Motown missionary

Strong work ethic and Notre Dame experience convinced alum of the importance of philanthropy for schools and students.

Like many if not most newly graduated high school students, Notre Dame alum Paul Barker ('88) wasn't sure which career path he should set foot on. But unlike most high school grads, he ended up with one that involved rubbing elbows with the likes of Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson and Berry Gordy.

That's because once Barker found his footing, he began a progression of jobs in the nonprofit and entertainment industries that had him ending up with his current position as director of development and community activation at Detroit's Motown Museum.

"My love of music led me to volunteer at the museum in 1989 when I was only 18," he said.  "I soon became their first paid employee and spent 13 years working for Motown in one capacity or another. I held many positions and at one time was responsible for a staff of 13 before I even turned 30." 

His work initially with Motown forced Barker's post-secondary education into a hold after a brief stint at Macomb Community College. 

"I attended Macomb and took general requirements until I chose a career," he said. "As soon as I could, I transferred to Wayne State University to attend classes with my friends, but still did not really know what I wanted to do with my life. Eventually, I chose to pursue a marketing degree, but quickly became disinterested and eventually stopped going to school and started to work full time."

Full-time work was his best education, Barker said, and he started volunteering at the Motown Museum after Notre Dame. A year later, he became the museum's first paid employee. He spent the next six years working full time. The experience of hands-on work was the right fit for him at that time, but he always knew he would finish his degree.

"In 1995, I moved to California and spent the next three years working in the music and film business for my hero, Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown," Barker said. "Although the time was exciting, I never intended to stay out west. After three years, I moved back to Detroit, returned to work at the Motown Museum and went back to Wayne State University. This time, I actually wanted to be in school, so I took night classes and worked full time and finally received a bachelor's degree in marketing."

After college, Barker thought it might be time to explore other possible careers, so he made the hard decision to leave the Motown Museum and seek new challenges. 
"I worked at The Roostertail in Detroit for seven years as their first director of marketing and events, and then transitioned to the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield where I worked in events and development for nearly 10 years," he said. "The next few years were ones of further discovery with time spent at the American Red Cross, the Judson Center and Hospice of Michigan — all in development with some events management."

And then — on his somewhat circuitous career journey — he recently returned to the Motown Museum. 

"It feels like home once again," he said.

It's a home that continues to provide not only job satisfaction for Barker, but a real sense of accomplishment one gets from setting and reaching goals, he said. He's also happy he's been able to help provide satisfaction and resources for others through his development and fundraising work.

"I would have to say that setting goals, finding something you love to do and doing something that positively affects others has been what's inspired me," he said. "As mentioned before, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I wanted to be after Notre Dame, but I knew I wanted to finish college. And I knew I wanted to love what I did for a living and I knew I wanted to leave this earth better than I found it. I took my love for music and found a place for myself in it and made a career out of it. I also made an impact raising money for those in need. From disaster victims in need of relief, to supporting children and adults with special needs. All the jobs I’ve ever had and excelled at were mission-based and encompassed these principles. In the middle of all that work, I still found time to get that degree. Another personal goal and promise kept."

Barker credits his time at Notre Dame High School for getting him where he is today. It also convinced him about how important philanthropy is for helping students who may need tuition assistance in getting through a private, Catholic education.

"Attending Notre Dame prepared me for success because it was an environment where you had to work for what you wanted," he said. "In my case, it was very literal. While I was in high school, our family faced some real economic challenges and I had to work very hard to help pay tuition. I worked three jobs at an average of 30 hours a week." 

Some of those jobs actually were at Notre Dame where he worked after school cleaning the classrooms and bathrooms. Another was working for NDHS maintenance manager Joe Pompeo at Midwest Contracting, where he helped set up and break down bingo in the gym and cafeteria. 

"I also worked at the same time at Otto’s in Eastland Mall," he said. "All of this work helped our situation immensely and gave me a strong work ethic early on. For this reason, I send my contributions to NDPMA's annual fund via 'Mary’s Way.' A gift to Mary’s Way provides much-needed financial support to need-based and merit-based scholarships for kids at Notre Dame. This hits very close to home for me. 

"Kids need to think about tests and grades and careers — not about how they are going to pay for class, lunch and books. If I can help that in even a little way, it means so much to me."

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at