Dr. Steve Perry, MSW wakes up every morning around 4:00 a.m. motivated and fueled to lead by example. The principal and co-founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, CT drops his kids off at school but makes it a point to also pick up a few other kids that attend his school.
Once the NAACP Image award nominee arrives on campus, he’s fully concentrated on improving the lives of Capital Prep’s 700 students. All of the students, or “trailblazers” as he calls them, are required to wear white full button oxfords with the school’s crest, no brand fitting khaki pants with a belt and navy blue blazers.
The self-proclaimed “captain of the ship” briefly explains a typical day for him at Capital Prep. “I see how the day unfolds,” says Dr. Perry. “I could observe classes, correct student behavior or deal with unions complaining about anything they can think of.”
Capital Prep promotes a high standard of excellence. One hundred percent of the school’s students, many of them first generation, graduate and go off to college. Leading the school since it opened its doors in 2006, Dr. Perry is extremely proud of this accomplishment.
He believes the school’s reputation as one of America’s leading schools involves building a strong support system and knowing when to allow others to be self-sufficient. “It starts by finding faculty and staff that are motivated,” says Dr. Perry with direct eye contact.
“It’s not about converting people; it’s about giving them room to do what they need to do.”
One graduation requirement for Capital Prep’s students is to spend 16 months on a social justice project. It’s part of Dr. Perry’s strategy to mold young people into civically engaged and socially responsible citizens.
The administrator’s own passion for social consciousness stems from his own childhood experiences. His mother, who gave birth to him on her 16th birthday, was one of two officers representing their housing project’s tenant association.
The other catalyst for Dr. Perry’s activism was experiencing racism and discrimination because he grew up black and poor. “People overlook the importance of microactivism where something happens to you, and you look to correct it because it’s socially unjust,” says Dr. Perry seated in one of Clark Atlanta University’s conference rooms.
“I wanted to hurt people some other way. I wanted to get more education than they thought I would get.”
The passionate best-selling author behind Man Up! and Push Has Come to Shove typically leaves an impression on parents and members of the community with whom he interacts. The extremely modest host of TV One’s Save My Son and contributor to CNN, MSNBC and Essence turned down numerous offers from major networks to host various programs.
He has been offered jobs as a superintendent but turned those down, too. “I can’t call myself famous or say I have fans,” says Dr. Perry. “I’ve said no many times. People thought I lost my mind. I’m a principal that coaches youth football. In between that, I do TV and other stuff.”
Two years passed before Dr. Perry, thanks to his publicist twisting his arm, agreed to host TV One‘s Save My Son. The dealbreaker for Dr. Perry, however, came from a conversation sparked by a random woman who encouraged him to take a closer look at his daily activities.
“She told me, ‘There are so many families that can benefit from your expertise. They’ll never benefit because they can’t get into your school,’” says Dr. Perry. “I’m constantly being made aware of how much I do means to me.”
Dr. Perry goes on to say, “I see the responsibility and the blessing in it. It proves to me how much I love what I do at every step along the way.”
According to Dr. Perry, Capital Prep receives about 4,200 applications. There isn’t a screening process, but only 700 students are admitted. The waiting list hurts Dr. Perry because he wants to bring all of the young people into the school.
His latest effort provides a solution to this problem.
Dr. Perry partnered with Bishop T.D. Jakes to launch the T.D. Jakes School of Leadership. It has been a conversation about two years in the making. The school is an opportunity, Dr. Perry says, to provide people access to a curriculum that is both “relevant and compelling.”
A transparent Dr. Perry lights up whenever he talks about the new development. One minute, he clenches his hands. When he explains something else, he pretends he’s writing in the palm of his hand.
He’s wanted to share the news about what he and Bishop Jakes have been working on since the planning stages.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” he says still seated at the head of the conference table with his hands on his knees. “We wanted to create an opportunity to give the community open admissions and access to a quality college education.”
“For so long, we’ve been consumers and not producers,” adds Dr. Perry. “It’s an opportunity for us to broaden the conversation and bind the access to education.”
Later that evening, Dr. Perry joined Bishop Jakes on-stage at the Apostle’s Woman Thou Are Loosed Leadership Conference to formally announce their partnership. Calling Bishop Jakes “one of the most humble and genuine men he’s ever met,” Dr. Perry speaks glowingly about their relationship.
Bishop Jakes also founded his own divinity school, The Potter’s House, so Dr. Perry aligns himself with the spiritual leader’s passion to lead other people.
“What makes me want to work with him is he has a commitment to education that most people don’t know about,” says Dr. Perry. “He sees himself as a teacher. We went through every iteration of what would work best and where it would work best.”
Making the announcement with Bishop Jakes also gives Dr. Perry a chance to exhale. He’s extending his outreach beyond youth. “Finally, I can help more kids and their parents update their education so they can improve their lives,” says Dr. Perry. “More importantly, they can feel better about themselves.”
During Dr. Perry’s visit to Clark Atlanta University, he goes over to neighboring university, Morehouse College, to sit in on one of his former student’s football practices. Throughout the day, his keeps his earpiece in and takes numerous calls from colleagues. After each call, he proclaims, “I’m such a principal.”
He attributes his passion for education and dedication to being a principal to one core element.
“Love is the most important thing than any specific skill,” says Dr. Perry. “You can be the most talented person in the world, if you can’t show students whatever age they are that you genuinely love them, then you will never touch the heart of anyone.”
When Dr. Perry is not traveling, he enjoys spending time with his family at home. He thinks about random talks he has in various airports with diverse people. He reflects on his work and day-to-day efforts to improve the lives of young people and now various communities.
He always comes away from those conversations understanding how appreciative people are of him. “Our community really does love education, and we really respect educators,” says Dr. Perry. “I have to live with the responsibility knowing that I was given a gift,” he says. The renowned educator adds, “What good is a gift that’s not shared? It’s not a gift if you don’t give it away.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.