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'He was always in my corner’: Slain MTA bus driver Marcus Parks was a family man, Lake Clifton basketball standout

Marcus Parks loved his family, his job as a bus driver for the Maryland Transit Administration, and Lake Clifton basketball, those who knew him said, and he modeled the values of integrity, hard work, faith and respect for his children.

The 51-year-old, who was killed on duty in a shooting Thursday after 20 years of driving buses in Baltimore, enjoyed encouraging people and taught his three sons “to finish everything and leave nothing undone,” said his son Aaron Parks, 25.

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“He believed in me before I believed in myself," said Aaron Parks, a 2012 Lake Clifton graduate who led the Lakers to the Class 2A state championship as a senior All-Metro guard. “He was more than a bus driver. He went to work every day and provided for his family and tried to do his best, the best he could.”

Born and raised in East Baltimore, the older Parks was a forward on the Lake Clifton High School basketball team in the late 1980s. Later in life, he was a regular presence at his alma mater’s basketball games, especially when his sons were on the court.

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He counted his former high school classmates, teammates and even Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young — despite the mayor’s allegiance to rival Dunbar — among his many friends.

During a news conference announcing the arrests of two suspects in Parks’ death, Young recalled watching high school basketball games and meeting for lunches with the longtime bus driver.

The mayor said the two always argued over who would pay for lunch.

“Just a great guy," Young said. "People rallied around him when they had conflicts because Marcus always had a way of making you see that it ain’t that serious.”

Parks was part of Lake Clifton’s “Devine ’89” class, a tight-knight group that met for annual reunions at local parks and restaurants, said Nicole Miller-Burney, who befriended Parks in their freshman year at the school.

Basketball was everything at the East Baltimore high school, Miller-Burney said, and Parks was at the center of it all.

He still played pickup basketball with members of his old team, plus tournaments against their old high school rivals. And when Parks' son started playing, Parks never missed a game.

Parks was a vegan, Miller-Burney remembered, and at reunions, he always joked about his favorite meat-free dish: baked beans.

“He would send me a message and say, ‘I know you got them beans,’” Miller-Burney said with a laugh.

Parks was a fun-loving friend, too, who often brought up his job driving the city buses, she said.

“He loved his job," said Miller-Burney, 49. "Always talked about it, always talked about the people and changing lives, because he’s Christian and he loved the Lord.”

Becoming Parks' friend in high school was a defining moment for George Blake.

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“When you’re a little, Black, gay kid from Baltimore, you need a protector,” Blake said.

For Blake, Parks was that person: a gentle giant, who gave would-be bullies the kind of looks that would stop them in their tracks, he said. Parks was 6-foot-3 as a sophomore, according to The Baltimore Sun archives, which recount his days on the court at Lake Clifton.

Blake, who now lives in Los Angeles, remembered the days when he, Parks and another close friend would grab fast food after school at Pizza Hut or McDonald’s.

“As a teenager, he looked out for me,” Blake said. “And for that brief time, I realized we had a little family unit, the three of us."

Parks was a people-person who "lived his life from his heart outward,” said Blake, 49.

Marcus Parks, #32 on the lower left.
Marcus Parks, #32 on the lower left. (Handout)

Anthony Lewis, a longtime youth basketball coach and program director at the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center, coached Parks in his youth, as well as two of his three sons.

“As a player, he was a great asset to the basketball team with his strong suit on the defensive end — very strong and very competitive," Lewis said. “He parlayed that into a good high school career, went on to college and then he became a great family man and a great person in general.

“He raised three boys — I coached two of them in Aaron and Joshua — and you could see the influence he had on them," Lewis added. "He was just a great individual as he matured in life.”

Almost every time Gary Crum saw Parks around his neighborhood, Parks was in his MTA uniform.

The two became friends after meeting at Starr’s Barber Shop on Caroline Street. They’d talk basketball: everything from their favorite NBA players — city kids who had made it to the pros — to their basketball days at Lake Clifton and Frederick Douglass High School, said Crum, 38.

Parks would even honk his bus horn whenever he saw Crum in the city while driving his route.

“It was always a pleasure seeing him, man," Crum said. "He was a good guy. A lot of people loved him.”

Parks had a perpetual smile on his face and was always supportive of Crum’s efforts as a community organizer. Crum, who lives in the Oliver neighborhood, ran for city council in 2016 and 2020.

“He watched me growing up and becoming the person I am today,” Crum said.

Miller-Burney treasures her last memory with Parks, when they met up on a walk around her East Baltimore neighborhood a few weeks ago. Parks said he hoped they could organize a get-together with their Lake Clifton friends, but it didn’t happen in time.

“I think that’s the part that hurts me the most,” Miller-Burney said.

Parks taught his sons to be God-fearing, to take initiative and to focus on growing as people, Aaron Parks said.

“He was just a great guy, and he didn’t deserve to go out like that,” he said.

The younger Parks went on to play college ball at California State University at Northridge before playing professionally in Iceland and Russia.

Wherever he was, he talked to his father after every game.

“No matter how it went, he was always in my corner,” he said. “When I have a family some day, I’ll be able to instill that in my kids.”

Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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