Steve Perry, a national education advocate, told several dozen Wilmington youths on Wednesday to think beyond labels society assigns them.
“Sometimes it’s about making people believe that when they see people like us – black, Latino or poor people – that there’s something still special in us,” he said. “Just because we come in a different wrapper doesn’t mean what’s inside isn’t as amazing and powerful as other people.”
Perry – the founder of Capital Preparatory Schools who describes himself as “America’s most uncompromising school principal” – was the keynote speaker at the YMCA’s 28th annual Black Achievers dinner and awards ceremony. Black Achievers is a college readiness and career awareness program that encourages young people, grades 7 through 12, to establish goals with assistance from African-American mentors.
“It’s so important because mentoring is not only telling but demonstrating,” said Claire Carey, the director of teen programs and Black Achievers for the YMCA of Delaware. “It changes mindsets.”
Miles Evans, 16, is the president of the youth achievers and has been in the program since he was a seventh-grader. As one of the approximately 65 students in the program, Evans said he is grateful for the opportunity to break stereotypes.
“I’ve learned to respect myself and my race,” said Evans, a junior at St. Georges Technical High School in Middletown. “There’s no such thing as success if you don’t bring others to be successful with you.”
Once a shy child, Evans said the Black Achievers program has empowered him to engage in student politics and apply to Ivy League colleges.
“I didn’t really believe in my own voice,” said Evans, who spoke to hundreds of attendees at the awards ceremony. “It puts into perspective how this can happen to anyone.”
At the ceremony, the program announced a memorial scholarship for Evans’ brother, Malcolm Jordan Evans, who also participated in the program before he was killed in a shooting in July.
During his keynote speech, Perry recognized the Evans family.
“In their most difficult hour, their answer is to give back,” he said. “That’s power. That’s black power.”
Nijeria Thompson, a product director for the Wilmington technology firm ACT Generation, said she became an “adult achiever” to break a string of disappointment for black youth.
“An adult or politician says, ‘I want to help you ‘ and never follows through with the promise,” she said. “You want to be their light of hope.”
Adult achievers are nominated by businesses and organizations for outstanding professional contributions and their commitment to making a difference in their community. The program offers young people a support system of adults in various fields, from business professionals to doctors, Thompson said.
“There’s an ‘it takes a village’ mentality here,” she said.
Before the event, Perry spoke to students in elementary through high school in the YMCA’s after-school program about success and overcoming difficulties.
He said he was born on his mother’s 16th birthday, was raised in public housing projects “where there wasn’t much to believe in,” and by the time he was 18, his father was in prison.
Perry later became a principal of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, which has sent 100 percent of its predominantly low-income, minority, first-generation high school graduates to four-year colleges, Perry said.
He is also an author, an education contributor to CNN and MSNBC, an Essence Magazine columnist and the host of the TV One docudrama “Save My Son.”
Perry said that success is “not limited by who your parents are” and that obstacles can come from one’s own community.
“Just because your parents didn’t go to school doesn’t mean that you can’t,” he said. “Many of the people working against us look just like us.”
In his work, Perry said he tells young people to dream beyond their neighborhoods.
“Just because you live somewhere doesn’t mean you have to die there,” he said.
Carey said she hopes students are inspired by Perry’s talk.
“This black man has achieved,” she said. “(The children) can think, ‘I can do it, too. It’s not a hopeless situation.'”
Contact Christina Jedra at firstname.lastname@example.org, (302) 324-2837 or on Twitter @ChristinaJedra.
The 2016 Black Achievers graduating seniors:
- Jasmine White (will graduate from Brandywine High School)
- Malafa Mase (will graduate from Salesianum School)
- Lauren Moody (will graduate from DelCastle High School)
The 2016 Adult Black Achievers:
- Bettie Maybank and Robert Stewart of Barclaycard US
- Rodney Wayne Burruss, Jr., Dawan Collick and Bashir A. Holmes of the Christiana Care Health System
- Kalila Hines and Herbert White of the City of Wilmington
- Timothy M. Robinson and Marilyn Turner of Delmarva Power
- Nikolle A. Wisdom of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield
- Tia McKenzie-Joseph of M&T Bank
- Janell Jeffers of Navient
- Angela W. Harris of New Castle County Executive Office
- Terence Young of WSFS Bank
October 26, 2016 – FRONT PAGE STORY
By: Christina Jedra