Regardless of class, race, or level of education “the one thing everybody can do is love these kids,” Steve Perry said. Specifically, he meant young African-American males.
Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, shared this advice Wednesday night during the third and final installment of a speaker series focusing on issues facing the black community, hosted by Erik Clemons (pictured on left with Perry), executive director and president of Connecticut Center for Art & Technology (ConnCAT) at Science Park.
Dozens filled an upstairs room at ConnCAT to listen and to ask questions about Perry’s talk, titled “Educating African-American Boys.”
With a dropout rate near zero percent, Perry’s record at Capital Preparatory Magnet School has caught the attention of U.S. News and World Report, CNN, and MSNBC. Every graduating senior at his school since the first class of 2006 has attended a four-year college.
Perry discussed the state of public schools—at one point calling New Haven’s “one of the worst school systems in America”—he also stressed the importance, and current lack of, emotional intelligence in young African-American men.
“From the time a boy is born,” he said, “we say, ‘Don’t be a girl.’”
Perry turned this traditional lesson plan on its head, urging both educators and parents to embrace the vulnerability of young African-American males. “We make it so that our boys can only cry in absolute rage,” said Perry. “It’s all right to cry.”
Equipped with this humility, young men can stop saying “I ain’t even try” and “I don’t care” and can admit when they need help, Perry said. Then learning can begin.
However, Perry added, “love is not always polite.”
“I think he’s right,” said Joan Howell afterwards. For Howell (pictured), a single mother of five, love can mean “trying not to intervene when someone tries to reprimand him,” her 12-year-old son, William Sapp.
Howell’s four older daughters, now in their 20s and 30s, tell her she shows her love sparingly, she said. So she has already taken Perry’s words to heart and done it differently with her youngest. “I hug him,” said Howell. “I tell him I love him.”