(pictured above: Dr. Steve Perry addresses a crowd of several hundred on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 20 at Winston-Salem State University.)
Dr. Steve Perry, a nationally-known educator and host of TV One’s “Save My Son,” told young men and women last Thursday that they are responsible for their own destinies.
“You’re either ‘ bout to or you’re ‘bout it,” said Perry, the founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., as he gave the keynote address for Winston-Salem State University’s 11th annual Black Male Symposium in the school’s K.R. Williams Auditorium. “…When you’re ‘bout it, you’re somebody that wants to be better. You’re hungry. You’re looking for opportunities.”
Perry became a household name when he and his school, which has sent 100 percent of its predominantly low-income, minority, first generation high-school graduates to four year colleges, were featured on CNN’s “Black in America” series. High school and college students from schools throughout the Triad were on hand to hear from Perry. He implored them to fulfill their promise.
“You’re here today because somebody believes in you; you’re here today because somebody believes that you can be better than what you are,” Perry told attendees. “…You’re here (in college) for a reason and that reason is to improve your life. Every one of you has the responsibility to do that. It ain’t ever gonna get better until you get better.”
The symposium was created in 2003 as a means of providing a source of support and encouragement for African American males, explained Theo Howard, one of the visionaries for the project.
“We see this as a community event,” said Howard, who serves as assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs-Campus Life at the university. “When it comes to issues involving minority males, the community looks to us for leadership, so we like to provide them some things they can really sink their teeth into.”
The day’s activities also included the staging of “Ndugu,” an original play by Winston-Salem resident Garrett Davis, and campus tours for high school students. Dori Roberson brought 37 students from East Forsyth High School.
“I think overall the experience, especially for our young black males, was very positive,” said the Chicago native. “…I think it’s one thing to hear about what can happen or what a college campus is like, but it’s another thing to actually experience it, to see other students that look like them.”
Perry illustrated his assertion that making good decisions is paramount to achieving success by telling the audience of two friends who dreamed of delivering themselves from the housing projects and poverty they had grown up in. Both boys were bright and talented athletes, but one used his athletic prowess as a springboard to other endeavors, capitalizing on the opportunities he was afforded by studying hard and distancing himself from negativity, while the other relied solely on his skills as an athlete, shirking his academic responsibilities and maintaining his ties to the street life. The former – which Perry later revealed was him – went on to attend graduate school at an Ivy League institution and later became a well known author, educator and leader. The other boy was shot in the arm, ending his athletic career, and as a result, his college education.
“Life can pivot on you sometimes. Sometimes when you think everything is going your way, it pivots,” Perry told the students. “So many of us in our communities spend so much time dealing with life and death that we forget to live … we don’t make the most of what we have. What I need you to understand is tomorrow is not promised, so what are you doing today to make the very best of it?”
Wayne Farmer, a WSSU junior and member of the Black Male Symposium planning committee, said he believed hearing Perry’s real-life story of triumph against the odds would make an impression on the young audience.
“It’s always wonderful when you can have an individual who has been there to step in and give words of wisdom,” said Farmer, a native of Charleston, S.C. “Someone who is younger is always a good thing because … they can meet us where we are. I do believe him being able to relate to us will not only have the students be more attentive, but it’ll serve as momentum for them to be better and to tap into the greatness that they already have.”
As a student resource specialist at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, John Kornegay was already familiar with Perry’s near-legendary approach to educating underrepresented students successfully, and Kornegay, the founder and executive director of Kornegay Consulting, said he jumped at the chance to see him in person. Kornegay gave the symposium – and the speaker – high marks.
“Society does have a vague cloud as far as what the African American male is. We often don’t get to look at the good that they are striving to do,” he observed. “This allows us to celebrate them and shine a beacon of light on the work that they are doing in the community.”