Dr. Steve Perry: Breaking America's Educational Shackles
Despite the state of Connecticut having the largest racial disparity in academics in the country, one man is standing at the forefront of bridging the gap a child at a time. That man is the principal of Capital Prep Magnet School, Dr. Steve Perry.
Dr. Perry stunned millions of viewers of CNN’s Black In America 2 program when they learned that every Capital Prep graduate goes on to attend college, especially astounding considering that in Connecticut, African-American students perform three grade levels behind their white peers.
But there’s more to the man however then stellar rankings in academia, there’s an incredible desire to push his people to do better, stop blaming the “man” and step up to the plate. Dr. Perry is not one to hold his tongue; he says what he means and means what he says.
So when he says African Americans are personifying the government into the “Boogie Man,” he means it. Likewise when he says that his students are beautiful and he “sees the world in them,” he means it as well. It’s easy to be captivated by his school’s remarkable rankings but HipHopWired found it even more captivating to have a straight talk conversation with the man in charge in the first half of this two-part interview.
HipHopWired: How did CNN contact you for the Black In America Program?
Dr. Perry: I was doing a panel and Soledad O’Brien was the moderator. Andre Leon Talley was there, brother by the name of James Morton was there who directed a film I’m in called What Black Men Think and Cornel West was up there. So Soledad had heard Cornel say some stuff and heard me get at him for what he said. She had never even seen anybody get at Cornel West in that way because he said something that I thought was foolish and we got it in.
HipHopWired: What’d he say?
Dr. Perry: Aww man, Cornel is like so many of these Black intellectuals. He was talking about how the media controls Black people’s images and I said, who are you talking about? Name them. Who controls you? He said, well the media. That’s like saying the government; I don’t know who that is. He said well you don’t understand, I said well okay tell me so I can understand. He said the media like the New York Times… I said, I don’t read the New York Times. He said, awww you don’t read the New York Times? How can you be educated and not read the New York Times?! I said what does the New York Times have to do with all this? So you’re telling me the New York Times owns you? He said they don’t own me. I said they don’t own me either. I told him there are children that have websites that control their own image. So why is it the New York Times controls your image? Are you in the New York Times that often? He said no. So what are you talking about?! She said brothers, brothers, gentlemen, gentlemen, stop it, stop it! I’m cool, I’m cool if he’s cool. Just like that song by Anthony Hamilton, “I’m cool, you’re cool, we’re cool” (Laughs). Quit your worrying baby.
Then he was talking about how the government needs to help Black people. I said again, who are you talking about?! The Black principals, preachers and teachers? The Black elected officials? The Black parents? Who are you talking about with the government?! There are a lot of Black people that determine whether or not a Black person is going to get a job, whether or not they like them. You talking about them? What government are you talking about?! He said, naw I’m talking about the government. I said listen bro, we’re in a situation right now where we control our destiny.
Dr. Perry: Is there such a thing as racism? God knows yes but there’s bad weather too. You gotta live through both, you don’t have choice. That’s why I wrote the book, “Man Up! Nobody’s Coming To Save Us” cause you gotta do what you gotta do, right?
Dr. Perry: Malcolm once said if you lay your head in the lap of a man with a noose, then who kills you?
HipHopWired: Good point. So speaking of your book, Man Up, I know you criticize a lot of people for constantly blaming white America for problems in the Black community. So with that being said, what’s your take on the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. case?
Dr. Perry: I think that brother should’ve shut his damn mouth! That’s what I think.
HipHopWired: Wow, really?!
Dr. Perry: Same thing I would do, same thing I teach my little Black boys. When somebody’s standing in front of you with a weapon, handcuffs and a baton, you should just fall back.
HipHopWired: So why do you think people are so quick to jump on “the White man” when something like this happens?
Dr. Perry: Because it’s easy! It’s easy, it’s easy for us to blame something on the Boogie Man. It’s what we do for children when we explain the inexplicable by putting it on the back of the Boogie Man and we as adults have to be more thoughtful than that. I mean come on, who hasn’t told a little Black boy when the police pull you over, show em’ your hands. Shut your mouth and get home before you end up dead. Right?
Dr. Perry: He gets up there and is like, “Oh it’s just because I’m a Black man. Come on chief!
HipHopWired: So you don’t think it was racial profiling? You don’t?
Dr. Perry: Oh no no. I’m for sure it was racial profiling. For sure, for sure! They wouldn’t have done that if he was a white guy for sure. For suuuuuuuuuure, for suuuuuuuuuure! For other white professors, come on, of course not but is it a national tragedy? NO! He’s got Charles Ogletree as his attorney. Come on man, how many of us have been mistreated, and mishandled by police officers and didn’t have Charles Ogletree or Mr. Obama to call on. Come on’ man!
HipHopWired: What do you think of Glenn Beck calling Obama a racist?
Dr. Perry: Ahhhh oh please. Why do we listen to Glenn Beck? Next question. You can’t ask me about Glenn Beck. (Laughs) I mean really! That doesn’t even make sense. What do you think of the crazy person that’s’ doing something crazy? Uhhhhhhhh he’s pretty crazy.
HipHopWired: (Laughs) Alright so speaking of Obama, what do you think about this notion we have in the community that he’s our savior, oh that’s he here to save us from racism and he’s going to save us from the white man and he’s here to save and solve everything. What do you think about that?
Dr. Perry: I think if there’s a person on earth I don’t want to be it is Barack Obama because there is literally nothing that he can do or say that is not under the microscope. I’m talking about one of those microphones they use to look at atoms, that kind of microscope. Come on man, God forbid he say something really sweet to some young lady….I mean he just can’t even be human.
HipHopWired: That’s true.
Dr. Perry: He comes out with a crumb on his face from eating, you catch him in a du rag…I mean it’s just not gonna be a good look for him. He doesn’t have very many options. He just doesn’t. He can’t even be human. Even if he’s God like, he’ll get criticized for that. Why would you wanna be him?
HipHopWired: Why do you think we cling to him? Why did we go to him as a people and people had this false notion that he’s so “God-like” and he’s just gonna be the problem solver to save the day.
Dr. Perry: I mean you gotta give the brother props for what he did. Let’s think about what he did, he did the unbelievable.
Dr. Perry: He did the unbelievable and who doesn’t celebrate the great athletic successes of someone like Lebron James, you watch and you think: Damn that dude’s pretty good. I mean who doesn’t see someone sing and think man…WOW and then project or even live a greater capacity than they have. We don’t just look at the talent, we look at what else that we could put on them. Likewise we see someone who’s a great orator, who’s a good leader, who seems to be an otherwise decent human being who does the UNBELIEVABLE. This brother beat white folks to be the President of the United States…come on man! You gotta give it up for that, and he didn’t do it by a little bit. He whooped their behinds!…a war hero, he put it on him.
HipHopWired: You think people will ever just let up on Obama? Just let him live?
Dr. Perry: No.
HipHopWired: No? Never?
Dr. Perry: No. It can’t happen. No, no, not unless he does something really bad and he’s on that road to redemption cause we’re kinda cool with that. We kinda feel that but naw everyday that he walks this earth he is held to a higher standard than any president that has ever lived. No one should be put to that level of scrutiny. If there were more famous people we’d find that there are less people who we used to think were perfect. We’d find out about their insecurities. We’d find out about what they eat and how they eat. We’d find out about how they didn’t get along with their wife this morning and now they ain’t talking. How they spank their kids or said something really mean to one of their kids. We’d find out that they’re really human man, they did something while not illegal you had to say….damn, why’d you have to do that dude?
You would see in them what we see in our friends and our enemies. We would see their humanity. You’d see the limitations of a human. That’s what we have and we all have it. Even those of us who have a little bit of shine, we don’t have to deal with that but most places most of us won’t even be noticed. Right? Someone like Tyler Perry who’s famous in the Black community goes to most parts of the white community and no one would even know who he was, so he can just live. He’s a billionaire and he can just live. Right, but Barack…what can he do? He can’t get his hair cut without somebody saying something about it.
HipHopWired: Very true. We do watch everything he does under a microscope.
Dr. Perry: He doesn’t deserve that. No one deserves that. You’re going to make a mistake, please God. You might call somebody stupid that you may not have meant to call stupid but …come on man, imagine somebody following you around with a camera everywhere you go. Think of all the things you can’t do or all the people you can’t call while that camera’s on…
HipHopWired: So what do you think about the beer summit?
Dr. Perry: Terrible waste of time. Terrible waste of time!
HipHopWired: You think so?
Dr. Perry: Terrible waste of time, I don’t care if those two get along ever. Of all the issues that are going on in the entire world today, there are a couple of world leaders I’d be cool if he sat down with. I’d rather him be sitting down with a teacher’s union telling them to set our people free. I’d be willing to have that conversation but come on. While I’m asking that he be given a pass on this decision, I can also disagree with it. So I disagree with it, it’s just a tremendous waste of air. It bothers me to answer questions about this whole incident. It is ridiculous. Like the incident with the children at the pool, so what they can’t go to that pool.
HipHopWired: You didn’t’ have a problem with the children being kicked out the pool?!
Dr. Perry: No, no, no, the pool? No. You know why?
Dr. Perry: Because I’m more concerned about the fact that they live in a city where almost 400 people are murdered. I’m more concerned about their schools being some of the worst in America. I’m more concerned about the fact that the city is bankrupt.
HipHopWired: So we should focus on the bigger issue and not just ohhh, they didn’t get to swim in a pool?
Dr. Perry: Think about that, let’s say they had gotten to swim there that day. Whoa! What impact would that have had on their life? I mean for real, let’s just play this in a different direction. So they didn’t do that, you know what would’ve happened? They would’ve gone and swam and what would happen? Would their life have been enriched? Would they have been more likely to graduate from high school or college? Better parents or colleagues? No, not at all. Do I have a problem with it? Yeah, it’s a jerk thing to do. Why would you mistreat kids? Regardless of their hue. Is it something we need to waste time talking about? No, no no. For what? Tyler Perry’s sending them to Disney World. How about that? You know what breaks my heart?
HipHopWired: What breaks your heart?
Dr. Perry: When one of my little Black boys says to one of my very dark skin Black girls, he calls her a gorilla.
HipHopWired: Oh no…
Dr. Perry: That makes me wanna choke his little behind out. That hurts.
HipHopWired: Where do you think these kids are getting this from?
Dr. Perry: Us talking about stuff that means nothing and not parenting and raising them. Us folks saying all these really ridiculous things when we need to be taking care of these daggone kids. This little girls is going to live with that FOREVER. I guarantee if you ask Michelle Obama about some insults she got when she was little, she can tell you every single one. First lady of the United States of America, I bet she knows every insult she’s had. I bet she can tell you who said em’ too.
HipHopWired: Right, and I remember at the Black In America 2 pre-screening you talked about how little girls at your school have low self esteem…
Dr. Perry: Girls in this country have low self-esteem.
HipHopWired: Exactly, so how do you think Hip-Hop affects that? Hip-Hop is notorious for promoting this misogynistic view of women. How do you think it contributes to that?
Dr. Perry: Hip-Hop is the forefront of misogyny. Hip-Hop is misogynistic. Much as I loved Jigga, much as I respect the talents of someone like Biggie or Lil Wayne, or whomever, you gotta listen to what these brothers are saying. I mean God knows…if you listen to my Pandora while I’m working out, I have the Jigga station on but I can’t listen to that in front of my kids. There are a lot of things I wouldn’t do in front of my children. So that’s not the litmus test by which any decision I make should be judged because there are a lot of things I wouldn’t do in front of my kids but Hip-Hop is misogynistic. You can’t deny that. It’s just what it is.
HipHopWired: So with the boys at your school, how do you flip that? A lot of these young boys, all they wanna do is be a rapper or be like Lil Wayne or be like Jay. How do you flip that and get that out of them?
Dr. Perry: Boys as a group, one of the reasons why so many of these children are doing so poorly is because they don’t have enough men in their life. You cannot overstate that. You need some men in your life. You need someone that’s going to come in and say, I will break your arm if you ever do something like that again.
HipHopWired: Just like that?
Dr. Perry: Just that simple. Not outta the blue, you gotta establish relationships. You can’t go up to people and talk like that but they need to understand that something that they’ve done is so bad that it will cause you such great discomfort. Then they’re like ooooh, you speak man. Okay, okay, alright alright I get you. You know like this little boy said to me, the one who called her a gorilla…I said what if I make you stand in front of the entire school, “I ain’t scared.” I said you know what, you know what you just told me? You’re scared cause you would not have told me that if you weren’t scared. Now that you’re scared, I’mma have fun with you. Watch and see what I do to you.
HipHopWired: What’d you do?
Dr. Perry: Oh we had a lil conversation, where I made him think I was gonna kick him outta the school. He started crying and I said….Are those tears?! Are you crying? Did somebody hurt your feelings? It doesn’t feel good to have your feelings hurt. In his mind he hadn’t done anything wrong because she cussed at him. So he called her a gorilla.
HipHopWired: Right, so with young Black boys especially in their junior high school years, they have this whole “cool factor.” They wanna be cool, they wanna fit in and they say things like that to girls. What do you do to get them over that?
Dr. Perry: A lot. A lot. It is an ongoing very difficult process. We do everything from student developed peer mentoring programs to soft diplomacy where you throw your arm around their shoulder and you say, “Come on bruh, you’re so much better than that. Why would you do that? You see how bad you hurt that little girl? Did she deserve that? I mean really, in all that she may have said to you. Is that how you had to go? That hard?” To, you know what? That girl’s bigger than you. I should let her beat you up. I should walk outta here and let her punch you in the face…cause you can’t fight and I know she can. So what if I just turn her loose on you, just let her beat the snot outta you. So you know what you gotta do.
Stay tuned for Part 2 as Dr. Perry talks more about America’s education system and inspiring Black youths to reach their full potential.