“Be Your Own Cavalry” Call to Action for Black MBA Students
In a speech that was both a reflection on Black Americans’ long-fought struggle for justice and a rallying cry for Wharton’s Black MBA students to move confidently into the future, Egbert Perry, CE’76, GCE’79, WG’78, invoked the activist spirit of Whitney M. Young.
It has been said that, in the fight for equal opportunity for Blacks, Martin Luther King, Jr., was in the streets; Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was in the courts; and Whitney M. Young was in the boardrooms.
Young was an American civil rights leader who spearheaded equality efforts in U.S. business and government during his 10 years as head of the National Urban League (1961–71), one of the world’s largest civil rights organization.
At the 48th Annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference in January, Perry — the 2022 alumni honoree — addressed attendees with his thoughts of where the Black community has been and where he sees it heading. The conference, a business and leadership forum, is hosted each year by the Wharton African American MBA Association. Praising attendees for their leadership skills, Perry said, “You are in charge of your own destiny … but I challenge you to think about how to put your destiny into action.”
Perry is chairman and chief executive officer of the Integral Group, a company he co-founded in 1993 to build urban housing communities and whose mission is infused with Perry’s innate need to address injustice. Born in the nation of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean, Perry said the Integral Group tries to recreate the same feeling of community present in his home country. He explained that on the island of Antigua, there is a true embodiment of the African aphorism “it takes a village.”
Perry understood his family was poor but, while growing up, did not understand the societal implications of his family’s situation. “I was one of 11 children, and my father never earned more than $1,000 a year. But I did not live the mentality of poverty,” he said. “Yet, the crime of poverty is about more than a lack of money. The real poverty is that as Blacks we are given the worst educational opportunities and the worst living environments. I ask you to change that.”
Addressing how to create change, Perry said it is easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize the efforts of others.
“We should be using this time to strive, thrive, and advance,” he said. “But there is no cavalry coming. You are the cavalry … If we want change, we are the ones who must create that change.”