A message of compassion and honesty was delivered to audience members at the second annual Black Men of Excellence banquet.
The Black Male Initiative held the banquet in the student center ballrooms Saturday to honor graduating seniors, graduate students and outstanding freshmen who made an impact on campus through scholarship, activism and leadership.
Steve Perry, founder of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Connecticut was the keynote speaker for the second annual Black Men of Excellence banquet.
Perry speaks across the U.S. and said the commitment from SIU is what made him come. He said the fight for equality was not over and people should not be satisfied with only making progress.
“Equality will not fall in our laps,” he said. “We need action. We must constantly ask ourselves, ‘What we are doing to move ourselves closer to equality?’”
Amber McKinley, a junior from Chicago studying social work, said Perry’s speech was very impactful.
“When I heard Dr. Perry speak, I felt that the things he touched on were necessary topics, especially with such a diverse crowd present,” she said. “A lot of the time we preach diversity and inclusion to African Americans so it was great to hear a topic that everyone could relate to.”
Perry also spoke on the struggle between linking activism with academia.
“One of the challenges I have with academia, is that it is so damned academic,” he said.
Perry emphasized the importance of building a team to build equality, it is not about color, but about consciousness, he said.
“We spend so much time talking and planning, but we spend a lot less time actually doing,” he said. “We need a lot more people actually making things happen, changing the conditions in which our children and adults live in.”
McKinley said Perry’s speech changed her view on a bevy of diversity issues.
“I know it was a lot of students and educators in the room who understand the struggle of equality in education,” she said. “His speech helped me personally develop a different perspective on the issue that I had never thought of before.”
Alexander Martin, a first year graduate student from Normal studying educational administration and higher education, said Perry made a positive impact on everyone in the room.
“His sheer passion for providing top quality education, and his honesty towards stating what needs to be done to provide our children with a better educational up-bringing made him a perfect choice for a keynote speaker,” Martin said
According to a study done by the National Center for Education Statistics, from 1976 to 2010, the college enrollment rate for African American students rose from 9 percent to 14 percent.
“It’s vital for young black males to see someone stand up against academia and demand a better performance not only out of our students, but out of our teachers as well,” Martin said.
Perry said it is important to remain accessible to the community, even with high academic accolades.
“I think it’s important for our children to understand that there are people like them, who care enough about them to, if necessary, make enemies to make a change,” he said.
“When children understand that you are ride-or-die for them, they’ll do whatever they can to make you proud. All I want to do is give it all I got, and when it’s all said and done, I want them to know that they mean more to me than they will ever know.”
Kia Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @KiaSmith__ or 536-3311