The Harlem Shakedown


I was having a conversation about criminal justice reform with a friend last week. With voices as disparate as Michelle Alexander and Charles Koch speaking about the need for change, there seems to be a critical mass in place to roll back some of the draconian drug laws which have devastated black and brown communities over the last forty years and led to the problem of mass incarceration.. However, my friend and I were less enthusiastic. Mass incarceration has generated huge profits for corporations and individuals, from the for-profit prisons which house the convicted to the dozens of tangentially related companies which provide services for exploding prison populations. We reasoned that criminal justice reform could only occur if monied interests allowed it, and they’d only allow it if they’d found another way to make money. Indeed, they have: the privatization of education. Journalists and activists have been writing for years about the money being generated by charter schools, but the educational “saviors” continue to be hucksters looking to make a buck off of black and brown communities in a new way.

Case in point: Yesterday, the media trumpeted the announcement that Sean “Diddy” Combs is opening a charter school in Harlem. Named the Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School, the school is being overseen by Steve Perry, the founder and former principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, CT. Diddy is known for his varied business pursuits, including music, clothing and alcohol. Perry was everywhere in the national media for a time, showing up regularly on CNN as a contributor, and even having his own painfully exploitative show for a time, “Save my Son.” Put together a ruthless businessman and an education charlatan, and you have the perfect scheme to steal public money from parents who desperately want a better education for their children.

I don’t know Diddy, but I do know Steve Perry. I was in his Upward Bound program from 2001-2003, where the claim originated that his program sent 100% of the students who enrolled to four year colleges. He achieved this feat by cherry-picking high achieving students, shunning students with academic or behavioral difficulties which could have jeopardized his golden statistic, and literally kicking students out of the program who he felt weren’t going to a four-year school, or dared to express interest in a different path. I know the students who were kicked out of his program, because they were my friends. I know the students who were pushed out of the original Capital Prep, because they were my neighbors. I know the teachers who used to work for him, such as Ebony Murphy-Root, an English teacher at the elite Thacher School in Ojai, CA, because we bonded over our experiences with him.  Perry has been given so many passes by a corporate media machine looking for a black face to sell their agenda of school privatization, despite his comically inflated graduation rates and his abusive Twitter tirades. Even a cursory glance at the way he has conducted business during his time as an educator shows blatant disregard for the students, staff, and communities he claims to serve.

And in the end, that’s what it’s all about: conducting business.

Perry has been angling to turn his school in Hartford into a franchise for years. Jonathan Pelto of the Wait, What? blog has documented his process, although it hasn’t been a secret at all. When Perry stepped down from the leadership of the first Capital Prep, it was well known that he was doing so to expand his business. His first attempt was to bring another Hartford public school under his private business’s control. He then moved on to greener pastures in Bridgeport, CT , and has landed this third, new school in Harlem, thanks in no small part to Diddy’s lobbying. Yet Diddy is not entering the realm of education because he has a desire to improve education for students in Harlem. Diddy is a businessman, first and foremost. Like so many other business people, Diddy sees the profits that can be made by exploiting poor communities of color who want better education for their children. The partnership between Perry and Diddy is exactly why the phrase “deal with the devil” was coined, except in this case, it’s hard to tell who’s really the Prince of Darkness. Diddy gets the Capital Prep brand to front his school, and Perry gets the star power and support of big business to expand his franchise. All the while, the taxpayers of Harlem will be paying the kinds of gross management fees that are common in charter school scenarios, and watch as public funding is siphoned into a private enterprise for the profit of a handful of people, Perry and Diddy included. It’s a symbiotic relationship that is corrupt to its core.

Steve Perry has been one of the loudest voices in the push to privatize public education, with constant attacks on teachers and their unions (remarks start at 00:01:21), vocal support for vouchers and the other tools of the trade for school privatizers. He helped to create the space which Diddy is stepping into now, where moguls and celebrities can cash in on the latest wave of government money being funneled to private contractors. His reward is an educational franchise built on the exploitation of teachers, students and their families. He will undoubtedly collect a hefty paycheck as the CEO of Capital Preparatory Harlem School, at the taxpayer’s expense. The privatization train rolls forward, and Harlem parents will soon be left holding Diddy’s and Perry’s bag.



30 thoughts on “The Harlem Shakedown

    • Mr. Hurst you failed to explain the difference between normal charter schools agenda financially and academically, as oppose to your claim of a shakedown in their (Sean combs and Mr. Perry’s) partnership. Also, where in your story did you mention how the Prison Industry and urban education have any parallels?

  1. Hey Mr. Author,
    You did not suggest a solution or what you will do to help improve the poor quality education that these inner city kids receive.
    If it is not Diddy or Perry , it will be someone else.
    It is impossible to save every child or send or prep every child to college.
    There’s a proverb that says ” No deed no matter
    how good, well intentioned, or innocent is void of criticism ” such as yours.

    • The solution is Community Control of local public schools and this begins with community interest in a neighborhood institution whether or not you have children enrolled in that school. Every taxpayer is a stakeholder in their local public schools and should attend PTA, school board and city council meetings to be aware of the policies that are being implemented that will effect your neighborhood. This is not a new concept for NYC. Community activists have fought for community control since the sixties under the leadership of men like Rev. Milton Galamison, Jitu Weusi/Les Campbell and Rody McCoy.
      “If not Diddy or Perry, it will be someone else”…That someone else has got to be us, members of the community that are willing to spend time actively advocating or volunteering in our local schools.

    • What you said was correct…folks want to point to the charter schools (which, on average are no better or worse) being so detrimental, yet they can NEVER, EVER, come up with solutions that work. Saying “The community needs to get involved” is not an answer, it’s a platitude. If they wanted to be involved in significant numbers, the would have already. They don’t and I don’t see any signs that they will.

  2. “Yet Diddy is not entering the realm of education because he has desire to improve education for children in Harlen.” And the writer knows this how?

    • As an educator in urban schools myself, I have come to realize that a desire to fix education comes from genuinely attempting to gain understanding about the realm you are getting ready to enter. If Diddy truly wanted to impact students in urban communities, in doing his research and engaging with communities he would have known that privatizing education is indeed detrimental and continues to perpetuate inequities in our community.

    • The writer is factually incorrect. Sean has been educating inner city youth in New York and New Jersey since the 90’s. I worked as a tutor with Daddy’s House social services in 97 and 98. I was directly supervised by Sister Souljah who ran the program. He sent kids to camp and made tremendous impact on the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged children. Shame on this clown for taking time out of his life to belittle the efforts of others.

      • Sending kids to a camp is not the same as fixing the educational issues plaguing NYC schools. in fact, it’s apples to oranges; Kids do not receive a diploma from a camp but they do from schools. This is not to say that this wasn’t a positive experience for the kids you describe but this article is about Diddy and this Perry clown getting involved with opening a Charter School(s).
        Traditionally Charter Schools benefit from local & state tax money but are not held accountable by the city or the DOE. This has proven disastrous for many communities where the Charter School administrators quietly steal all the money and leave town screwing the families and faculties who show up one morning to padlocked doors.
        Or the other scenario are the Charter Schools that accept money from the parents as “tuition” or “contribution” but once again the school admins magically misappropriate that money and the school fires half their staff in order to remain profitable.
        Both scenarios harm the kids and families and cripple neighborhoods. And much like the article states, the administrators blatantly discriminate however they see fit to claim how smart/successful their students are. Private Schools can choose who they let in but Charter Schools have no right to discriminate because they receive public money.
        Charter Schools also discriminate against Learning Disabled students because they also lower overall test scores.
        If you do some research you will find that these discriminatory practices are illegal by federal law and mandate and yet the Charter schools act as though they were above the law.
        Diddy and Perry are doing this to make quick money and then the school will close down or change hands. Either way it will be viewed as another failure as Charter Schools often are.

    • Maybe because if there was a real genuine desire to assist harlem students, he would of toured quite a few public schools in the area to determine what the real need is first before deciding on committing to a charter school??? Maybe he would of sat down with a lot of parents from the area, sending their children to schools in the area, to talk about concerns, wish lists, needs and wants…. before deciding another charter school is the best way to support Harlem children.

      Seems to me he sounds like another Eva with a success charter school in the make….. no thank you.

  3. In any organization you are expected to meet certain minimum qualificatios, and to meet and maintain certain standards of behavior and achievements. When you don’t you get fired, let go, dismissed, removed etc, and replaced by someone who does. Simple. So if those kids didn’t maintain grades, behavior, or decided they didn’t want to go to college after attending a college prep school, it was right for them to be kicked out. I’m not understanding why you think they should! That’s coddling and was not the agreement.

    • This is why initiatives and interventions should be set in place, especially considering the context our students in urban schools come from. Zero tolerance policies are direct contributors to school-to-prison pipelines.

    • I think the crux of the issue is that there is a difference between a school that is only for the student interested in going to a four year college and a school whose teaching methodology ensures that it only churns out students who go to four year colleges. Perry’s charter creations, and many other charter creations, proport to be the latter, when they are really the former. Its unfair to punish a student , who qualified for your school, for their inability to be molded, when you werent being honest that your school is only for students that know they are college bound from the date of application.

      Furthermore ,many smart students are choosing to not go to four year colleges initially, not because of a lack of ability to get in, but for the same reasons they are attending a publically funded charter school vs a private prep school; lack of money. How does an educator justify punishing students he was enabled to assist because they were poor, because they are poor?

    • The point being made is that the same type of strategy cannot be used in a public school where they are charged with educating all kids no matter the circumstance. This would put any public school at a disadvantage when compared to charter schools which can be selective with the students allowed to enroll and stay enrolled.

  4. excellent expose. charters are a trojan horse, part of the sabotage undermining public education in the service of its privatization. education is not a business and children are not consumers or employees to be fired for poor performance.

  5. Not one shred of evidence that Sean Combs or Steve Perry are attempting to make money, I don’t know them or the author of this article but I could hear the Author’s bias jumping off the screen. It felt personal the entire time

  6. Are you kidding me?!

    “Diddy is a businessman, first and foremost. Like so many other business people, Diddy sees the profits that can be made by exploiting poor communities of color who want better education for their children.”

    Diddy is an entrepreneur, a millionare, do you honestly think he needs to exploit his OWN people, from his OWN community in order to make a couple bucks?

    This just sounds ridiculous, great efforts are being made to save education, be excited about them.

    • “do you honestly think he needs to exploit his OWN people, from his OWN community in order to make a couple bucks?”

      he’s been doing that for years. you think he’s making money from the royalties of people still buying his albums? hell, he exploited his own family to make money

  7. Sadly, I used to work at a charter school and there are many people in the community that play they are actively seeking to educate the children, but take the government’s money and misuse them (i.e: high paying executive positions at over $150k a year, poor scholars’ nutritional programs, but glorified staff and board meeting meals, etc.).

    As far as Diddy not being into education, I disagree. He had Daddy House (I am not sure if it is operating today), but they did offer tutoring services back when I was in high school because I had classmates that attended.

    The sad part is charter schools are becoming an easy way for people to become millionaires. But, it is only if they have an active position. Board members are not paid, so I am not even sure Diddy will make money, not unless his organization is sourced as a contractor – which would be a different problem. Last, charter schools are free education, just ran separate from the NYC Department of Education – they are not allowed to charge. All monies will come from the government.

    • The Board members may not get paid but they make money by providing services to the schools. For instance, I worked at charter school in NJ in 1999. The founder/board president owned a construction company. The Board hired his company to do the renovating/repairs to the building to get it ready for the students to start school. Another Board member had a family member who sold insurance. The Board hired that family member to be the insurance broker for the school’s staff. Just about every contract that was awarded to a business provide services to the school was owned/operated by a Board member or their family member.

      • Exactly. That’s the only way the board makes money, but some people think board members are paid directly. I’m very familiar with the charter school system and saw how board members misused funds a from the school. It’s very sad, but that’s how this world works

  8. Pingback: Just What We Need: More Black Celebrity Charter School Crooks… I Mean ‘Entrepreneurs’ – Black Agenda Report | Everyday News Update

  9. What efforts have been made to engage the institution and/or the professionals supporting it? How have they been received?

    If that hasn’t happened or is not available, I would be helped by knowing what the process for correction or adjustment was attempted or applied to Perry’s previous efforts. How were those received?

    I’m not particularly a fan of privately run public institutions because of the inherent conflicts of interest. The metrics for success and values (which determine resource allocation) are different to for each. I am also a professional who is experienced in leading people and making decisions; I know the difference between being responsible and involved versus observing from a tangential point-of-view.

    I understand the very valid comments shared here and having more information, as requested, would help me with the research that this article is prompting is to do.

  10. I would like clarification on why and how (low inference data) people in black and brown communities are being exploited by charter school enterprises and initiatives? Is it because they are being offered a choice by the private sector? Choice generates the spirit of competition…DOE schools would have to step up their game because they’ve done a crappy job for a really long time.

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