Dr. Steve Perry has been dubbed hip-hop’s favorite principal. Perry is the founder of one of the top high schools in the country, Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. Every year since its inception in 2005, Capital Prep has sent 100% of its low-income, minority and first generation high school graduates to four-year colleges.
Dr. Perry was first featured on CNN’s “Black in America” series and is currently CNN’s Education Contributor. Dr. Perry is one of the most talked about educators today because of the way he approaches education and students. He does this by incorporating the people kids see on television every day. He gets hip-hop celebrities on board to talk to kids about being a contributing member of society and putting academics first. Dr. Perry is changing the culture of education and everyone from the hood to Hollywood wants to be a part of his movement.
Take a look at part one of our interview as we talk with Dr. Perry about everything from Diddy to budget cuts. And make sure to check out his new book dropping this fall, “Push Has Come To Shove.”
GlobalGrind: How did Perry Principles start?
Dr. Steve Perry: I was at an event with Dr. Cornel West and Soledad O’Brien. We got up there and started talking, Cornel started doing Cornel, talking about how they control our images and I just got fed up with it. I’m like ‘Dude, who controls your images? 10-year-old kids with web pages?’ They said the New York Times, but nobody reads that. So I jumped in and she’s like ‘Gentlemen stop it,’ so everyone went back to their respective corners. From there, she contacted me and said that she wanted to take a look at the school and that they were doing this story called “Black in America” which I might be interested in. From there we did “Black in America 2,” which did relatively well. 14 million people watched it.
Some of the people who watched it were heads who were in hip-hop. I think they felt the connection. They felt like I was a contemporary. I think there are a lot of brothers in the industry who want to do something meaningful, they just don’t know how. They spent the first part of their career doing big music things. Then they look up and realize that this ain’t it, this isn’t the whole story. So somewhere in that vein we put together Perry’s Principles, we were talking about doing something under that name and in the meantime I had met some of these people.
I’m at a party and Kev Liles, I met him at the premiere of “Black in America 1.” Soledad said I should meet this cat. He had an engagement party, a small affair, but Diddy was there, Jay, Andre Harrell. I’m walking out and Diddy says ‘Whaddup Ni**a”(laughs). He said, “Good shit, I like what you do,” and I replied, “Good shit, I like what YOU do.” And then Jay told me that there are some things that he wants to do, and he would really like to talk about it. He clowned me for driving my kids to school. Before I left he let me know that he was serious and really wanted to do something, still I’m just like whatever. I don’t go out and make beats, you know, so if they want to do what I do, then you have to be real.
In the meantime, I get a call from Pharrell (Williams) saying the same thing. I was beginning to realize that a lot of these cats want to so something, but they’re not getting the shine that they deserve. People just see them as these bum rappers who have girls shaking their behinds around them. While this is present, there is a substance that I don’t think is appropriately represented in what they do and what they feel. In all of the conversations I have had with Diddy up until this past week, we never discussed music. At all. This hip-hop generation really is trying to do something; they just don’t know what to do.
Pharrell was kind and said he would make me a song. They give what they can give. I feel a real affection towards my generation of hip-hop. We owe it to the next generation to show that we can party with a purpose. They can’t come to me on the context of learning how to be a Christian. I’m not a pastor. But what I can show them is how to make a difference in the context of their own lives. I just need them to go with what they feel. They already feel a natural connection.
Then along the way you meet cats like John Legend. Honestly, when I talked to John Legend and Pharrell, I felt like I was talking to a colleague at a school. I said to Pharrell, ‘Don’t take this as an insult, but who taught you this?’ He said he just reads a lot (laughs). But his mom is getting her PhD if she already hasn’t. These cats have a sophistication that people just don’t see or understand. Another one is Steve Harvey. The only thing he cares about and mentions over and over again when we talk, is helping kids. I just spoke to Russell Simmons at his Hearts event and also at Steve Harvey’s event and now we’re going to do a feature of him. There are so many of them who want to reach out. And they are all brothers. Perry’s Principles is an opportunity to put some real brothers and sisters on a very mainstream network and let their stories be told.
What is your vision for education in America? What is something you would like to see done?
I’d like to see every child with a voucher. I’d like for them to be able to go to the school that they want to go to, they won’t be bound to a school based on where they live. For example in New York, if there’s a school that’s $15,000 per kid, then give a kid the $15,000. That may give a child a chance to move beyond his community and get himself together and then come back to that community as an educated person. I want the world to be full of just candidates.
What do you think about all these teachers getting laid off, schools closing, budget cuts etc.?
It’s a complicated answer but I will say this, the reason why the budget cuts are the way they are is because we lost a lot of money through what happened on Wall Street. But the major reason why is because of the teacher unions. They have raised the price of education so much that we can’t even afford it now. The teacher unions are the worst things that have ever happened to public education. They treat all teachers the same, which is not the case. They support average educators and will defend those who have failed to educate. Ultimately, the children lose.
These unions are for adults, not kids. I’m all for children, so we’re not on the same team. They’ve been lying to the nation, telling us that the reason that kids are performing poorly is because they were raised in poverty or their parents aren’t educated. If that was true, then that means we should just take all the black, Latino and poor kids and send them off somewhere, because there is no use in educating them, which is an absurd notion. There are too many successful kids all over the country; my school is just one of them that has shown that it doesn’t matter what color you are. As long as you have great teachers and a great school you can make amazing things happen. If you needed to have parents who were highly educated, then many of us shouldn’t be where we are today.
Going back to this celebrity angle, if I’m a kid on TV and I’m watching you talk to Pharrell or Diddy. Why should I listen to him? What can he do to really make me go to class?
That’s the best question because nobody knows how to keep a kid’s attention more than a man who sold almost 200 million records or one who is touring the country and tearing it up! They clearly know how to keep people’s attention. Not only can the kids learn from him, I also think that educators can learn something. There’s something about these guys that make them interesting to kids. They have the secret.
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