Originally born in Kingston, Jamaica, Dr. Keisha-Khan Y. Perry, a Presidential Penn Compact Associate Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 10 years old. Starting a new life in Newark, New Jersey, Dr. Perry recalls that the experience of moving to the United States at that time “profoundly shaped [her] perspective on being black in the diaspora, urban life and politics, and the history of social movements in the United States.” Her experiences, included in a pre-event interview, also influenced her career and current studies on activism and activist anthropology in Brazil.
On Tuesday, December 6, Blair closed the semester’s Society of Skeptics series with Dr. Perry’s talk on her life experiences, her current work, and a recent eye-opening experience that impacted her studies and taught her a life lesson: the importance of embracing life’s spontaneity.
Initially intending to discuss her ongoing research, Dr. Perry recently changed the subject of her talk after a recent encounter reminded her of an important life lesson. While clearing out some of her belongings during a move, Dr. Perry found an envelope with the name on it of the daughter of the host family she once stayed with during a study abroad trip to Spain.
In the tenth grade, while a student at Northfield Mount Hermon school in Gill, Massachusetts, Dr. Perry had been one of few African-American students to receive a full scholarship to study abroad in Burgos, Spain.
“After finding the envelope, I decided to handwrite a letter (something I don’t do often) to the family and it turns out that the family still lives in the apartment,” said Dr. Perry. “This year actually marks 30 years since living with them,” said Dr. Perry. “Fast-forward to today—we’ve been connecting on WhatsApp and I’ve begun to realize how vastly different our lives have been since 1992 and how much academic and humanitarian insight comes from this realization.
“In our recent conversations, what struck me was how much (my former host sister) had actually thought about me over the past 30 years and how much that host-family experience had been so impactful for the both of us, but in different ways.”
With the Blair students, Dr. Perry hopes to reveal how her life has seemingly come full circle, and how her latest revelation has reminded her of one of life’s most important lessons. “Imagine if you let go of what you think your life is supposed to be like,” said Dr. Perry. “What benefitted me was embracing new things.”
After graduating from high school, Dr. Perry earned her Bachelor of Science in Spanish and a Bachelor of Arts in women’s studies from Georgetown University and a Masters and Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from The University of Texas at Austin. She has taught at Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania..
Today, Dr. Perry spends much of her time teaching, learning and publishing her findings. Her latest publication, Black Women Against the Land Grab: The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil, is an ethnographic study of black women’s activism in Brazil. Currently, she is working on Anthropology for Liberation: Research, Writing and Teaching for Social Justice while working on two research projects and is planning a trip to Spain to reunite with her once-host family next summer.
Click "play" below to watch Dr. Perry's Skeptics presentation.
History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.