Meet Keon Berry: A Young Philantropist

Her Campus CAU recently had the pleasure of interviewing Keon Berry. Keon is a young philanthropist from Connecticut who attends Morehouse College and is set to graduate in the year 2020. Through his matriculation, he has established himself as a hard-worker and a well-known face amongst the Atlanta University Center.

Her Campus: Why did you choose Morehouse?

Keon: So Morehouse was initiated by a dream. I had a dream that I got accepted into Morehouse and when I woke up, I actually got my acceptance letter. So it was more of signs that were like “yo, you should go here.” I didn’t know what I was getting myself into because I’m from Connecticut and we don’t really talk about Morehouse. We didn’t know anything about Morehouse. So I was like “well, we’ll see.” I started looking up some things and some videos and I was like “dang, I think this could really be for me.” So I bought into it. Initially, I didn’t know about it but through following different signs, I knew I had to make it there. I remember watching TV one day and I looked and there was a Morehouse commercial-I was like Morehouse is never on TV. Like literally never on TV in Connecticut and the fact that I was just seeing all these signs make me think like, okay...maybe I should look into it.

Her Campus: Wow, that’s interesting. That’s nothing but God! So, coming from Connecticut, how was the transition? What is Connecticut like actually?

Keon: *laughs* It’s very interesting. I think on a racial perspective, in some ways, you’ll find a lot of good white people. Here [Atlanta] is so different. Like the whole racism thing that people have experienced, I didn’t experience as much in the North--in terms of blatant racism. A lot of racism up there was more systematic or behind closed doors. It wouldn’t be as open. I’ll say the setting is much calmer. There’s not really a city it's just suburbia. All of it is just suburbs. There’s some farm area but that’s just further out. It's calm, there’s not a lot to do really. There’s nothing really popping up there.

Her Campus: So what was the biggest culture shock for you when you came to Atlanta?

Keon: Seeing black people who actually helped one another. There is a large "crabs in the barrel" ideology in Connecticut. Often times, competing against myself wasn’t an option because I had to compete against everyone around me. They made it seem like I had to, showing me that my own community did not support me, individually, let alone each other. They didn’t want to see me win. But because I had to compete, I understand that aspect of life, however, I’ll say it wasn’t the best thing because I personally feel like we should only compete against ourselves, but it was what I had to do.

Her Campus: That’s understandable. So my next question; what is Berry Academy?

Keon: Berry Academy is a platform for social change. What we do is, we provide students with opportunities, resources, and empowerment. Just, different life skills that we believe will prepare them for life. I think we do that pretty well. The first way is through academic excellence. Which lets students know that if they constantly pursue knowledge, it will equip them to take on the world. We believe in character development; we believe that students who have a well-developed character and display positive characteristics of role models are the most equipped to take on the world. We preach civic responsibility; we don’t want them [Berry Academy students] to just be engaged, but we want them to be responsible. We want them to realize that you have to give back to the community, the community that has given to you. They have to be the change that they want to see, you know? With those ideals, we believe that it can help them become positive catalysts of change by unlocking their full self-potential.

Her Campus: Who or what made you create Berry Academy?

Keon: God. Literally all God. I had a dream about it. I was like “I’m not doing this God...I’m a freshman in college”--this dream occurred the first semester of my freshman year.  A couple of days later, the same dream occurred and I couldn't go to sleep. I was like “Alright, okay. I’ll do it. Whatever.” So, I began to draw because the idea lingered in my head. Literally, what I dreamed, I had an artist draw and it was pretty identical. It was so cool. The logo that I drew became our logo when we initially branded Berry Academy. That was kind of the start of it to me.

Her Campus: So you were talking about leadership. Why is leadership important to you? Why is it important to you as a black man? Especially as a black man in college who is making something of himself, creating an image that he is trying to project into the community in order to help others build themselves up?

Keon: I think this world honestly today is such a crazy place. I always tell God, “There’s so much work to do. Where do I begin?” There’s this saying that goes “yesterday I was smart so I tried to change the world, today I am wise so I’m changing myself.” Change starts with yourself so I try to be a beacon of hope for just other people and live life in a way that makes me say “I want to change my life.” You have to be that example yourself. You have to be seeking to get better every day. You have to be seeking to make an impact on others. That’s why leadership is important. Leadership is so important with black males because I feel like there’s so much work to do, and I’m aware of that. I feel like I’m a catalyst of change and I can be the biggest catalyst and the biggest impact by living my life how it’s supposed to be lived.

Her Campus: Why is giving back to your community important to you?

Keon: It’s so important because I realize that there was a village that raised me. I’m not self-made. I think that they [my village] helped me so that I can go out and help somebody else. With that, I don’t take anything for granted that I have. I always think, how can I use the resources that I have to change somebody else’s life? It’s not always tangible. That’s why the four pillars of Berry Academy are so important. I actually forgot to mention it earlier but, self-discovery is one of our pillars. Items go, resources go but what you make of yourself never goes away. Intelligence stays. Your integrity stays. Your bravery, your courage—you know? The things that you learn that are not tangible are what really matters. I think it’s important to give back to the community and to teach others what you have been taught so that it’ll be an effect when everyone just feeds off that energy and can ultimately unlock their full potential.

Her Campus: Okay, so in your last response you stated it takes a village. What does your village look like? The village that helped you, raised you and made you that man you are today?

Keon: Honestly, I cannot even pinpoint all the people that came into play. There were so many hands that put in to create my “basket” to build me, mold me, and shape me. I can definitely say that I don’t deserve everything that I have. I worked hard for it, but God took/takes a huge role in my creating this path, with the life he's given me, and the opportunities he provides. 

Her Campus: How do you see Berry Academy progressing in 10 years? From this moment on how do you see yourself building Berry Academy and yourself?

Keon: I don’t know. You never know where life takes you. God could say "you’re here in Atlanta now, but I want you in Seattle, Washington," and boom, you’re in Seattle. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. In terms of Berry Academy, we’re making some great strides. There’s something really big we’re about to do this semester that I’m really excited about. I think it’s just about taking it day by day and seeing what every day holds because every day is different. In terms of myself, I’m going to continue to build my character. Discipline is important. Integrity is important. Courage is important. Faith is important. Patience and gentleness, but most importantly love. Love is the true essence of God. It helps you to see people for who they really are and to respect humanity.

Her Campus: Do you plan on connecting Berry Academy to Morehouse in any way?

Keon: Absolutely not.

Her Campus: Wait, you said not? Why?

Keon: The reason is that I want to do something outside of Morehouse. Fun fact; I actually lost my first election at Morehouse. I was running for Brazeal Hall President and I lost. It was a humbling moment for me. It made me realize that there are black men doing the exact same thing that I am and it doesn’t make me better than anybody. It also helped me realize that there was something greater for me to do than be hall President. There was something within my purpose that I had to do.

I’m happy that I am operating within my niche making a change as opposed to just working in Morehouse. I’ll be honest, I feel like a lot of times, working with some of my brothers at Morehouse or some of the faculty can be very unprofessional and unorganized. I’m not like that. I am a very fast paced, organized person. I think that’s what makes my work and the work of Barry academy so great. It’s very professional. It’s very clean-cut. It’s very on point, effective and efficient. With that, I do not think I will connect the two because there are some spaces that regarding their professionalism and the way they deal with things that I do not agree with. I don’t want to hinder the progression of the program because I’m waiting on another entity to get something together. Her Campus: How has attending an HBCU, or being at Morehouse, enhanced your image of creating change within your community?

Keon: It’s such an empowering experience. I would say that Morehouse specifically opened up my eyes to the world of possibilities that are possible within black men, in the world and most importantly—within myself. I feel like you can’t see certain things if you limit yourself. There are multiple sides of ourselves and we must have the courage to be able to explore those sides because it’s hard to grasp. For me and my personal life, I went to schools that were majority white. Eventually, I matriculated into schools that were predominantly black.

But in the change of dynamics, it wasn’t "cool" to be smart or to be well spoken. Those were the things that I’ve been able to explore at Morehouse; operating within my gift and learning that it’s okay to be who I am and there are people who support me. It makes it very special.

I’d also say that my appreciation and view of black women has changed tremendously. I’ve been able to become an advocate and to most importantly to hear their stories. This has assisted my understanding of where they’re coming from in order to see how we as a black man can work on a lot of different things to assist their community. I think that we’ve done a lot of taking but now it’s time to listen.

Her Campus: When it comes to Berry Academy, how does that reflect you and your circle? I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “birds of a feather flock together.” How do you believe Berry Academy reflects you as a person and those who you associate yourself with?

Keon: I have a very small circle. My circle really consists of Jauan Durbin, my best friend, who is now Mr. HBCU, and the Sigmas really. My Spelman sister and I are really tight and I have my roommate from freshman year, we’re still close. Mostly because one, I don’t have the time to be hanging out with just anyone and two, I want to hang around people who reflect my ideals and understand where I’m coming from. Someone like me who has an article coming out almost every month or winning an award can lead to people getting jealous. I want to be around people who are going to be supportive like “Look, I know you’re going through all these things and all these things are happening to you but I’m proud of you. I’m happy for you.” Not everyone is going to be supportive like that and I can accept that.

Her Campus: You were saying that Jauan is your your best friend. How did you guys meet?

Keon: You know, funny enough, we did not like each other when we first met. One thing about him that I didn’t like was that I felt like he was very haughty and had a very smart mouth. For me, I’m an extroverted person but I’m also very personal and he just wasn’t working for me. I didn’t like that about him and he didn’t like me, but it was cool. What people don’t know is that friends will be there but a brother will be with you through adversity. That’s not even my best friend, that’s literally my brother.

I remember sophomore year, we were both going through depression. He was running for Mr. Blue and White and I don’t even remember what I was going through but I was going through a lot. We literally would hang out every day. I didn’t have a meal plan but that man made sure I ate every day. When I tell you he had my back, he had my back. For me, people were always asking me for things. But the level of loyalty he had for me was above everyone else so in that even if there were things that I didn’t like in him initially, I was able to let him know that and help him grow as a person by being honest with him.

As a friend, I wanted him to realize that there were some things he needed to work on in order to achieve his full potential. I’m happy that he’s heeded to them and has blossomed as a person. His metamorphosis as a man has been amazing. It all started off as us not liking each other to us being really really really tight. I know that if there’s something I need, from the bare necessities,  that he’ll always be there for me and I’ll be there for him. I’m happy to have that level of loyalty in my life because there are very few people who’ll give that to you. Especially without expecting anything in return or falling out with you and having to say something behind your back. 

Her Campus: Do you plan on opening up a school?

Keon: Absolutely. That’s the goal. Like that is my dream. If I open up a school, I can live my life knowing that my purpose is fulfilled.

Her Campus: What is your school going to be based off of? Is it going to be a co-ed school? A school just for males? Maybe a school for those who kind of already have all the odds stacked up against them? Especially as a young child, there are kids who feel like no one cares, or the kids who are already looked at as someone without a fighting chance. So what do you plan to do with your school?

Keon: So Berry Academy is going to be an all male faith based school. The reason why I say faith based is because for a good part of my life I went to a Christian school. I gained a love for verses and positivity while in school. It was something that changed my life. The verses are things that resonate with me even now. I can recite verses from sixth grade.

Because of that, I think schooling is about training up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Being able to instill those good qualities and not just spiritually but also in terms of life. I feel like a lot of schools aren’t teaching about life. DuBois said it best; "education must not just simply teach work, it must also teach life." So teaching personal finance, teaching personal law, teaching about the stock market. Like when is the stock market high? When is the stock market low? When should you be buying a car? How should you do your taxes? Teaching them how to actually function in life.

Yeah, you know the Pythagorean theorem but you don’t know how to wash dishes...that’s an issue. Actually preparing students for life and putting them in the best position academically. Providing them with those extra resources. For example, taking kids who do not have the best home situations and providing them with everything. I’m talking from breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to drivers licenses and different things that will actually help them succeed so that when they leave the school, they’ve learned everything. Her Campus: How has your faith shaped who you are? How do faith and Keon Berry meet in the middle?

Keon: It’s everything. People always wonder like “How do you get these ideas? What’s next?” And I don’t even know what’s next!  God tells me what to do and I go do it. The planks of the bridge start to lay down. I literally try to cross the bridge with a torch as God builds the bridge. So when people ask me how I do it and ask for my next step, I tell them I don’t know. God just tells me to do it and I do it.

My relationship with God has definitely grown. Of course, no relationship with God is perfect but it’s definitely excelling. It’s everything. I’m grateful for just being able to be used because the level of gratitude and self fulfillment that I get from it is just enough for me. I can open one school and for the rest of my life, I’ll be happy because I’ve changed lives. I wouldn’t be anything without God and without my spiritual relationship. It’s literally guided my whole life.

Her Campus: Definitely. Everything for you will never miss you.

Keon: I completely agree.

Her Campus: If you could tell 5 year old Keon something right now, what would you say? Like something, he’d be able to carry through with him for his whole life.

Keon: “It’s worth it.” It’s worth it. I think people don’t really know my story. There will come a time that I’ll put it out there. I had a very tough childhood, more so than I thought. I think coming to college and being able to learn what it is to be vulnerable and being able to look back and reflect, helped me realize that it wasn’t easy.

I remember in 3rd grade, I wrote my first will. I wanted to kill myself in elementary school. So like just seeing myself back then compared to myself now, I wouldn’t have ever thought this would’ve been me. Which is why it is so easy for me to approach this attention with humility because I remember when I felt like I wasn’t anything. I remember when I didn’t have an identity. If you would’ve told me that I’d be here right now I wouldn’t believe you. If I could show 5 year old Keon all the images and told him that he’d be able to type in his name and find himself on Google or that he’d win a big time award at the Black Male Image Awards or any of that stuff, he wouldn’t believe it. So just being able to instill that hope because that is in which the spark is started to create faith and create action. Her Campus: Now for something more fun, if you could choose one song—it could be Gospel, Rock, Hip-Hop, R&B, or even Country—to be your theme song when you walked into a room, what would the song be?

Keon: I’d have to say "I Exalt Thee" by Eddie James. Basically just worshiping God and being in his presence and having adoration for who he is. Just to speak about the power of God is such a tremendous thing. It’s beyond what we can understand—our frail human, basic minds can't understand it.

God has blown me away. I can’t really describe who God is. He’s everything. A protector, a provider, an innovator, a change-maker. He’s everything. If I had 1000 tongues it wouldn’t be enough to say who he is and what he’s done for me. I’ve been through some crazy things in my life and just to know that I’m here now is just like wow. In the way that I’m so small on his spectrum, he’s so big. I’m simply always in adoration.

Her Campus: I understand. Sometimes that’s all a takes. Just a “thank you God.” I’m glad I was able to have this sit down with you. Thank you for giving us the chance to interview you!

 

 

Special thank you to Keon for doing this interview and taking the time out of his day to talk! This is definitely not the first or last time you will be seeing his name or face! Look out for the second part of this interview on Her Campus CAU's Youtube channel.