More Than What’s On Paper: My Journey To Success Was A Pathway To Finding Me

Let me tell you a story, one that is nonlinear and begins after a loving Korean family living in Harlem, NY adopted a young African-American boy, when it was determined that his biological family could no longer provide the support that he needed.

From a young age, I was raised to understand that hard work, respect, honesty, and gratitude came before anything else. In my household academic excellence was never an option, it was expected.  However, I quickly learned that being a “bookworm” would not earn me any cool points and my motivation to excel quickly became a badge of dishonor. Compounded by the fact that my family was outside of the “norm,” my early school days were flooded with bullying. I learned to isolate myself to my studies, and through boxing, I found a positive outlet to channel my frustrations. Ultimately, I was able to surpass adversity and graduate high school with an Advanced Regents Diploma, the highest honor awarded to students with exemplary academic performance in New York. I was confident in my abilities, and I saw a bright future ahead.

Things began to become complicated when the question of college arose. My family could not afford the extra funds it would take to pay for my schooling, nor did I receive sufficient aid to validate my attendance. I lucked out my freshman year. A family friend heard about our situation and gifted me enough money to attend my first year of college to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of New Orleans. Things seemed to be looking up, or at least they were before I received some rather unfortunate news.

Johnnie Parker pictured on the right.

My biological mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. At the start of my sophomore year, she had only been given six months to live. I began to feel a range of emotions that reflected in my studies. Despite not having raised me, I’d always hoped that there would be an opportunity for her to be a part of my life; only now, the time for that opportunity was limited. I left school and returned home to spend what little time I had left to get to know her. I was in need of employment, not only to get by, but also to give her something she could be proud of before passing. Little did I know, an opportunity was waiting for me right around the corner.

I received notification that a high school connection had recommended me for a technical training program called NPower. NPower is a 22-week program that teaches basic tech competencies needed for entry level IT employment including Microsoft Office, networking, and web design. The program also prepares young adults for the professional work environment through mock interviews, company site visits, and professional networking opportunities. Having always had an interest in technology, I would be able to explore my interest through NPower’s program. Fortunately, it was not long before I learned that I was accepted into the program.

While in there, we learned to dismantle and assemble computers, build network cables, and to troubleshoot and diagnose certain computer problems. Through the program, I landed an internship that later turned into a contracted position at a top financial institution. During my time there, I received valuable work experience and networked with various industry professionals. I began to attend intriguing company security calls where everyone would brainstorm different solutions to global security issues threatening the network. I found myself completely fascinated with these cyber security discussions. Every call I participated in had a new security topic being discussed, further fueling my curiosity.

Soon after completing my internship, I received word that Symantec would be launching its pilot Cyber Career Connection program. I took hold of the opportunity to work for a Fortune 500 company and submitted my resume. I entered a competitive application process that included applicants from across the globe. Eventually, I would become one of seventeen applicants to be accepted. This course challenged me in every way, requiring incredible rigor and a stronger commitment than my previous technical training. Through the 26-week long course, our class became a small family with the common goal of excelling in the course to launch a successful career in cyber security. Our instructor, Matt, continuously stressed, “Be a pro” and “Be committed,” serving as a constant reminder why I was still there.

Towards the end of the class, my biological mom’s health continued deteriorating to the point that she had to be placed in hospice care. The pressure to make something of myself before it was too late only grew. It wouldn’t be long before I obtained a work placement in this new field, but alas, in the midst of it all, she passed away.

Ironically, this did not deteriorate my drive. I was only further motivated to continue my hard work so she could always look down at me and smile. My diligence had allowed me to go from an intern to a contractor, and shortly after, a full-time security engineer.

Now that I have my feet firmly planted in the field of Cybersecurity, I realize the importance of having positive support systems. Along my journey, my experiences led me to seek approval and validation from others. However, in the end, my peers helped me to understand that my determination is what dictates my success.

Looking back, I see that youth training programs like NPower, Year Up, and Per Scholas are needed, not only to teach individuals the necessary skills to fill over 1M vacant cybersecurity jobs but to also provide alternative pathways to achieve personal growth. Although my journey has never been a straight line, I’ve found appreciation in the curve. As I move along, I will continue to help others connect with opportunity while continuing to grow myself to become the man I know would make my mother proud.

The average employer spends seven seconds reviewing a resume, often screening out young adults like Johnnie Parker. Please visit to learn more about an available pool of talented young adults that you may be missing out on.

Education, Personal Story, Skills Gap,
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