Dr. Steve Perry is a rebel with a cause. He is an innovative educator who has dedicated his entire professional life to transforming the lives of low-income families and minority children.
Using his charismatic oratory and leadership skills, Dr. Perry has been on a mission to educate others, especially people of color, to create a better life for themselves and their communities.
It is exactly this passion that inspired Dr. Perry to establish a magnet public school in a socially deprived, ethnically diverse area in downtown Hartford, Connecticut.
Under his leadership the PK-12 school is renowned for sending 100 percent of its students to four-year colleges, since its first class graduated in 2006.
Aside from his day job as principal at Capital Preparatory Magnet School, Dr. Perry is also an author, television host and outspoken media pundit who tackles issues relating to the African-American community, especially the complexities of raising black boys in a system stacked against them.
Over the weekend Dr. Perry took time from his demanding schedule to participate in the seventh Disney Dreamers Academy in Orlando, Florida. During the event, theGrio caught up with Dr. Perry to chat about his involvement.
He has been involved with Disney Dreamers, which every year handpicks select teens to attend the academy for four years. This year he served on the judging panel that whittled down 10,000 applications to 100 high-school kids who were chosen to attend.
Dr. Perry said he wasn’t only looking for a group of academically gifted students. Instead, he looked for those with a clear vision who had overcome problems to better their lives.
“These kids are both talented and challenged,” said Dr. Perry. “It’s easy for them to get caught up in their talents or their challenges and not understand that they’ve been blessed with both.”
In answer to the question whether he believes the Dreamers Academy, which takes place over four hectic days and three nights, can truly change a young person’s life. As Dr. Perry said, “One conversation can transform somebody’s life.”
“Anything that can touch you in a place where you’ve not been touched before or remind you of where you want to be. Something as powerful as a kind word, or as challenging as a discouraging word, can make you think that ‘I need to change my life.’”
He adds a major issue that crushes a young person’s dreams is self-esteem. “It’s the engine in every single person’s life.”
Still, Dr. Perry had tips for parents too. During the academy he hosted sessions exclusively for the “grown people.”
In the sit-down with theGrio, he said, “It’s very easy to use the excuse of parenting to divert their own responsibility to themselves, as far as their own dreams, and as far as their own mental health.”
“It’s all too easy for parents to think that they don’t have time to go to therapist, when I say you don’t have time not to, especially parents of color, especially parents from historically disadvantaged populations.”
“I want our parents here to understand that their strength fuels their children’s strength. The kids do learn from them.”
Dr. Perry, who is a social worker by training, seems to have an astute understanding of the overwhelming personal problems faced by those who have slipped through the cracks.
The vocal educator, who was born to a teen mom and raised in the projects, said the biggest issue facing single moms is emotional baggage and unresolved guilt.
“The biggest challenge for a lot of women is their own guilt,” he said. “Because you guys carry around more guilt than is reasonable. ”
“You tend to think that you the reason he is not taking care of his kids is because of you, which typically is not true. And that everything this child needs can be given to him by you, as opposed to him finding out on his own and working harder for himself.”
Still, Dr. Perry’s unapologetic style and willingness to take on the unions has earned him his fair share of critics. But you get the feeling he won’t back down till there’s real change in the American public school system.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti