From Marching Wildcat to Philanthropic Warrior, VP and Dr. Sherry Paramore '91

From Marching Wildcat to Philanthropic Warrior, VP and Dr. Sherry Paramore '91

Over 35 years ago, Sherry Paramore (then named Sherry Priester) entered to B-CC to learn. Now, she’s back to help other students do the same.

As a senior at Jones High School in Orlando, Florida, Sherry Priester had a life-changing conversation with her high school band director. James Wilson — fondly known as “Chief,” and a legend in his own right — encouraged her to attend an HBCU in Florida, sharing stories about his time in the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University band. Priester remembered that her great-great-grandmother had attended the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, the predecessor to Bethune-Cookman, and she decided to apply. 

She received an acceptance letter and enrolled in Bethune-Cookman College and joined the Marching Wildcats band. “An HBCU was the right choice for me. My dream was to attend an HBCU because of the excellent academic programs, sense of family, and rich history of educating African American community leaders.”

Priester’s expectations were high; she wanted to be in a place where she could build her legacy, find inspiration, and seize opportunity. Although her great-great-grandmother had been one of Dr. Bethune’s early students, neither of her parents nor anyone in her immediate family had attended college. With no one to look to for guidance, it can be difficult to find one’s way on a college campus. For Priester, being a member of the Marching Wildcats band helped her acclimate to the college experience, shape her personal growth, and build lasting friendships. 

Paramore emphasizes the importance of having great mentors, like Wilson and the late Dr. Jake Miller, a beloved professor of political science who founded the Model United Nations and fought to expose students to a world beyond Daytona Beach. “This demonstrates the need to have caring and connected mentors in the lives of our students,” she says. “The late Dr. Jake Miller’s teachings, advising, and facilitated experiences … provided a foundation to last a lifetime.”

During her time at Bethune-Cookman, Priester was initiated into the Gamma Tau chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, in the spring of 1989. She took to heart their pillars of leadership, civic engagement, and public service, leading to her passion for community service and outreach, an experience that would guide her to over 30 years of nonprofit work.

Thirty-five years later, she says it was the best decision she ever made. “The nurturing spirit is what makes the university unique. It's small enough that it's family; and when you get that B-CU pride, it's lifelong and never leaves you,” she says.

From Marching Wildcat to Philanthropic Warrior, VP and Dr. Sherry Paramore '91

Throughout her three decades of leadership at nonprofit organizations, she focused her efforts on helping students from lower socio-economic backgrounds access quality education. This prompted her to research just how far the inequities went.

Paramore is passionate about “connecting philanthropists with transformative opportunities and encouraging them to invest in life-changing efforts such as educating our young people,” and has worked tirelessly as a warrior for financial justice throughout her career. In this sense, she feels her work is repaying a debt owed to our great founder; in her last will and testament, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune declares the responsibility of those who are given the opportunity of education to pay it forward. Dr. Bethune urged us all to “never forget that the masses of our people are still underprivileged, ill-housed, impoverished and victimized by discrimination.” 

In 2022, then-President of Elevate Orlando Sherry Paramore was quoted in an article in The Washington Post discussing racial disparities in scholarship awards. She presented sobering statistics shining light on just how bad the discrimination was. According to her research, even though students from underrepresented backgrounds are often academically qualified, they are still being habitually passed over for scholarships like Florida’s Bright Futures award. 

The article, titled “How Popular Merit College Scholarships Have Perpetuated Racial Inequities,” garnered national attention and outrage, shining a light on the racial realities of supposedly meritorious awards; 93% of Florida scholarship recipients at the time were white. 

As vice president of institutional advancement at Bethune-Cookman University, Paramore continues to carry the torch of financial justice, propelled by Dr. Bethune’s dying charge. “This challenge inspires me to seek donors who continue to believe in the power of education and invest in the transformation that comes with helping students graduate from B-CU,” she says.

Now also a wife and mother — she married Mike Paramore in 2000 and they have one son, Mikey — she can also add another title to her resume: doctor. In 2023, Dr. Paramore earned her doctorate in public affairs from the University of Central Florida and she continues to strive to implement the best fundraising practices, cultivate and maintain deep donor relationships, and manage donor gifts to best support the goals and initiatives of the University.

“The values of service and contributing to my community were instilled early in my journey at B-CC,” says Paramore, who also founded a scholarship at the university in 2006 in honor of her parents.

Dr. Paramore sees the work as the vice president of institutional advancement as instrumental in helping to keep the rich legacy of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune alive. According to her, the more work that the department does, the more there are opportunities for growth and advancement.