“Living Black History”: Local philanthropist Roland Parrish talks documentary, nonprofit work

Story by Whitney Carter. Photos provided by Parrish Charitable Foundation.

Ask Roland Parrish why teaching and learning Black history is important, and he will be very clear: “We support Black history and other minority groups when we can. I am living Black history.”

Roland Parrish, CEO and owner of Parrish Restaurants and founder of Parrish Charitable Foundation.

Roland has become a notable philanthropist and business mogul in North Texas. Originally from Hammond, Indiana, he attended Purdue University on academic and athletic scholarships. Today, he owns Parrish Restaurants LTD, which operates 24 McDonald’s throughout the metroplex. He is also the founder of the Parrish Charitable Foundation, which focuses on creating opportunities for children.

And as if Roland weren’t busy enough, he recently added “film director” and “screenwriter” to his list of accolades. His documentary, This Wall Must Come Down, was recently showcased at the Denton Black Film Festival.

“It is the story of Annie Burns Hicks,” Roland explains. “In the 1950s, she was a young lady who was denied the opportunity to become a teacher in my hometown of Hammond, Indiana. She eventually filed a lawsuit in Federal Court and won. The ruling in her favor cited the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.”

The 14th Amendment granted all citizens of the United States “equal protections under the law,” though many still experienced unfair treatment once it was ratified.

“She challenged the system and ignited the community. She created hope for the future generations,” Roland says. “It was important to document the history of my hometown, and it was a good story.”

According to Roland, the documentary only begins with the Burns family. It continues to tell the story of other “Black firsts” in the Hammond community, such as the first Black police officer and the first Black city councilman.

The documentary is a symbol of Roland’s impact on the community. Roland says he has worked tirelessly to continue to give minorities not what he considers a handout, but a hand up. He aims to support people like Annie Burns Hicks, who just wanted a chance. That same hope is what he is providing for so many today.

Roland has made it his life’s work to ensure he passes on his success to the next generation. Through the McDonald’s restaurants he owns and operates in Dallas, he has donated millions of dollars to education, especially in under-represented communities.

“It is important because [I think of] Luke 12:48, ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ We opened [the first location on] Juneteenth 1989 in Pleasant Grove, a section of Dallas’s southern sector. We worked hard at being successful as a business, and we worked hard at becoming part of the community. We have grown from one location to now having 24 locations,” Roland says.

For context, Juneteenth, now a national holiday, celebrates the day enslaved people in Texas finally found out they were free. That notice did not come for nearly two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed those who were enslaved.

Roland says that everything he does is strategic. The decision to open his first McDonald’s in the Pleasant Grove community was intentional because it is an area he claims needed investment. That pattern of investment has continued over his tenure in Dallas.

“We support many organizations in Dallas/Fort Worth including: St Philip’s School and Community Center, Zan Wesley Holmes Community Center, the Dallas African American Museum Sports Hall of Fame, Dallas ISD Flo poetry scholarship competition, World Champion Texas Rangers Internship Program, we help to feed the hungry at Austin Street Shelter several times a year, Dallas Urban Debate Alliance and Scholarship Program, the Swim and Lifeguard Program at For Oak Cliff, just to name a few,” Roland says.

Roland’s love of education shines through specific moves he has made to continue to pour into his community. In 2022, he started the inaugural Roland Parish Band Competition, awarding 10 North Texas band programs $5,000 for their treasury departments.

He also collaborates with the Charley Pride Fellowship Program through the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation. That program is named after the late country music legend Charley Pride, who has been honored as the first Black superstar in country music. The fellowship is a little more than two months, and it’s a paid internship. The focus is on boosting representation in the corporate offices of professional sports and not just on the field.

“We endowed a speaker series with St. Philip’s School and Community Center. This has been an excellent fundraiser for the school. We have had legends like Cecily Tyson, Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez, and many more. This year, we are going to have LLCoolJ. We are very excited,” Roland says.

Roland truly is living in Black History, becoming the first Black person to have a facility named in his honor at Purdue University in appreciation of his financial contribution to support the management school library renovation.

According to the university, Roland’s company has consistently been among Black Enterprise magazine’s BE 100 as one of the Top 100 Black-Owned Businesses in the United States. He continues to be a role model to students that come through Purdue’s business program. 

As the Parrish Charitable Foundation website says, Roland is passionate about helping children and to instill in them the importance of higher education. His goal is for young people to capitalize on all opportunities presented to them, and where the opportunities are few, he wants to create more for them.

If you want to learn more or get involved, you can do so through the Parrish Charitable Foundation website. You can also stream his documentary, This Wall Must Come Down, on Vimeo.