Kofi Alum Inspires Next Generation of African American Youth
DeOnta Perry was a natural choice for keynote speaker at the 2015 graduation ceremony for students in Wilder’s Kofi services, a culturally specific, school-based program for African American youth. He is an Army veteran, a former guardian ad litem, and a recent college graduate who is now working on a Master of Social Work degree.
But his credentials were deeper than education and career choice. Fifteen years ago, DeOnta was himself a student in Kofi. “I encourage each and every one of you to become trailblazers for Project Kofi, beat the odds and cross barriers for the next generation, just as I did,” he told graduates during the ceremony.
Kofi, School and Family Work Together
DeOnta joined Kofi as a fifth grader who had switched elementary schools multiple times. He had been in fights, including an altercation in which another boy pulled a knife on him. His grades suffered. “I was on the verge of a downward spiral with academics and social behaviors at school,” DeOnta, now 25, recalls.
Instead, he thrived with guidance from Kofi counselors he says helped him find another path. “Kofi was probably one of the greatest things that happened,” he says.
Kofi students and their families work closely with counselors and other staff to identify and overcome barriers to success. For DeOnta, this meant guidance from counselors who served as role models. They pushed him to take on leadership roles and to raise his grades from Cs and Ds to As and Bs. “I had someone to talk to, someone to guide me the whole time I was in school,” he says.
LaRone Greer, a Kofi counselor at the time, says he helped DeOnta embrace his dual African American and Native American identity. Teachers and other staff at Monroe Community School were instrumental in DeOnta’s success. So were strong relationships with DeOnta’s family. His mother, Darlene Chess, was particularly supportive and involved in her son’s education. “I only did what a mother is supposed to do,” says Darlene. “I am so proud of him.”
Today, Kofi counselors, families and others at school continue to work together to help Kofi students overcome barriers. All are proud of the collective efforts that contribute to student success.
Paying It Forward by Working with Children
After high school, DeOnta joined the Army. He earned an associate degree from Central Texas College while in the military and then returned to the Twin Cities. Inspired in part by the help he received as a student, he graduated with high honors in December 2014 with a degree in human services from Metropolitan State University.
He then worked as a guardian ad litem for the state of Minnesota, focusing on African American children in Ramsey County. “A lot of kids I dealt with were surprised with me being in the position that I am,” he says.
In fall 2015, DeOnta began an online Master of Social Work Program through the University of Southern California. His career goal: working with children who need help at a pivotal time in their lives.