve come a very long way,” Parker said. “The odds were stacked so high against me.”
She sometimes thinks of where she could have been at this point in her life. She could have been what she calls a “statistic.”
“I could be an unwed mother. I could not have a high school diploma,” said Parker.
Parker says her success can be attributed to role models, such as her grandmother and Grubbs.
“I’ve been the person helping myself,” said Parker. “I’ve been the one helping to provide for myself. That’s where my mentors like Judge Grubbs come in. They are my extended family. They teach me the things my parents didn’t teach me.”
Willie Mae Parker said she did the best with what she had. She bought books at the thrift store. She took her granddaughter to local churches, such as Mt. Zion Baptist and Greater Community Church of God in Christ. She taught Jazma Parker to stay away from drugs and to respect others.
“I have no regrets,” Willie Mae Parker said.
In five or 10 years, Jazma Parker sees herself married, probably with children, and working in security. She said she likes homeland security because there isn’t always a routine to the day; new things happen all the time. Parker likes having a little bit of suspense; she likes investigating.
“I work on solutions to make security practices better,” said Parker. “I work to help preserve the safety and sanity of our nation.”