"Due to my lifestyle and the work that I do, I travel a lot. The two cities that I must say I travel to the most are Atlanta, Ga. – due to my CNN work – and Memphis, Tenn. – due to speaking engagements. So when I speak about Memphis, trust that I know what I'm talking about. Although I'm totally plugged in on the school merger and exact issues that came to bring it about, I do know that Memphis children are beautiful and Memphis is going to have to take a stand and have just as much pride in its children as it does its barbecue."
– Dr. Steve Perry
I had to dive in as if "Breaking News" to direct Dr. Steve Perry's conversation to his new TVONE show, "Save My Son." It's not that he doesn't love the show, but the gravitas in his tone when he's speaking about education assured me of his deep passion.
I figured we'd hop on the TV show, dig in on the mentors, moon-walk back to why he's doing it, two-step to his national educational concerns and turn him loose from there. In keeping with the purpose-driven educator that he is, Perry began with a point, continued on point and ended on a point.
"It wasn't my idea. A sister, Rochelle, and a company named Power House Productions presented an idea to me about a show that will work with black boys. That it wouldn't just be a show, but also a movement," Perry said in a special interview with The New Tri-State Defender.
"I have a lot of respect for TVONE and what they're doing, and so I got with it. The draw of the show is basically that kids want someone that will talk to them. I have had the advantage of having celebrity mentors and that helps for the ones that they know. Like they may know Charles Barkley and Steve Harvey, but they may not know Roland Martin or Derek Anderson. Still they respond to them all because these men are talking about things that they are going through."
The show also gives Perry the opportunity to show "the other side" of celebrities such as NBA Hall of Famer, Charles Barkley.
"I met Charles late one night when I was out to eat in Atlanta. Someone told me that Charles was in the same restaurant I was in and wanted to meet me. So I meet him, and even while so many people are coming up and wanting his autograph and taking pictures with him he stayed on course with what he wanted to talk to me about, which was education," said Perry.
"Atlanta, late at night, eating dinner and Charles Barkley wants to talk about education."
'Our sons can be saved'
"What do you think this show is going to do," I asked Perry. "Can you really penetrate the consciousness of this generation?"
"Yes," he said. "In this 'Save My Son" movement we are going to prove that our sons can be saved. We are going to prove that the one thing that all of these kids are missing is love. That if they had love in their lives they will embrace it and consider change. Even with kids that are supposed to be so hard that family and neighbors have given up on.
"Love will make them consider leaving the gang, or going to school or doing their homework," Perry said. "They will consider being a good dude, if they know that there is another option for them."
My thoughts ran to the 2010 educational documentary "Waiting on Superman" and prompted me to ask whether collectively we're still waiting on Superman.
"I don't know if we're waiting on Superman, but we are waiting on daddy," was the Perry response.
"There are a lot of people who just want their daddy to come home, sit at the dinner table, say, 'I love you, I'm proud of you, how was your day?' It would wash away the sins of decades and generations of actions. It will heal the hurt.'"
Fixed in solution-mode, Perry said if only 50 percent of area churches would come together on one issue for like an entire year, the issue would be removed, destroyed, wiped away in Memphis.
"The power of the Black Church in the north is one thing, but the power of the Black Church in the south is unmatched anywhere. The Black Church has power, but the problem is that the pastors can't get along. If y'all could figure out a way to get your churches on the same page, you guys would be all set."
'The schools are terrible'
Perry says he's yet to meet a person from Memphis that he didn't think was smart. One of the biggest issues here, however, is "a significant majority that can't read," he said, adding that, "the schools are terrible."
"I am indeed afraid for Memphis. I don't know how you as a community can sustain yourself while having so few educated young people in the information age....There is no tech company that's going to move to a community that doesn't have people that can read. The jobs that pay and sustain an individual require a level of education that is not being produced in Memphis City Schools."
He looks at cities such as New Haven, Conn. and Milwaukee, Wisc. and cities in states such as Alabama, Florida, Texas and Rhode Island and sees a similar dilemma.
"So is there something wrong with all the parents, seriously all of them," he asks. "Or is it the teachers who have been teaching in the system for 20 to 30 years?"
At some point, Memphis has to rise up," said Perry.
"What I have always been so proud of as a black person is that there was a Memphis, and that you have been able to organize in the way that you have. Watching those news reels about positive change has made me proud, but coming back to those communities and seeing the lack is frustrating," Perry said.
"Memphis is traditionally rich in many things. You guys love your basketball team and they're great, but how many of those guys graduate? They're not all going to the N.B.A. Somebody has got to love you guys enough to tell you the truth."
Noting that he has spoken at many Memphis churches and colleges, Perry called the children here beautiful.
"Your educational leadership is outmanned. Putting pizza in a new box doesn't make it new pizza. Brother (Kriner) Cash (MCS superintendent) is outmanned, and unless you bring in somebody who is going to fire a lot of people, then it's a waste of time," he said.
Put Perry in charge and he would break a huge school system down into smaller parts.
"I say the same thing in my home town. You cannot run 50 schools effectively....So pick the ones you can run and give the others to someone else. That's not acknowledging defeat, it's acknowledging your limitations."
Perry's "Save My Son" show airs at 8 p.m. CDT on TVONE on Wednesdays. I asked if he did a show on Memphis, what hope for the city would it reflect.
"On the day that Memphis decides that it loves children as much as it loves its other traditions, it will change, on that day. I hope that you guys can get to that day," he said.
"Memphis loves its barbecue, Memphis loves its blues and can't nobody pull the wool over your eyes on these things. There is a science to it and you guys are able to tell someone, 'No, that's not good barbecue," and you're through with it," Perry said.
"You know your music better than anybody. Everyone that lives there sings or has wrote at least one song. If you put your children first, then the same will be true. Your educators will say that they work hard. Well, I work hard to be a good chef, but I don't cook that well because I'm not a chef."
(Dr. Steve Perry is the founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn. Capital Prep has sent 100 percent of its predominantly low-income, minority, first-generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since it's first class graduated in 2006.)