On the Record With...Dr. Steve Perry

Call it philanthropy or giving back, this passionate educator says, “I’m busting my a-- to make sure that our children don’t have to live and die in squalor.”

Posted: 02/16/2014 12:00 AM EST

Honestly, I am going to sound like a Black Nationalist but I have looked around at other people and I have never felt like any other race or group of people was better than us. I can’t and could never be convinced of it. Ever since I was about 8 or 9 years old, there was nothing that anybody could say to me that would me make feel like they were better than us. I just hated that feeling that people thought they were. And felt like I could prove that they were wrong.

I know that I’m right when I look at my students at Capital Preparatory Magnet School. I’ll be honest; I think our kids are better. If I showed you where our school is, you would see a liquor store, a closed-down barbershop, a prerequisite sneaker store for the $150 sneakers, a nail salon and a couple of blacked out buildings. For students to walk in five degree weather to Capital Prep and do what we ask them to do… They aren’t regular. They’re not regular at all. They are exceptional!

The problem is you keep putting them in these failed schools until we can’t see how special and different they are. You can put a rich white kid in some of these raggedy schools and the same things happen to them when they come out of there. Nothing.

I feel like I’m fighting for our community. I don’t know if it's giving back but I’m busting my a-- to make sure that our children don’t have to live and die in squalor.

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I believe in life we do one of two things: we either make a living, which is what we do to pay the bills, or we make a life, which is what we do to pay our debt on this earth. No one goes from being born on his mother's 16th birthday as a third-generation child living in a housing project to traveling the world talking about education and our community without a lot of people making a lot of sacrifices. There was a time when my friends and I were involved in a caper. They would say, “You need to leave,” just because they felt like I had the torch. They refused to let it burn out, so they would take a hit for me. You don’t get what I have without people believing in you. Therefore, I’m trying work every day just trying to tell everybody, "thank you."

I’m humble because never in my life did I expect to receive recognition for helping kids. Now traveling for work and speaking around the world, I end up meeting a lot of rich and famous people, and most famous people aren’t rich. I have paid for dinner for quite a few of them, but there is not one dude that I’ve ever met who has made me think, “Man, I would love his life.” Not one. Why is that? There is nothing that I’ve ever done that is more fun and rewarding than being a principal. Nothing. For me, it's a great joy to be able to do this. I feel like the luckiest man on earth.

Educator, best-selling author and motivational speaker Dr. Steve Perry is the founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. Capital Prep has sent 100 percent of its predominantly low-income, minority, first generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since its first class graduated in 2006.  

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(Photo: Earl Gibson III)

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