By Larry Bernard Perkins, VP and Assistant General Manager, PNC Arena/Carolina Hurricanes
One piece of advice that is often given to writers is to help readers see themselves in the story. I’ve realized, after writing the story of my life and looking at key events and decisions, that my life has been intertwined with the lives of others to such an extent that it’s hard to imagine what might have happened if this person or that person had not come into the picture. As you come along on this short review of my journey, I invite you to imagine how you and I might be able to influence the lives of young people we might not even know.
I’ve told my story many times now, about the journey of my life from my childhood working in the farm fields of Eastern North Carolina to holding high-level positions that put me in contact with US presidents, ambassadors, the Pope, world-class entertainers, and sports figures known the world over. Maybe you heard me tell this story, or maybe you’ve seen something about my recently completed memoir, “Buck Seventy-Two.”
“Buck Seventy-Two” came about because I wanted to share with others, as an inspiration and almost an instruction manual, how I believe hard work and persistence pulled me along on my drive to escape sharecropping and brutal treatment at the hands of my father and to reconnect with my mother.
But on another level the story is also about the love and persistence, sacrifice and ingenuity of the people who cared for me and taught me along the way—my grandparents, my beloved stepmother, and my aunts and uncles and cousins who fed me, mended my clothes, sheltered and loved me, or maybe even just laughed and made music with me. I can’t forget the teachers who inspired and humbled me and let me know I was good at a few things other than being the fastest cotton-picker anyone had seen in years.
The turning point in my life came when Pop—my abusive but hard-working father—demanded I choose between giving him my hard-earned and carefully saved last dollar, or take a heavy beating for the sin of accidentally letting a rabbit (our dinner) escape from a trap in the field. I gave him the dollar, because I knew how harsh those beatings were. I didn’t forgive him for many years. It was then I knew I had to leave Enfield and the farm, and make my own life. I was 16.
The divine part of this story—as in the influence of what I call infinite intelligence—is the connection between drive, work and the ability to ignore pain, and the almost miraculous appearance of help every time I needed it. There was the anonymous man who bought my train ticket to my mother’s neighborhood when I arrived in New York with $1.72 left in my pocket, not knowing exactly what to do next. That man and many other people showed up at just the right time to provide inspiration, a job, or a place to stay—always what I needed to survive and keep going toward my goals.
I believe there’s great potential in the lives of young people who are growing up without strong families, and in their caregivers who may also need support and resources. That’s why I started Foster-A-Voice LLC, a non-profit focused on awareness, education, providing support and being a voice for children in foster care.
I also support Caring Globally, a nonprofit that helps those who are caregivers for orphans or lost and abandoned children, and adults recovering from the effect of growing up in foster care, which despite the best efforts of thousands of professionals and foster parents, remains a troubled system. I have long supported improvements to the foster care system, and the recent extension of the age limit from 18 to 21 is a step in the right direction.
But I know there are other systems that should work better for children who are growing up poor and in unstable families and communities. Perhaps the connection we are fostering as I tell you my story can grow to have an impact on these problems:
- Rural children should have good schools. North Carolina has struggled with the problem of funding small and rural school systems, and we cannot quit working on this.
- When a family begins to succeed, not only do the children succeed, but the ripple effect in the community is powerful. This is where state policy can make such a big difference for families who are trying to do right for their children. For example, North Carolina can enact tax policy, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, that helps lower income families keep more of the money they earn so they can work themselves out of poverty. This has worked before in North Carolina and we can make it work again.
- Good child care should be widely available to working families. There was no such thing when I was growing up, but now we know what it takes to provide a rich, nurturing learning environment for children, and we know that it lays a strong foundation for lifelong success. North Carolina provides vouchers for working parents so they can place their children in good child care centers while they work or go to school. But the waiting lists are long and thousands of parents need our help. We can do more to make vouchers more widely available.
- Health insurance for adults in the “insurance coverage gap,” especially working parents, would go a long way toward helping families build stronger family economies and would help the economy overall.
I believe deeply in the power of persistence, hard work, and listening to the voice of infinite intelligence. But just as true is the importance of other people stepping up to lend a hand to those who have dreams and goals, and to help inspire those who don’t know how to dream. Maybe by telling the story in “Buck 72” I’ll spark more connections between those who read it, so that the thousands of children who aspire to success can reach their goals.