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By Keri Foy

Neeka Parks wears clothing and accessories reflective of other cultures. Photos by Sunni Wigginton 

She’s interviewing felons. She’s talking to the families of victims. She’s helping to determine the fate of many Kentuckians.

Neeka Parks is a parole board member with the Kentucky Parole Board. Appointed by the governor of Kentucky, Neeka is one of nine board members in the state. “It’s an honor,” says Neeka, who obtained her law degree from the University of Louisville.

She and her colleagues conduct hearings, deliberate, and conduct risk assessments. They listen to the victims and the families of the victims. They process feedback from social workers, law enforcement, prosecutors, and clergy members. Their decision either leads to parole or more jail time for the convicted felon.

With the weightiness of her career, Neeka wants her style to reflect professionalism. “It’s an unspoken code to dress professionally,” says Neeka, but she wants to add an element she says is “unique to Neeka.” Her wardrobe’s foundation is grounded in pantsuits, suits, jackets and skirts, dress sheaths and matching jackets, and various black dresses. “Then I have statement jackets that can be mixed and matched with various skirts,” says Neeka, who adds that she also prefers wearing shoes with heels under 2 inches.

Although the base of her wardrobe sounds ultra conservative, Neeka does seek to add a twist with jewelry, shoes, handkerchief, or a scarf. That twist is more important than aesthetics alone. Yes, it does allow her to have fun, but it also lets her personality filter into her career. “My style allows me to express myself a little bit in my work life and get a little creative,” Neeka says. “What I do carries with it vicarious trauma. The way I balance my work life is through creativity.”

In the evenings, Neeka taps into her creative side by listening to music, painting, and drawing. During the day, it’s through her “unique to Neeka” style. “Creativity is an integral part of staying balanced and healthy, because I have to cleanse myself so I can be fresh for the next day,” Neeka says. “It keeps my mindset at a place that’s able to entertain equity and fairness.”

She thinks of herself as an eclectic shopper, other than her basics from Brooks Brothers and Ann Taylor. She shops for blouses anywhere and loves clothes that have a global feel, especially those that have an Indian or African vibe. “I have friends who are international, and they’ll bring me back things,” Neeka says. “They know me well enough to just pick it up.” She stocks her jewelry box with purchases from festivals and importers.

Neeka typically builds her outfit around the jewelry she’s selected for the day. If she’s not feeling drawn to any particular piece, she’ll designate the color of the week. For example, if Neeka wore blue on a Monday, for the remainder of the week, she’d continue to wear blue if she wasn’t feeling creative. “I’d wear a blue sweater with blue slacks or a pump,” Neeka says. “It’s not taking too much creative energy when getting ready.”

Neeka also pays attention to her emotions while crafting her outfit of the day (OOTD). “My grandmother was the biggest influence in terms of style,” she says. Her grandmother was a school teacher who wore dresses and heels and pearls, Neeka says. “I felt like she was the image of femininity.” Later in life her grandmother sold Avon, and that’s where Neeka gained exposure to jewelry. “That’s really where my spark of clothes generating a feeling started,” she says. “Dressing is about the emotional feeling I’m having.”

She even likens a well-fit blazer to a cloak. “It’s my professional shield,” Neeka says. “It keeps me warm. It identifies that I’m a professional. There’s a certain level of comfort since it’s wrapped around my body. It makes me feel good.”

While her style is a balance of professional and fun, and provides a way to showcase her personality, it reminds her, and hopefully the people she’s interacting with, of her humanity. “I’m a human being just like you are. I have unique experience and unique presence. I’m open enough to accept you; this is how I can come to the table,” Neeka says.