Locals To CNN’s Steve Perry: Man Up

CNN’s Education Guru Faces Backyard Backlash

By Ann-Marie Adams, Op-Ed Columnist

HARTFORD, CT — CNN’s point pundit on everything education is under fire in his own backyard.

And it’s about time some people in Hartford want Perry to Man Up.

Often, I’d hear from a friend: Look, Perry is on CNN again. His and other people’s fascination with Perry was interesting for several reasons. Prime among them was Perry’s determined rise to celebrity. I figured his fame was good for Connecticut because it helped put the spotlight on Hartford.

Perry is not from Hartford, however. He skipped Middletown, CT–his hometown– and came  to help city children excel. Soon after his prominent rise, complaints began. One critic, who was unemployed, said he, unlike Perry, has “actually been a teacher inside the classroom.” And he resented that “this light-skinned man” was telling teachers what to do.

This critic also resented Perry telling black people to pull themselves up by the bootstrap. That’s because Perry seemingly wanted to ignore the more than three centuries of slavery and the complex psychological and economic impact of a draconian machine that garnered wealth for the western world.

The CNN pundit wanted parents to be on the football field cheering on their children, instead of trying to manage two part-time minimum wage jobs. He shunned the idea that parent involvement also included working to pay bills, keeping a roof over their heads and feeding their children.

More importantly, they said, Perry’s children attended Breakthrough Magnet School, the district’s Blue Ribbon school.  As a result, they argued, he knew nothing about tackling the nasty attitudes of disengaged black and white teachers, who drive from the suburbs into the city. He knew nothing about blacks dealing with Latino administrators, who have an affinity to Europhilia (the love of everything European). He knew nothing about parents who have to subject their children to teachers, who believe not all children can learn. And he knew nothing about teachers, who ignored their children to the point that one student felt compel to blurt out to a substitute teacher: “I’m not learning anything. You’re the fifth sub in four days.”

That was the argument bandied about in the community.

Then I’d say to myself: Haters.

That’s because parochial people, most of whom always make it known that they were born in Hartford, resent others coming into Hartford and succeeding, supposedly displacing their kinfolk. Perry was an outsider making a difference.

As Perry’s star rose, talks persisted. Parents complained that Perry kicked their children out of school, that Perry had a 100 percent success rate because he picked bright students, and he had fewer than 50 students graduating each year. So, they argued, it would be baffling if he had failed to graduate only a few students.

Recently, I watched the controversial 2009 CNN special that featured Perry. On the surface, his message is inspiring and instructive: You can achieve if you work hard, overcome obstacles and be persistent. However, the subtext is familiar yet disturbing: Yeah, there’s racism. But get over it.

Perry’s principal message is at the crux of the local backlash.

That’s because blacks in Connecticut have been trying to get over slavery and its long-term effects since 1638. And the state has responded by enacting laws to prevent them. Take for example the Tanya McDowell incident in Norwalk. Norwalk officials arrested the 33-year-old, homeless woman because of a law that has its genesis in the 1830s.

In April 1833 a white teacher named Prudence Crandall opened a school for black girls in wealthy Canterbury. The state responded by enacting a law that banned blacks from traveling into the state for an education. In April 2011, McDowell’s decision to put her six-year-old in the Brookside Elementary School in a high-achieving and wealthy school district exposed that lingering custom. She was arrested and charged with a felony for stealing a quality education. She faces 20 years.

Slavery and racism perfected for almost five centuries cannot be over within five decades. Today, like the 1830s, a convicted white man has a better chance of getting a job than a black college graduate with no criminal record. Black unemployment rate today is the same level as it was in the 1960s. Blacks with credit scores of 750 and a graduate degree are subjected to predatory lenders and collectors. They also face discrimmination when seeking loans and apartments.

And Perry’s Washingtonian message that blacks should get over racism has rightfully rubbed some the wrong way — as it should.

Racism is not an obstacle to get over like a hurdle on a school playground. It’s a systemic problem to confront.

Ann-Marie Adams, Ph.D. writes a bi-weekly column for the Hartford Guardian. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Lawrence S. Pertillar Says:

    I remember my first encounter with Dr. Steve Perry. I believed him to be a student at Capital Community College and invited him to a play I had written and was going to produce for the The Lawrence Pertillar Drama Society, then a sperate entity of the school ‘but’ a part of its activity. My ‘first’ impression?
    Dr. Perry is not pretentious nor delusional. He gave me a ‘glance’ over as to say, “Who is ‘this’ guy?” That was several years ago. And that play, entitled, Transformation, held its premiere at a local church. AFTER it was pointed out to me ‘who’ Doctor Steve Perry was…I couldn’t believe it. So, for approximately two years, I observed him. Unlike other ‘educators’ I’ve noticed in the Hartford region, Dr. Perry is hands on. Not only is he ‘legit’ about wanting the best for his students, I’ve seen him interact with them after school, wait for them to board buses in inclimate weather, i.e. snow, rain, etc. AND, most importantly he has such a report with the students it is reflected on their faces. I didn’t hear these ‘kids’ being disrespectful or showing rude behavior. In fact, when his magnet school had been based atr Capital Community College prior to their move into their own facility, these children were/are more mature than those of college age going to the community college.

    I ‘am’ a Hartford native. Not only are the majority of Black folks lacking in self worth, confidence and ‘identity’. Many are illiterate too. And use excuses to remain locked into a slave mentality. It is in the environment that has been accepted.

    Those who dislike Dr. Perry because of his ‘light skin’ are the same people who rid themselves of a Black Board of Education President because he wore bow ties and rode a motorcycle. These are the same people who detest leadership shown by other black folks, they also rid themselves of ALL black folks sitting in elective seats of leadership…the mayor, deputy mayor, city manager, fire chief and Board of Education President. Just a short time ago (1987) ALL electable positions held representing the people in Hartford, had been Black people. TODAY, the police chief is a black man. What does this say? A lot about a people too ignorant to comprehend the importance of maintaining a dignity that feeds the motivation of their children. AND, Dr. Steve Perry IS that motivation. And they, the people, are more concerned about him receiving notoriety for his deeds, than they are the well being of themselves and/or their children.

    I observed Steve Perry for two years. We have ‘never’ met formally. Not even had a conversation. But I will say this, Steve Perry is brilliant, motivated and forthright. And for a Black man to possess these qualities in a ‘town’ that resents an intelligent Black MAN? That daily walk that ‘man’ takes uphill and alone, is a struggle.

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