Steve Perry discusses the importance of equal, competitive education and opportunities for children of all backgrounds.

'Your Life Matters'

Renowned educator Steve Perry delivers Louis L. Redding lecture


8:45 a.m., April 8, 2016--Steve Perry, education advocate and founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet Schools, was the featured speaker in the University’s Louis L. Redding Lecture on Civil Rights and Social Justice on April 5. 

The evening began with the presentation of the 2016 Louis Redding Award to Jessica Cornwell, residence hall coordinator for Residence Life and Housing, and the inaugural Louis L. Redding Scholar Diversity Award to senior Eli Webster, a Ronald E. McNair Scholar.

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Those presentations were followed by Perry’s talk, titled “Your Life Matters.”

‘Your Life Matters’

With passion and poignancy, Perry spoke about his mission to provide equal, competitive education and opportunities for children from all backgrounds.

“When everybody’s life matters what happens is we begin to we allow everyone access to a quality education,” Perry said.

Perry grew up poor, but worked his way to earn a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Hartford. His experiences led him to the idea that success in life is not determined by where you start, but where you finish. 

During his presentation, Perry addressed the struggle with local schools in Wilmington and the problem across the country with an emphasis on athletics versus academics as a way to help underprivileged children go to college.

He expressed concern that the equity issues Louis Redding battled are still current in society today. He said he believes that, as a nation, it is imperative we find a solution to these circumstances. 

“We are about our best when we are united,” said Perry. “We are at our best when we come together.”

Through his studies, he has observed effective schools, and noticed systematic faults, particularly impacting poorer communities. 

“I wanted to prove that there was nothing wrong with our kids,” said Perry. “I wanted to prove that if we applied the same [education] model to [low-income] children, we could get exactly the same or better results.” 

Perry established the first Capital Preparatory Magnet School, adapting the successful practices he had observed — longer school days and school year, an advisory system and a college track curriculum. 

Since 2005, when the first school was founded, Perry boasts that 100 percent of his students graduated and went on to a four-year college. He predicts that his second school will have the same results for their first graduating cohort.  

“Just like trees,” Perry said, “children need the right environment, support and care to thrive.” 

Perry has partnered with rapper Sean (Puff Daddy) Combs to establish a Capital Preparatory School in Harlem. Set to open in the fall 2016, the school will serve 160 sixth and seventh grade students. 

Perry is an education contributor for MSNBC and CNN, an Essence Magazine columnist, host of the No. 1 docudrama for TVONE, Save My Son, and was featured in CNN’s Black In America series. 

He has published two book including, Push Has Come To Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve — Even If It Means Picking a Fight.

Louis L. Redding Awards

The 2016 Louis Redding Award was presented to Cornwell, in recognition of her work creating “We’re 1st,” a first generation student network, assisting the UD Scholars Program for students of color, first-generation college students or low-income students, leading the Martin Luther King Day of Service program and being an ally of the Center for the Study of Diversity.

Jim Tweedy, senior associate director in Residence Life and Housing, said in his nomination for Cromwell, “I have rarely in my long student affairs career encountered a person so committed and passionate toward enhancing the sense of belonging for our underrepresented students and educating our majority students and staff on topics of equity and inclusion and the power of diverse interactions and diverse teams.”

The inaugural Louis L. Redding Scholar Diversity Award was presented to Eli Webster, who is working on his senior thesis while preparing for a doctoral program in criminology.

“We wanted to recognize work by a student at the University of Delaware who not only embodies academic excellence, but also promotes the betterment of the UD campus through racial and cultural awareness about issues of diversity and social justice,” said Carol Henderson, vice provost for diversity.

Webster served as the Black Student Union president from 2014-15, helped lead students in a peaceful protest at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement on campus, and served as a UD Engaged Learners peer mentor. As a resident assistant, he lead intercultural dialogues about issues of diversity and equality on campus with undergraduate students of all backgrounds.

Aaron Kupchik, professor of sociology, nominated Webster. “I could not be more impressed with his intelligence, leadership abilities, and passion form improving our University’s climate,” Kupchik said. “I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to mentor and to learn from such an extraordinary student.”

Louis L. Redding Lecture Series  

UD’s Louis L. Redding Lecture Series was established to recognize the civil rights efforts of Louis L. Redding, the first African American attorney admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1929. He would be the only African American attorney practicing law in Delaware for the next 25 years.

In 1954, Redding became part of the legal team that argued the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1961, he successfully argued another case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that segregating public spaces is not allowed.

In 1998, the University of Delaware created the Louis L. Redding Chair for the Study of Law and Public Policy, and in 2013 a residence hall was named in his honor on the Newark campus.

The Louis L. Redding Lecture is sponsored by the vice provost for diversity, the Office of Student Life, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and Human Development, the Honors Program and the Center for the Study of Diversity.

Article by Elizabeth Adams

Photos by Duane Perry

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