By Thomas Sellers Jr.
On the surface, Millington Central High School senior Gena Parker appears to be the typical Hall of Fame bound student.
She’s involved in various community activities, will be the drum major for the MCHS Marching Band and is the Class of 2021 class president. Add on a few more awards, achievements and accolades, Parker is the picture of a hard-working Trojan.
Behind her supporting Parker all the way are her parents Ben and Dee. With a quick glance, the Parkers are a dedicated Millington family. Then a closer examination might bring up a question, How do two white people from the South have an Asian child?
“What likely happened, this is not set in stone, a family member dropped me off at the orphanage and said, ‘We found this baby,’” Gena recalled. “I was in the orphanage until I was 14 months old. Long story short, they went over there and brought me home.”
Gena was born in China 17 years ago when laws were strict on one-child and the preference was boys. The Parkers welcomed their baby girl into their lives and build a strong unit.
“I don’t think I ever noticed,” Gena recalled growing up. “I never got the ‘Sit down, you’re adopted talk.’ I was talking to my mom, ‘Did y’all tell me and I just don’t remember.’ She was like, ‘No, I don’t think we ever formally set you down and told you that you were adopted.’ I always knew I look different.”
Now Parker stands out at MCHS because of her achievements and accomplishments. She is ranked in the top 15 of the class, competed in the NAACP ACT-SO Filmmaking category as a freshmen and has competed in All-West for the saxophone. She is preparing to head to Murray State once she graduates.
Getting to graduation in May is one of Parker’s top concerns. As the school year kicked off for Millington Municipal Schools Aug. 10, the global pandemic has given all the students a cloud of uncertainty.
“Every other week it’s just new things changing,” Parker said. “You really have to be flexible and not count on every single thing you’re being told.”
Back in March, Parker was enjoying a typical school year and preparing to take the ACT again to improve on her overall 23. But spring break turned into a month break and eventually into the cancellation of the remaining 2020 school year.
“At that point I was just like, ‘We’re locked down for the next couple of months,’” she recalled. “’Hopefully all of this will be over with by July and we can all still have our senior year.’ So when we got the news of that potentially not happening, it got harder.”
As July came to an end and August arrived on the calendar, Parker said her feelings were “nervous, anxious and stressed. But I know this year’s seniors are very resilient. We’ll make the most out of this situation.”
Parker said she learned to keep moving forward and making the best of a bad situation from her parents. Love, support and consistent investment is all Gena knew from her parents growing up.
“It is what it is,” she said. “They are the two who raised me. I grew up here. So I get more odd looks because you look at an Asian person with a country accent. I grew up driving a tractor and a four-wheeler just like everybody else around here. It really doesn’t phase me. I’ve luckily never had anybody with a problem. It was more like ‘Oh that’s weird.’ But I never experienced anything bad.”
A few minutes around Gena and her parents, the visual difference disappears into the image of a great support system for a child during highs and lows.
“They’re always supporting me no matter what decision I made,” she said. “They never pushed me no matter what or tried to live vicariously through me. ‘Do your thing and we’re going to back you no matter what.’ Early on I wanted to do music. I didn’t know what that would look like. Whether I wanted to teach or wanted it as a hobby.”
With Gena pursuing music as a major down the line, she said whatever the school year throws at her, she will handle it like a Parker.
“I’m proud to be a Parker,” she concluded. “It means to just work hard and work your tail off and you’ll earn what you want. And know what you want.”